TUCSON, Ariz. – San Jose coach Frank Yallop surveyed a crowded training field on Friday morning and rattled off a list of the familiar faces located elsewhere. He counted nine regulars missing from the session due to international commitments and injury concerns.
The lengthy list would prompt more concern if it didn't represent something of a temporary phase. All of those absentees will return sooner or later to boost the Supporters' Shield defense and ensure the continuity required to replicate the results produced last season. Most MLS clubs crave the sort of stability enjoyed by the Earthquakes after such a successful campaign.
In the world dictated by allocation money and salary budgets, some form of turnover is inevitable. And, in some cases, the churn involves talented players like Simon Dawkins for reasons outside of club or league control.
“For us, we're losing a really good one,” Yallop said about the former loan signing now shipped by Tottenham to Aston Villa on a similar arrangement. “I think the big thing for us is that we make sure we either replace him or move on without him. We'll see how it goes. We'll have some discussions and see where it takes us.”
Earthquakes general manager John Doyle and Yallop initiated dialogue with Spurs long ago to secure Dawkins' return for a third season with the club. Similar entreaties – though different in form and function – to their partner club reaped dividends in each of the past two years. Yallop even told local reporters in November that he expected Dawkins to remain with the team.
The circumstances involved this time around instead presented a new set of obstacles. Dawkins signed a two-year contract with Spurs in March 2011, according to Spurs' official website. The January transfer window represented the last chance for Spurs to extract additional value for a player likely to leave the club during the summer.
San Jose and MLS tabled an offer to Spurs to bring Dawkins back for the start of the season. Spurs rejected the bid and sent Dawkins on loan to Villa, a move that should put the 25-year-old in the shop window at a critical stage in his career.
“It wasn't quite enough for what they were thinking,” Yallop said. “I thought it was a really strong offer. But we'll see. It's only a six-month loan. We'll see in the summer. Not to say we're going to say we're going to try to wait for that, but we'll see how it goes.”
If Dawkins can reproduce his San Jose displays at Villa Park, then the Earthquakes stand little chance of welcoming their former midfielder back into the fold any time soon.
Dawkins' goalscoring record – he scored 14 times in 53 league appearances during his two seasons with the club – represents a fantastic return for a player usually deployed on the left side of midfield. His displays often went unnoticed on a wider level despite his general competence and tidiness, but his importance to the Earthquakes and his station within the league's midfield operators warranted more attention. His tendency to drift inside offered a nice balance to the more typical wide play preferred by Marvin Chávez and supplied a necessary element to the Earthquakes' work in the final third.
Villa boss Paul Lambert will expect Dawkins to replicate those feats when called upon to aid in the fight against relegation. Dawkins remained rooted to the bench as an unused substitute in the 3-3 draw with Everton on Saturday, but his immediate presence in the matchday squad offers some encouragement that he will receive a chance to impress at some stage.
It is an opportunity that Yallop finds bittersweet. Although Yallop is happy for his former player and the Premier League opportunity that awaits him, he knows that his side – while still stacked with ample talent and plenty of potential replacements available for that spot – will miss Dawkins' presence at the start of the campaign.
“I guess we feel proud as a team that we've produced a very good player who is going to play in the Premier League,” Yallop said. “But then, obviously, we're losing that player for us next season. We move on. We'll try our best to either fill the gap or we just move on.”
Maybe Dawkins will indeed return at some point this season to help fill his own void. If he decides to pursue other options, then the Earthquakes will just have to make due without him. It isn't the ideal scenario, but it is one this stable group can manage so long as that number Yallop ticked off decreases as the season approaches.