In this league, club fortunes can change seemingly in the blink of an eye. Teams can start out the season hot and hit a downturn in form that keeps them out of the playoffs (think FC Dallas from last year). Currently, the San Jose Earthquakes are hoping to do just the opposite. After a lackluster first half of the season, the team has two wins on the turn and looks to make it three tonight against the Los Angeles Galaxy at the StubHub Center at 7:30 pm.
The match comes just a day after the Galaxy's Landon Donovan announced that he will retire from the sport of soccer following this MLS season. Donovan still divides opinion (to put it mildly) among Quakes supporters. He was part of both Earthquakes championship squads, but later allegedly forced a move through to Los Angeles and won three more titles with the rival Galaxy.
This likely means that LA will be playing with a renewed sense of purpose, as they try to see Donovan off in a blaze of glory. The challenge for the Quakes will be to match this intensity and passion. Good thing the Galaxy are still the arch rivals, eh?
San Jose will have to compete for a result without the contributions of Yannick Djaló, who is out for this game after suffering a quad strain against Seattle. This is a big blow, as Djaló has been a key part of this recent winning streak. He has goals in each of the last two games and has created a good understanding with fellow striker Chris Wondolowski. Undoubtedly, the introduction of new Quakes Designated Player Matías Pérez García should make a difference, but his inclusion is not a like-for-like switch when it comes to Djaló. For a more detailed analysis on how the Quakes may fill in for the injured playmaker, see Robert Jonas' Black or Blue predictions.
Regardless of who steps in, the Quakes will once again need a strong showing from Shea Salinas on the wing. Salinas, for me, has been just as crucial as Djaló in San Jose's improved attack. His wing play of late has been excellent, and he's been unlucky that his crosses haven't found teammates more often. He's also looking towards goal himself more frequently of late, which is something that most fans have been waiting to see from him for a while.
The hope is certainly that San Jose's attack can keep the Galaxy on its heels more than in this season's previous encounter between the clubs at Stanford Stadium. Although the Quakes only lost 1-0, the offense without Wondolowski only managed one shot on target and never really looked like scoring. San Jose was also missing an injured Salinas for that contest.
On the flip side, containing the Galaxy's potent attack will be no easy task. Donovan's announcement comes after two stellar Los Angeles performances. The team completed the Pacific Northwest double, beating Seattle and Portland 3-0 and 3-1 respectively in the past two weeks. Gyasi Zardes had a goal in each game, Donovan scored against Seattle and Robbie Keane chipped in with two against Portland. You'd have to believe that the recent defensive solidity exhibited by Jason Hernandez and Victor Bernardez will be put to the test once again.
The mistake tonight would be to put too much weight on this match as a rivalry and get lost in all of the drama surrounding Donovan. For the Quakes, it's a chance to make it three wins in a row, and get themselves to within four points of a playoff spot (with two games in hand). The last time the Quakes won in Carson was May of 2012, courtesy of some late Alan Gordon heroics. 2012 was also the last year San Jose made the playoffs. Another win tonight would keep the momentum going and launch the Earthquakes back into contention. As an added bonus, it would postpone the start of Donovan's victory lap for at least one more week.