After a dominating win the week before, a 3-0 dismantling of the Houston Dynamo, the San Jose Earthquakes head on the road to face FC Dallas in Frisco, Texas, still searching for their first away victory of the season.
For head coach Mark Watson, the pattern of home success followed by road disappointment is one he hopes the club can break before MLS goes on a two week hiatus surrounding the World Cup. The Quakes will face Toronto FC in the second game of their two-game road trip, but first up is a difficult trip to Dallas.
"It will be a tough test," said Watson after Thursday's team training session. "I don't think there are any easy games on the road. We know we are playing against a good team, but it is another chance for us to get points. We have to be organized, we have to have the right mentality, and we have to take our chances when they come."
One of those players that will be looking for those scoring chances is Khari Stephenson, who scored his first two goals of the season as part of last Sunday's big win over Houston. The Jamaican midfielder, in his second stint with the Earthquakes, knows very well how challenging it is to face Dallas at home, where sometimes the weather can be a 12th man for the Hoops.
"Hopefully it is not too hot," said Stephenson on Thursday, "but when it is hot, you make the ball do most of the work. If you're always making runs, you get tired and it's not going to help you defensively. Try to be safe with the ball, try to be clean with it and go forward when we have the opportunity to be smart with it."
Fortunately for the Stephenson and the Quakes, the game time temperature in Frisco is forecast to be a balmy 81 degrees -- much lower than the much maligned summer Texas heat. And the 33-year old central midfielder, who is expected to play a role similar to the one he played against Houston -- in a slightly advanced position in a diamond midfield formation -- will be grateful. So to will coach Watson.
"In Dallas, you are always concerned about the heat," said Watson, "so you have to be smart about that and approach the game the right way in order to last 90 minutes."
One player that is likely to be called out to carry a heavy load is forward Steven Lenhart. The Earthquakes target forward is expected to play in an advanced position where his responsibilities will include winning aerial challenges and securing the ball so his teammates can catch up to him. Stephenson sees this as just an ordinary ask of Lenhart.
"Lenny is a big body up there," said Stephenson, "and he is very good at holding the ball. Whenever he is up there, he can help release some of the pressure from the defensive. It's a great thing having him out there."
Helping Lenhart in securing possession up field will likely be Atiba Harris. Fresh off an energetic performance against Houston, where his hustle play allowed him to beat Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall for the game's third goal, Harris will be important to the Earthquakes strategy of slowing down the game and controlling the tempo. That he scored his first goal for San Jose has helped the winger settle into his role.
"For an attacking player, it's important to get that first goal," said Harris, "to get that monkey off my back. Hopefully, it takes some of the pressure off of me and I can help the team more."
Joining the attack for the Earthquakes will likely be Yannick Djalo, who in the win against Houston played injury-free for the first time all season. Watson has been encouraged by the progress Djalo has made in his fitness, and the Quakes coach expects he'll be able to get even more out of the Portuguese playmaker in the coming weeks.
"We were really happy with the minutes Yannick played," said Watson, referring to last weekend. "Obviously, the main story from the first part of the season was keeping him healthy, so we tried to be pretty diligent in how we got him back on the field. For him to play well and play 70 minutes, we are really happy with it. And now it gives us something to build on moving forward."
But all the momentum gained from beating the Dynamo will be forgotten if the Quakes are unable to earn a result against FC Dallas. San Jose is in a bit of a hole in the Western Conference standings, so any points earned in Frisco, and next week in Toronto, will go a long way to restoring the team's confidence.
"Going into these two games before the break," said Harris, " we are going to go and try to get maximum points. We want to end on a positive going into the break."
Kick-off in Frisco is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. local time, 5:00 p.m. in the Bay Area. The match will be broadcast on CSN Bay Area.