The San Jose Earthquakes are not mathematically eliminated from qualifying for the MLS playoffs, but realistically it is starting to look that way. Entering the second half of the season, the defending Supporters' Shield winners languished in eighth place in the Western Conference, and a confidence-building come from behind California Clasico victory appeared to have the Quakes heading in the right direction.
But then disappointing losses to Chicago and New England happened, and San Jose came crashing back down to earth.
The big win against the LA Galaxy seemed to be just the springboard the Quakes needed to pull themselves back into the postseason race. Instead, after bidding adieu to Gold Cup call ups Chris Wondolowski and Marvin Chavez, seeing newly signed Clarence Goodson held back by the same event, and learning Victor Bernardez and Shea Salinas would miss time through suspensions, San Jose lost all momentum in falling 3-2 to the Fire and 2-0 to the Revolution.
Only goalkeeper Jon Busch kept the score lines from being worse, as this MLS Save of the Week nominated toe-poke deflection highlighted. Fans would be excused if they thought they were watching the 2011 Quakes and not this year's side. The offense looked nothing like the 2012 version that tallied a club record 72 goals. Especially against New England, San Jose looked defeated and ready to return home.
Perhaps that is not the worst thing. After all, since a season opening loss to Real Salt Lake, the Earthquakes are unbeaten at Buck Shaw Stadium. From now until the middle of August, the Quakes have four of five regular season games at their cozy home venue. Road success has eluded San Jose so far in 2013, but home cooking has been very tasty. Can the Earthquakes make a run over the next month of the season?
A look at the standings show what a formidable task San Jose has in front of it. Currently needing to pass three teams in the table to qualify for the postseason, the Earthquakes will need to very quickly improve upon their current point total of 21 from 20 games. Of the five teams in the West that are in playoff position, the LA Galaxy boasts the lowest points per game average of 1.58. For the Quakes to match that average, which would over the course of the season is projected to give the Galaxy 54 points, they would need to earn 33 points from their remaining schedule. In other words, San Jose needs to post 11 victories from 14 games to close out the year - an astronomical 2.36 ppg target.
Impossible? No. Improbable? Quite simply, yes.
To put that in perspective, last year's LA Galaxy, which was considered the league's elite team over the last two months of the season, averaged 2.00 ppg over its last 14 matches. Meanwhile, the Earthquakes over the entire 2012 season, en route to posting the best record in the league, averaged 1.94 ppg over their complete 34 game schedule, 1.86 ppg over their last 14. Far fetched to imagine the Quakes going on such a run? Maybe they won't have to be so close to perfect if the teams ahead of them in the table cool down from their current ppg averages, but San Jose won't be able to count on that.
With a schedule featuring 10 games against the teams they will be trying to catch, including this weekend against the Seattle Sounders, an element of hope remains in the Earthquakes season. The team can only control its own destiny, but it will certainly require help from others. Beat the Sounders on Saturday night and the task becomes a tad less daunting.
Lose and at least the Earthquakes have the CONCACAF Champions League to look forward to come August.