Nine months after kicking off their preseason camp, the San Jose Earthquakes 2015 MLS campaign comes down to one game -- a road game this Sunday at Western Conference regular season leaders FC Dallas. Get a result, and the Quakes may make the MLS Cup Playoffs.
"It's exciting going into the last game and have something to play for," told Shea Salinas to Center Line Soccer following what could be the last practice session of the season at Avaya Stadium.
The Earthquakes leave for Frisco, Texas on the eve of what MLS is billing as "Decision Day" -- the simultaneous playing of all five Western Conference matchups -- not entirely in control of their own postseason qualification fate, but with a very good idea of what they need to do to prolong their season at least another game.
"Ideally, you go into the last game with the playoffs solidified," said Salinas. "The next best thing is to fight to keep your season going. Last year, we didn't have that opportunity, so it's nice to have that chance this year."
San Jose enters Sunday in the seventh spot in the West -- one position away from playoff qualification -- and needs a result to have any chance of playing in a wildcard match this Wednesday or Thursday. A draw at Dallas could be enough to send the Quakes through, but a win would open up many additional opportunities to advance.
"Obviously, the scenarios are that we could finish in fourth, or we could finish in seventh," head coach Dominic Kinnear told reporters on Friday. "Fingers crossed, it would be wonderful if we got a home game, but let's just have a playoff game, first off."
The top two finishers in the Western Conference receive byes into the conference semifinals -- FC Dallas is already assured one of those byes -- while fourth through sixth place pair up in two midweek wildcard matches to determine the final two semifinalists. Third and fourth place teams host those matches, which gives San Jose an outside chance at starting their MLS Cup run at Avaya Stadium.
How exactly could that come to be? San Jose needs a win at Dallas and has to hope for the following three matches to tilt their way:
- The Portland Timbers lose at home to cellar-dwellers Colorado Rapids.
- The Seattle Sounders lose or tie at home to Kyle Beckerman-less Real Salt Lake.
- Sporting Kansas City loses or ties at home to the LA Galaxy.
"We will be following the other games," said Kinnear.
If the Earthquakes earn three points at Dallas and any one of the three results above goes their way, then they will finish above the red line in the table for the first time since winning the Supporters' Shield in 2012. Even a draw might be enough for San Jose to sneak into the sixth spot, but that would require Sporting KC to lose at Sporting Park, a seemingly unthinkable third straight lose to close out the season for the 2015 U.S. Open Cup champions.
But even the playoff-bound Galaxy have a lot to play for on Decision Day, as a win by the Quakes chief rival would propel them directly into the conference semifinals. For the second straight weekend, fans of the Blue and Black will be pulling for LA to take care of business.
Given the likelihood that the Earthquakes would open the playoffs on the road should they qualify, the team is making contingencies for such an outcome and packing for a potential few extra days away from home as they embark for Texas.
"You don't want to talk too much about it, but if it were to be an away game in Kansas City, we would stay on the road," said Kinnear. "The rest of the possibilities would be on the West Coast, and we'd come back for those."
Wherever the Quakes are asked to go -- if they qualify -- they will gladly make the trip. After all, this is what the 34-game regular season is all about: Making the playoffs and having a chance to possibly hoist MLS Cup.