The San Jose Earthquakes enter FC Dallas Stadium in Frisco, Texas as the leaders in the race for the MLS Supporters’ Shield. Their opponent, hosts FC Dallas, languishes at the bottom of the MLS Western Conference standings and is running on a twelve match winless streak. You can pretty much tack this one up as a win for the Quakes, right?
Well, the high-flying Earthquakes team of June came crashing back down to earth earlier this week in a disappointing 2-1 loss to another struggling team, the Portland Timbers. Granted, head coach Frank Yallop elected to rest his preferred starting XI, but the hallmark of the team’s success this season has been the quality of depth on the roster. That a not-quite-the-strongest lineup could not stand up to the Timbers was somewhat alarming, and the loss will be remembered as an aberration if the Earthquakes can take care of business against the Hoops.
San Jose has built their lead in the West by avoiding the kinds of slumps their opponents have suffered so far in 2012. To be specific, the Earthquakes have not lost back-to-back games all season, and their longest winless streak spanned only three games. On the road, the Quakes have already registered six wins — two more than any other team in MLS — and 19 of their league high 36 points. Difficult venues to visit in Seattle, Los Angeles, and Salt Lake have provided all three points for these Quakes. Overall, San Jose is only two points off their entire total from 2011.
Playing in Texas in the heat of summer will pose another big challenge to these road warriors. Tonight’s game kicks off at 8:00 p.m. Frisco time, 6:00 p.m. out here on the west coast, and the hope is the stifling Texas temperatures will have tempered some. Given the team’s season long penchant for late game heroics, that timing may coincide nicely to when conditions on the field reach a more tolerable status. And if the team defense can keep FC Dallas off the scoreboard in the early going, the Earthquakes stand to add to their road success.
One returning starter for tonight’s match appears to be goalkeeper Jon Busch, who despite seeing another facial injury likely end his modeling career, looks set to take the reins of the Earthquakes defense. Busch has been a vital player for the team this season, conducting matters from the back and keeping an improved defensive line organized and disciplined. Having to potentially go up against the 2010 MLS MVP David Ferreira, finally back on the field after more than a year recovering from an injury, will further test a defense that has not posted a clean sheet since the month of March.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Earthquakes counter with midfielder Shea Salinas, a native of Texas, who is set to make his second straight start following a lengthy absence while recovering from a broken clavicle. Salinas did not look sharp in the midweek loss to Portland, and will need to get better with his crosses in order to reach the level he was playing at prior to the injury.
With Salinas on one wing, the Earthquakes are expected to start Honduran Marvin Chavez on the other wing. The former FC Dallas player, acquired by the Earthquakes for allocation money this past offseason, has quietly become a candidate for team MVP with his electric play on the right side of the field. A stellar pair of games in the past week against the Los Angeles Galaxy and Portland Timbers pushed the midfielder’s assists total to 8 this season, good for second best in MLS behind reigning league MVP Dwayne De Rosario. Getting his first shot to face his old team, Chavez is likely to relish the opportunity to show his former coach what he is missing.
Up top, the Earthquakes should see the return to the starting line-up of the original Goonie himself, Steven Lenhart. His introduction into the game at Portland sparked a comeback that fell a goal short, but not for his lack of effort. Lenhart should pair with Chris Wondolowski from the opening whistle, and the two best of friends will look to earn the Earthquakes another three points on the road.
- While there were not many bright spots in the Earthquakes 2011 season, one highlight was completing a season sweep of FC Dallas. In week two, the Earthquakes went into Frisco and beat the Hoops 2-0 behind two goals from Wondolowski. In the final game of the season, San Jose demolished a FC Dallas team resting for the playoffs by a score of 4-2.
- In the history of the Dallas-San Jose match-up, the teams share a 9-9-4 record playing in Texas. In San Jose, the Earthquakes have the upper hand with a 12-6-4 record.
- A Frank Yallop managed squad has never lost to a Dallas team when scoring first. Since 2001 with the Earthquakes and Galaxy, Yallop has coached his teams to a 10-0-1 record when opening the match’s scoring against FC Dallas.
- The announcement of the 2012 MLS All-Star First XI will be made tomorrow during halftime of ESPN's broadcast of the Galaxy's visit to the Chicago Fire (noon, PDT). Wondolowski, Chavez, and Steven Beitashour all have a good chance of being selected.
(Photo: Joe Nuxoll, centerlinesoccer.com)