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San Jose Earthquakes complete "first step of dress rehersal" toward MLS Championship year

The message from San Jose Earthquakes players and coaches throughout the preseason? Winning the regular season title last year was okay, but failing to make an impact in the MLS Cup playoffs was bitterly disappointing. Whereas last season was a good barometer of what the team was capable of, everyone expects nothing less than a successful run to an MLS Championship in 2013.

Count among veteran goalkeeper Jon Busch's many accomplishments, "motivational speaker." Having watched his "Goonies" teammates heroics from a mere 110 yards away match after match in 2012, he knows how good they can be. However, Busch also knows, from experience, that you can never take time off if you want to be prepared to finish at your best.

Time and time again last season, especially following games in which the team needed to claw back to earn points, Busch stationed himself at his locker postgame and warned anyone who would listen that complacency early in games might not always be redeemed in stoppage time. "Maybe we've gone to the well once to often," was a persistent refrain from the MLS veteran, never convinced that the Goonies magic was enough to carry the team through the playoffs.

And much like he portended, the Earthquakes spilled out of the MLS Cup playoffs in the first round to rival LA Galaxy when a late comeback attempt in the second leg of the series fell short as Ike Opara's close range shot sailed teasingly over the crossbar.

But now the calendar reads 2013, and a new season of MLS is upon us.

A year ago, the Earthquakes traveled to Portland for the Timbers inaugural preseason tournament and walked away as winners. The three games set the tone for a strong start to the 2012 season, and San Jose carried that momentum all the way to a Supporters' Shield. This trip to Portland starting in a promising manner as the Quakes secured a 3-3 draw over the host Timbers, and the team will look to do much of the same in its two remaining games against AIK of Sweden and FC Dallas.

And so, up steps one of the vocal leaders of the Earthquakes to set the tone for the 2013 season. Sure, the regular season opener against Real Salt Lake was still two weeks away, but the match against the Timbers was expected to be played with the same intensity and in the same atmosphere as a regular season game. With his teammates huddled around him, Busch gave a pregame talk that set the stage not just for the preseason match against Portland, but also for the entire 2013 campaign.

First step of dress rehearsal tonight. We come out, with our energy, as we always do.

First tackle, first shot, first fifty/fifty ball. We set the tone tonight. We come out and show them what we're about, what Earthquakes soccer is about.

Whatever the minutes you play tonight, you leave everything out there tonight. This is the first step in what is going to end up being an MLS Championship team this year, okay?

Here we go. -- Jon Busch

Just over 9 months until MLS Cup, and the Earthquakes already envision themselves there. What better time to start that championship journey than right now.