As they did two weeks ago when they traveled to Seattle to face the Sounders, the San Jose Earthquakes face a similar scenario tonight when they play the Rapids in Colorado — can they bounce back from a home draw to capture three points on the road? Against Seattle, the Earthquakes put together one of their best performances of the year to defeat the Sounders 2-1 behind a clinical offensive and valiant defensive effort. San Jose will look to do the same against a Colorado team that has already been eliminated from qualifying for the MLS Cup playoffs.
So, how will the Earthquakes look to accomplish that goal against the Rapids? With recent injury concerns to midfielders Simon Dawkins and Mehdi Ballouchy, San Jose could revamp their starting line-up to feature their three-headed offensive monster of Chris Wondolowski, Steven Lenhart, and Alan Gordon lined up against Colorado.
"We’ve got three forwards and they all want to go forward and score," said head coach Frank Yallop when talking about his possible Starting XI. "That’s a good thing, but obviously a bad thing defensively. But Wondo will work hard, Lenny will work hard, Alan will work hard, that is for sure, and they won’t be standing and walking back after attacks. They are going to work hard and run and fight for the ball, so I have no real issues with that. We have three players that when they play together do really good things goal-wise."
Good things goal-wise is an understatement, as the Earthquakes have outscored their opponents 12 goals to 2 in 239 total minutes this season when the forward trio is on the field together. Those minutes have typically come late in matches, when the "never say die" Earthquakes garner most of their goals, so it could be an interesting experiment to see all three together from the opening whistle.
The potential exists, especially on the big pitch at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, for the match against Colorado to turn into a track meet if the Earthquakes offense and defense get separated and leave an empty midfield. The San Jose back line could be in for a difficult time if that situation develops, and they recognize some tactical adjustments will be necessary to keep the Rapids counterattacks in check.
"We can’t be the high-flying, normal team that we are," said defender Steven Beitashour. "We have to be smart in the way we attack and then defensively make sure we do everything we can to give up zero goals and we’ll be fine. Perhaps be more conservative in attack, but we are going in there to get a result."
Whether or not the Earthquakes are able to keep a clean sheet, something that has eluded them since a blanking of Chivas USA earlier last month, might not matter in the big picture, as the singular goal for the team is to secure three points. However, goalkeeper Jon Busch would like to see the effort on both sides of the ball tighten up, especially against an opponent that has little to play for.
"We don’t want to get into a run-and-gun and have it spread out and go back and forth," said Busch. "We need to stay organized defensively from the top to the back and keep the field as small as we can when we are defending. They’re still professionals, and they will still want to prove a point. Some of those guys are fighting for jobs as well, so they have a lot to prove and will want to end their season well. We need to make positive steps forward in our playoff run."
The regular Earthquakes defensive back four will be missing Victor Bernardez, who is serving a one-game suspension for yellow card accumulation, and coach Yallop will be required to shuffle his defenders. With Ike Opara still sidelined with concussion symptoms, Justin Morrow looks likely to shift centrally to partner with Jason Hernandez, and Ramiro Corrales potentially gets the start at outside left defender. The changes will only compound San Jose’s difficulties in containing a Rapids offense that tends to play well at home.
"We’ll adjust our game plan to make sure we manage the game properly," said Hernandez. "A team like Colorado played pretty well this year and haven’t had the results they wanted, and I think they are going to look at us coming in and see it as a statement game for them if they can knock off a team that is doing well in the West. It’s going to be important for us to be disciplined and to manage the game in the right way with their weapons because they are very dangerous going forward. But we’ve done it well all year.’