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MLS Midseason Report Card: San Jose Earthquakes woeful on the road in 2016

Quakes on pace to miss MLS Cup playoffs for fourth straight season

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The San Jose Earthquakes reach the midpoint of the 2016 MLS regular season battered and bruised. An early season run positioned the Quakes above the red line in the Western Conference table -- the demarcation between the six playoff eligible teams and the four earlier vacationers -- but they have slowly dropped out of the running over the last two months.

Sure, some of that can be blamed on the Earthquakes missing some of their best players due to their participation in the 2016 Copa America Centenario -- including the team's two leading scorers Chris Wondolowski and Alberto Quintero -- but a rash of injuries have depleted the roster to the point that even head coach Dominic Kinnear has jokingly asked for volunteers from media observers.

In a 1-0 lose at the Chicago Fire last Friday -- the nadir of the Quakes 2016 season so far -- San Jose was missing its top three center backs to injury, forcing emergency options Marvell Wynne and Fatai Alashe into the heart of the defense. The repositioning of assets required Anibal Godoy, the central midfield engine, to drop further into a defensive role, robbing the offense of a potent playmaker. The Quakes on the evening, even with Wondolowski back in the lineup, managed a meager six shots, only two on target.

Making matters worse, Alashe had to leave the field near the end of the game with an apparent head injury. He will miss the Quakes next match, a home tilt against Western Conference table toppers FC Dallas on Friday, due to yellow card accumulation., prompting Kinnear's plea to the Chicago media members that questioned him as to anyone's ability to play defense.

Fortunately for San Jose, the latest injury report suggests that center backs Victor Bernardez and Andres Imperiale are available to play against the Hoops on Friday, mitigating what could have been a very difficult squad selection decision. Assuming both pass their final physical checks, Bernardez and Imperiale will start the game, and Wynne can return to his natural fullback position.

The glimmer of good news, however, does not eclipse the disappointing darkness that is the Earthquakes road record in 2016. The lose at Chicago -- at the time, and still, the team with the worst overall record in MLS -- pushed San Jose's away record deeper from respectability to an anemic 0-5-4. Only the woeful Houston Dynamo have earned fewer points away from their home stadium.

What does this mean to the Quakes chances of securing a berth in the MLS Cup playoffs? After all, San Jose is still without a loss at Avaya Stadium, and prior to the weekend only two points out from sixth in the West. Such a discouraging road record is not a guarantee of another season without a postseason appearance, but it certainly holds a ominous canary-in-a-coalmine feeling.

The rule of thumb in MLS regarding playoff qualification is to reach the 50-point threshold over the course of the season. Only twice in the past five years has a team not made the postseason after attaining that point level -- the Columbus Crew in 2012 (52 points) and the Quakes in 2013 (51 points). In fact, the last teams in over the past few seasons have reached 49 points.

The Earthquakes at midseason this year have collected 22 points, which is far off the pace expected to be necessary to make the playoffs in what is proving to be a very difficult Western Conference. (By comparison, the Quakes would rank as fourth-best in the East.) And while their record at Avaya Stadium is strong -- they are one of five Western teams without a home loss -- their road futility keeps them below the playoff positions. Such away performances over the rest of the season will leave San Jose on the sidelines come November once again.

But it might not take a massive turnaround to break the Earthquakes playoff drought. The adage goes that winning at home and drawing on the road is the recipe for success in MLS. A team that did so over the course of 34 games would collect 68 points -- two more that the 66 points the Quakes earned in capturing the Supporters' Shield for the league's best record in 2012 -- more than enough to earn some prized hardware. Winning all 17 home games alone would push a team past the 50 point postseason threshold.

A simple calculation that compares home and road performance to expected points can be illuminating on how well a team is doing in its pursuit of the postseason. Assuming home wins are a favored outcome, a team should earn 51 points in 17 games within friendly confines -- anything less is points dropped. On the road, where losses are not a rarity, any points earned, via wins and draws, becomes a positive in expected points. Sum the dropped home and earned away points together, and a positive value indicates a likely playoff team.

Team Home Record Dropped Away Record Earned Net +/-
FC Dallas 7-0-3 -6 3-5-1 +10 +4
Colorado Rapids 7-0-2 -4 2-2-4 +10 +6
Real Salt Lake 5-0-2 -4 3-5-2 +11 +7
LA Galaxy 5-0-4 -8 1-3-4 +7 -1
Sporting Kansas City 5-4-1 -14 2-4-3 +9 -5
Vancouver Whitecaps 4-2-3 -10 3-6-0 +9 -1
Portland Timbers 6-2-1 -8 0-4-5 +5 -3
San Jose Earthquakes 5-0-3 -6 0-5-4 +4 -2
Seattle Sounders 4-4-0 -12 1-5-2 +5 -7
Houston Dynamo 4-1-3 -9 0-7-2 +2 -7

Looking through the current Western Conference standings, and not taking into account total games played since the +/- from expected results is all that is considered here, and it is apparent that the Quakes could make up some significant ground in the table with a smattering of road wins over the course of the second half of the season. After all, points earned on the road, more than those collected from holding serve at home, affect the overall +/- the most.

If the table is redrawn by +/- score instead of actual place in the standings, the Earthquakes stack up much better, sitting in the sixth and last playoffs eligible position.

Team Home Record Dropped Away Record Earned Net +/-
Real Salt Lake 5-0-2 -4 3-5-2 +11 +7
Colorado Rapids 7-0-2 -4 2-2-4 +10 +6
FC Dallas 7-0-3 -6 3-5-1 +10 +4
LA Galaxy 5-0-4 -8 1-3-4 +7 -1
Vancouver Whitecaps 4-2-3 -10 3-6-0 +9 -1
San Jose Earthquakes 5-0-3 -6 0-5-4 +4 -2
Portland Timbers 6-2-1 -8 0-4-5 +5 -3
Sporting Kansas City 5-4-1 -14 2-4-3 +9 -5
Seattle Sounders 4-4-0 -12 1-5-2 +5 -7
Houston Dynamo 4-1-3 -9 0-7-2 +2 -7

With eight away games remaining in their 2016 schedule, the Quakes have ample opportunity to secure their place in the Western Conference top-six. The fortress that is Avaya Stadium has been a great asset to San Jose this season, but they will need to show they can compete with the rest of MLS outside of the Bay Area to be seriously considered an MLS Cup contender.