Gone are the days when a meeting between the San Jose Earthquakes and the Houston Dynamo centered around the history the binds the two teams together. With most of the connective players that linked the former Quakes with the newer version retired or playing on other teams, the matchup tonight at Robertson Stadium (5:30 p.m. PDT) focuses instead on both teams’ late season attempts to make the MLS Cup playoffs. For the Dynamo, playing in the weaker Eastern Conference, a chance to qualify as one of the three conference representatives still remains a strong possibility. For the Earthquakes, a push to qualify as a wildcard team remains their only path to the postseason. Given the stakes, tonight’s match truly qualifies as a “six-pointer.”
Based on the week of training, the Earthquakes will likely feature a starting XI with only one change from the team that bested the Chicago Fire 2-0 last Saturday. Still requiring rest for a quad strain, defender Jason Hernandez will give way to Nana Attakora on the back line in Houston. The rest of the starting XI are detailed here, with some of the question marks for tonight’s game coming on which players will fill out the bench.
Both Bobby Convey — available after serving a one-match yellow card accumulation suspension — and Brad Ring — sufficiently healed from a shoulder injury — are likely to be excluded from head coach Frank Yallop’s starting line-up, but both could feature as substitutes and also in next Wednesday’s road match against the Portland Timbers. Another likely sub tonight is newly acquired forward Maxwell Griffin. The on-loan striker was hotly pursued by the Earthquakes in the preseason, but a transfer deal with the club holding his contract, Orlando City SC of the USL-PRO league, could not be worked out. With seven games remaining in the 2011 regular season, and the two sides in agreement on a transfer fee for the second year striker out of UCLA, Yallop and co. will want to get a good look at whether Griffin is ready to make the leap to MLS. While unlikely to start down the stretch for the Earthquakes, at least until they succumb to being mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, Griffin is in line to make his appearances off the bench. He is with the team in Houston, after training in San Jose on Thursday, and will be available to Yallop for selection.
For more information previewing the match tonight check out some of the following resources:
Elliott Almond of the San Jose Mercury News checks in with this look at the importance of Chris Wondolowski on the Earthquakes’ last season playoff push.
Nicholas Rosano writes on the CSN blog about what the Quakes need to do to find that winning formula down the stretch.
Geoff Lepper gives us a fantastic profile on Captain Corrales, as the MLS original is experiencing a renaissance of form this season.