At this point last season, San Jose Earthquakes Head Coach Mark Watson had just taken over control of the team from his former boss, Frank Yallop. 17 games into the season, Watson had completed his second game in charge, and the Quakes sat at 18 points.
17 games into this season, San Jose has 17 points and hosts Frank Yallop and the Chicago Fire, whose fortunes this year have been similar to those of the Quakes. With 20 points from 18 matches, Chicago sits in eighth place in the East. Needless to say, both of these clubs are desperate for a win at this juncture.
Yallop returns to face the club that saw his greatest coaching successes. The winningest coach in Earthquakes history, Yallop compiled a 99-86-72 regular season record in two stints with the club. He was at the helm for the Quakes' MLS Championships in 2001 and 2003, and led the franchise to its second ever Supporters' Shield in 2012.
His tenure with the Fire has gotten off to a less than stellar start. Chicago didn't get a win until its ninth game of the season, on May 10th. As it stands, the Fire have just three wins from 18 matches.
One positive for the Fire has been the emergence of former Earthquake Quincy Amarikwa. San Jose's 2009 third round draft pick has become a mainstay for Chicago, scoring six goals this season to nearly double his total career tally. Amarikwa's play, however, has not done enough to offset the downturn in form of last year's MLS MVP Mike Magee. Magee hasn't built on last season's 21 goal performance, scoring just five so far this year.
San Jose will welcome the chance to earn three points against the struggling Fire. The Earthquakes turned in a solid road performance last weekend at New York. The Quakes created plenty of offensive chances, and were unlucky not to put more than one goal on the board. The team was well worth the 1-1 draw, however, and has plenty to build on as it returns to Buck Shaw Stadium.
Steven Lenhart's goal for the Quakes broke his 19-game scoreless streak, and had to throw a huge monkey off his back. With Shea Salinas also back healthy, San Jose brought varied attacks both centrally and on the wings. Certainly the Quakes will look to bring the pressure early and often to the Fire tonight.
At the halfway point of the season, the Quakes have to be feeling the urgency to turn things around. The team is healthy, and the World Cup players have now had a couple of games back at club level. The match against the Fire will be a perfect opportunity to continue building on the progress of last match and secure a big three points.