SANTA CLARA -- When Clarence Goodson was left off the U.S. World Cup roster, the Earthquakes caught a break heading into Sunday's match against the Houston Dynamo at Buck Shaw Stadium.
It wasn't the news Goodson hoped for, but the smooth 6-foot-4 defender would have been missed over the club's final three games before its two-week idle during the World Cup, especially considering Victor Bernardez's call-up with Honduras.
Now the Quakes have at least one of their two central pillars in the box.
"We feel for Clarence right now because we know he's disappointed," coach Mark Watson told MLSsoccer.com. "But he's a great pro, a great character. He'll come back to us probably with a lot of fight and a renewed spirit to help this team. That's just the type of guy he is."
Moreover, the attack could get a boost with the anticipated return of Steven Lenhart (sprained MCL), Alan Gordon (groin strain) and Yannick Djalo (groin tightness).
Things could be trending upward for the Quakes (2-4-4), who have managed just 10 goals in 10 games.
"I hope so," said winger Shea Salinas, an offensive catalyst who's back from a one-week suspension. "It's a long season. A lot of guys get injured and you go through phases. Hopefully we're coming out of this phase and going into another one. But you never know."
Salinas watched last week's 1-0 loss to Seattle on TV, after receiving a red card against FC Dallas. The offense appeared to miss his panache out wide.
"It's always frustrating when you know you can't have an impact on the game," Salinas said. "There's lots of screaming and things like that, but I thought the guys worked really hard defensively."
The Quakes are proceeding with caution on the exciting but injury-prone Djalo. He has one start and one goal in five appearances, alternating between electrifying runs and peeling himself off the field.
Watson said he's been trying to simulate game-speed situations with Djalo in practice.
"We're getting more confident, but knowing his history we want to make sure we get it right this time," Watson said of Djalo. "We've had him where we thought he was 100 percent and ready to go, and he's broken down."
Gordon returned to practice Friday and might be a game-day decision. Lenhart, the team's charismatic leader, has been practicing for the last two weeks. If he feels confident on physical challenges, expect to see him on the field.
"We didn't want to cut any corners," Watson said of Lenhart. "He's been looking real sharp in training. If he's in the team, we're just that little bit more powerful and dynamic."
After Sunday's match, the Quakes will travel to FC Dallas and Toronto FC, where points will be harder to come by. So that will put extra emphasis on this week. Houston, guided by Bay Area native Dominic Kinnear, is coming off a midweek 2-0 loss to D.C. United.
Houston (5-6-2) at Quakes (2-4-4), 7:30 p.m. CSNCA