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Nov 22, 2007

San Jose focuses on defense initially

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- As the results of Wednesday's expansion draft were being announced, San Jose head coach Frank Yallop described a player as young, hungry, and affordable. Funny, such a description could be used to describe almost the entire draft, one in which San Jose made the most of a shallow talent pool.

It was a process that at first glance didn't look easy, especially since the list of available players carried enough baggage to back up San Jose International Airport for months. For some performers like chronic injury victim Conor Casey, their health was in question. For others like New England's Andy Dorman, a stated desire to head overseas was enough to scare San Jose off. Then there was the advancing age of a Jovan Kirovski. But when you factor in the general lack of quality among the attacking players listed, it made Yallop's decisions more straightforward, in that his preferred approach of building from the back could commence free of conflict.

For that reason, the selections of erstwhile Houston defender Ryan Cochrane as well as ex-Dallas center back Clarence Goodson represented a good bit of business for the Quakes. Neither performer is perfect by any means as both have endured mistake-prone stretches during their careers. But Cochrane and Goodson have each logged enough experience to be valuable to Yallop.

"You get a good defender in this league [whenever] you can, because there are not that many of them around," said Yallop. "I think Cochrane and Goodson have played most of the last two seasons for their teams regularly. I like that."

Goodson was one player in the draft whose contract is set to expire at year's end, but Yallop indicated he had talked with the University of Maryland product, and is confident Goodson will come to terms.

So with the center of his defense as settled as possible, it was left to Yallop to obtain almost every versatile player remaining in the draft. At the top of the list was former New England utility man James Riley who played just about every position except forward and goalkeeper during his time with the Revs. Ivan Guerrero and Jason Hernandez, formerly of Chicago and Chivas USA respectively, can also help out in a variety of slots, as can ex-Columbus midfielder Ned Grabavoy. The same is true of Yallop fave Gavin Glinton, as well as ex-Toronto midfielder Chris Pozniak, although given the latter's struggles to crack TFC's lineup during the season, he probably counted as the surprise selection of the day. But for Yallop, their mental fortitude is another trait they all have in common.

"I tried to look at them and determine what they are going to be like in a team setting," said Yallop. "How are they going to be if they're not playing every week, and how are they going to fit in with what I want to do? I think in this league you need strong characters."

If there was one bit of overlap among the players selected, it was in the center of midfield, where Brian Carroll, formerly of D.C. United, and ex-New York player Joe Vide appear set to compete for the same spot. But Yallop indicated that, while falling short of Toronto's fire sale approach, he did have some deals in the mix, with one trade set to be announced on Friday. And given Carroll's greater salary as compared to Vide, he would appear to be a prime candidate to move on.

Yallop also indicated that another pending deal will involve a draft pick in exchange for a goalkeeper, while a rumored deal with Houston had no basis in fact.

"I think we got our guy from Houston," said Yallop in reference to Cochrane.

If Carroll is the one to move on, then that will serve to free up some salary cap space, a factor that represents one of Yallop's biggest successes of the day. The players obtained had a combined guaranteed salary of around $712,000 in 2007. While that figure stands to go up a bit in 2008, it likely leaves San Jose with two-thirds of their salary cap still available.

"We're so far under the cap with what we're doing right now," said Yallop. "We really have room to maneuver and then target some guys in the league who are on pretty good money."

Of course, it's easy to think that in the heady days of the offseason that the players acquired on Wednesday will all grow into All-Stars and that good health will be their companion throughout the season. The reality is that with expansion sides all it takes is an injury or two to scuttle the best-laid plans. The players selected have in some cases only managed to play bit-part roles so far in their career, and it remains to be seen if they can successfully make the jump to full-time status.

But the Quakes have managed to put together a pretty solid group on the defensive side of the ball. A back line of Riley, Cochrane, Goodson, and Hernandez is already better than that of several, more established MLS sides. San Jose could also have done worse than a midfield of Guerrero, Vide, Grabavoy, and Glinton. Yet Yallop's ability to provide depth in this area, as well as acquire some proven attacking players is now his primary objective, and will play a huge part in whatever success the team has this season.

"They're not easy to get," said Yallop of forwards and wide midfielders. "But we'll figure it out."

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at eljefe1@yahoo.com.