The calendar has only now flipped to September, but the San Jose Earthquakes are already talking playoffs. With eight weeks left in the regular season, it may seem premature to talk about the MLS postseason, but the Earthquakes lead in the Western Conference Standings over the competition warrants the conversation. As of Labor Day weekend, only two teams in the west can dislodge San Jose from a top-five conference finish.
The first contender is FC Dallas, who with 6 games remaining can collect a maximum of 50 points on the season. The Earthquakes are already at 50 points, so for Dallas to displace San Jose, they would need to triumph on the goals scored tiebreaker. Entering the weekend, the Earthquakes have 52 goals and FCD has 33 goals -- a deficit of 19 goals. The Hoops would need to not only make up that difference in their 6 remaining games, but they would also need the Quakes to suffer eight straight shutout defeats. Let's face it, FC Dallas is not knocking the Earthquakes out of a postseason berth.
The second contender is Chivas USA, who with 10 games remaining in the season can amass a points total of 58. Well, 58 is more than 50, so the Goats seem to have a least a chin-hair's chance of catching San Jose. The eight game San Jose swoon that would be required seems highly improbable, but that doesn't mean the Earthquakes are guaranteed a spot in the playoffs. Could Chivas USA close the gap?
But virtue of the upcoming MLS schedule, the Earthquakes and Chivas USA face off against each other twice in the next two weeks. The first match is Sunday evening at Buck Shaw Stadium and the second at The Home Depot Center just down the road. If San Jose wants to mathematically clinch a postseason berth, the task is pretty straightforward: Win one and draw one.
Garnering those results will take San Jose's season points total to 54 and leave the Goats without enough games to catch them in the standings. The best Chivas USA can do in their remaining 8 games would be 24 points, which added to the one point they get by virtue of drawing San Jose, gives them a maximum season haul of 53 points. No need for a calculator to figure this one out -- the Earthquakes are in the playoffs.
San Jose may not even need those results in the next fortnight to clinch a postseason berth. Chivas USA has to travel to Seattle next weekend -- the Sounders are playing some of the best soccer in MLS right now -- which without a positive result makes the job even easier for the Earthquakes. Even a loss to the Goats on Sunday does little to really dent their playoff aspirations, but that will not be on the minds of the players.
The story is quite straightforward, and falls into the category of sports cliches -- Win and you are in.