With their 2-2 draw at the LA Galaxy, the San Jose Earthquakes extended their unbeaten streak to four games. The valuable point also lifted the team out of the basement of the Western Conference, perhaps foretelling a run to the MLS postseason.
The Quakes have an overall record of 6 wins, 8 losses, and 6 ties, totaling 24 points in their first 20 games, a points-per-game average of only 1.2. The current fifth place team in the West, the last qualifier for the playoffs if the season ended today, is the Vancouver Whitecaps, who boast a 1.45 PPG. The Seattle Sounders pace the West, and all of MLS, with a robust 1.95 PPG.
Last year, the Earthquakes passed the midway point of the season in similar circumstances to this season, mired in mediocrity and at the bottom of the table looking up. But a stunning reversal of fortune over the last couple months of the season saw San Jose climb into a tie for fifth place. Only a tiebreaker advantage to the Colorado Rapids kept the Quakes out of the playoffs.
San Jose finished with 51 points in 2013, but after 20 games it had a paltry record of 5-9-6 - three points less than to the same point this year. The Quakes completed the season on a 9-2-3 tear, good for 2.14 PPG and the best finish in the league. Still, it was not enough, and one year removed from winning the Supporters' Shield, the Earthquakes watched the 2013 MLS Cup playoffs from their living rooms.
In 18 previous MLS seasons, teams with 50 points are virtually guaranteed to make the postseason. Only the Quakes last year and the Columbus Crew (52 points) in 2012 have failed to qualify after reaching the 50 point plateau. Given the strength of the Western Conference this season, a better target for San Jose to ensure a postseason berth might be 53 or above. Can the Quakes reach that lofty goal?
Simply, if San Jose can match its record from its last 14 games in 2013, a spectacular run that netted 30 points, then the answer is yes. Is it realistic to project that the Quakes will accomplish the feat again? The answer to that all depends on your definition of realistic.
Of the 14 games remaining on the Earthquakes schedule, only 5 are at Buck Shaw Stadium - much different than the situation in 2013 that featured 8 home games over the same period. The breakdown for home and road results in 2013 was the following: 7-0-1 and 22 points in 8 home games, 2-2-2 and 8 points from 6 road games.
The reality looks something like this: last year's near-perfect home form will have to be repeated this season, and the road results will definitely need to improve if the Quakes are to make the playoffs. A closer look at the rest of the 2014 regular season schedule reveals where San Jose should look to earn the 30 points that would make the postseason possible.
August 16: FC Dallas - The Quakes already have a pair of 2-1 victories against the Hoops this season, so it is not unreasonable to expect a third. 1-0-0; 3 points
August 20: at Seattle Sounders - The grudge match in the season series, as each side has held serve with a 1-0 win at home. Can San Jose earn at least a draw in Seattle? Follow the blueprint that worked last week against the Galaxy, and a point is to be had. 1-0-1; 4 points
August 24: at Philadelphia Union - With the unbalanced MLS schedule, games against conference foes take on added importance. But for games against the East, there is no excuse for not going for the win every time. That is why it has to be frustrating for the Quakes that they have only earned eight points from a possible 24 points so far in 2014. This game against Philly might be on the road, but the Quakes need to go all-out to get the win. 2-0-1; 7 points
August 30: Real Salt Lake - Another home game means another must-win for San Jose. RSL will prove a difficult opponent, but if the defense can limit its mistakes, an important victory can be had. 3-0-1; 10 points
September 7: at Portland Timbers - Courtesy of the MLS schedule makers, who clearly have a sense of humor, the Quakes will face the Timbers three times within seven games. This is actually a good thing for San Jose, as Portland is likely one of the teams it will need to surpass in the table before season's end. A win or a draw is a must in this one, the first of two away games in Cascadia, so let's count three points from the opener. 4-0-1; 13 points
September 10: at Vancouver Whitecaps - The Cascadia nightcap, another game on artificial turf, will at best result in a draw. Though, a poor performance in Portland three days earlier will put the impetus on the Quakes to win this one. If both Cascadia games are considered, four points total is the goal. 4-0-2; 14 points
September 14: LA Galaxy - The Alan Gordon grudge match arrives in mid-September, as the Quakes try to even the season series with the Galaxy by securing a win. Steven Lenhart could be healthy and available in time for this California Clasico. Wouldn't it be something special to see the Bash Brothers face off against each other. 5-0-2; 17 points
September 20: at Montreal Impact - See the Union discussion above. Montreal has been dire this season, and the Quakes will have no excuses but to pick up a victory against the Impact. 6-0-2; 20 points
September 27: at Colorado Rapids - San Jose blitzed Colorado in early October of 2013 to validate its late season push for the postseason, a game then head coach Oscar Pareja called "a sad day for soccer." The Rapids are again a likely target for the Quakes to pass in the standings, so nothing less than a draw is a necessity from this one. 6-0-3; 21 points
October 4: Portland Timbers - Earthquakes at Buck Shaw means another 3 points in the table. The Timbers will also have a very good idea of their postseason chances at this point, so this match has the proverbial "six-pointer" designate all over it. 7-0-3; 24 points
October 8: at Portland Timbers - Something has to give, as the Earthquakes would be riding a 14-game unbeaten streak into Providence Park if the above scenario plays out. Even the best teams in MLS history don't often put runs of that nature together, so this is when the Quakes finally add one to the loss column. 7-1-3; 24 points
October 11: at Real Salt Lake - Away to RSL is never an easy task, though the Quakes managed to win there last September in the most impressive of the team's nine late season wins. Will lightning strike twice at Rio Tinto Stadium for San Jose? Perhaps because of a hangover experienced after facing the Timbers twice in a week, it is likely the Quakes drop this one to the current leaders of the Western Conference. 7-2-3; 24 points
October 18: Vancouver Whitecaps - Whatever has happened to this point, the Earthquakes home finale needs to result in a victory. That it comes against the Whitecaps, another side that will be battling to make the West's five best, gives San Jose another six-pointer. The ‘Caps won't have the advantage of artificial turf in this one. 8-2-3; 27 points
October 26: at Chivas USA - The last game of the season. The last game for Chivas USA as Chivas USA. A less than rocking crowd at the StubHub center for the league's lowest drawing team. If the Quakes need points from this one, they will not hold anything back against the Western Conference cellar dwellers. 9-2-3; 30 points
And there you have it: 14 games, 9 on the road and 5 at home, with results that give the Earthquakes the 30 points they will need to qualify for the postseason. It's just that easy.