The next week will not be easy for the San Jose Earthquakes. Not with three straight games against Western Conference opponents -- all away from Avaya Stadium, all within an eight-day stretch. In fact, the Quakes can't afford to drop points this week and fall to the bottom of the standings.
With a very winnable home game against the Montreal Impact rescheduled for September so that the Canadian Club could try to win the CONCACAF Champions League (it didn't), the Quakes take their 3-4-0 overall record on the road for difficult match-ups against Real Salt Lake, the Houston Dynamo, and the Colorado Rapids.
"Road games are always difficult," defender Clarence Goodson told Center Line Soccer earlier this week. "That's the way it is. It just so happens that we have three in a row, so we will take each game as it comes. We have guys that have come in and done a good job; we have a good bench and guys are getting healthy. Those things are going to be very important over these next three games."
Especially in MLS, winning away from home has historically been a very tall task, as was expertly outlined by San Jose Mercury News reporter Elliott Almond in Friday's newspaper. That the Quakes will need to get something out of their three-game excursion in order to keep the doubts at bay makes the task that much more difficult. Perhaps then, it is good that they face Real Salt Lake on Friday (kick-off is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. Pacific time and the game will be televised on UDN), a team the Quakes played once already this season.
"A lot of our guys have been in MLS awhile, and they know the Salt Lake players," said head coach Dominic Kinnear. "Saborio, Morales, and Beckerman -- these guys have been around for a while."
The Earthquakes lost that game 1-0 when Javier Morales followed up his own free kick attempt with a goal, but San Jose was in no way played off the pitch by the visitors.
"We just have to play better, simple as that," said Kinnear. "Keep the ball, defend better, and attack better. There's two parts of the game, really: defend and attack. We were okay at moments and we were very poor at moments, so we need consistency."
"To not lose would be good," added Goodson. "I thought we had a pretty decent game against them last time. They had very few opportunities in front of goal. We need to simply play the way we know how, the way we have played at home. We need to take that on the road and try as much as possible to make them work as much as we can."
The Earthquakes will welcome a healthy Chris Wondolowski back into the starting lineup on Friday nightas he has fully recovered from a troublesome calf injury. Kinnear will also have available veteran defender Jordan Stewart, who is in line to receive his first minutes of the 2015 season.
No matter the starting lineup, the Quakes will have to bounce back from a sub-par performance against the New York Red Bulls and put Real Salt Lake on their heels in front of what is expected to be a sell-out crowd at Rio Tinto Stadium. Attacking players like Morales and Alvaro Saborio will command attention, something Goodson and the defense will be ready for.
"A lot of their attacking plays come through those guys," said Goodson, "so we have to be aware of where they are and limit their time on the ball in the attacking third."
The Earthquakes currently sit in seventh place in the Western Conference with nine points -- the same as Friday's opponent Real Salt Lake -- and while it is very early in the season to invoke the phrase "six-pointer," San Jose will not want to let the opportunity slip away to avenge its loss to RSL earlier this season.