The San Jose Earthquakes completed a tough road trip that saw them losing three matches in a row. Now they head back to San Jose for their last two home games of the season as they try to hang on to the final playoff spot in the West. They play two games in four days and will have to play the first without two of their most valuable players and the manager that has orchestrated their turnaround.
No Points on the Road
At the start of September, the Quakes sat in fourth place in the West in line to host a home playoff match for the first time since 2012. They were preparing to go on the road for three matches against teams that were all in playoff contention including NYCFC who is in first place in the Eastern Conference. By the time the Quakes were ready to head back home to the Bay Area they had lost all three matches by a combined score of 6-2 and were barely hanging on to the seventh and final playoff spot in the West. The only thing keeping them in the playoff hunt is Portland’s inability to win at home and the fact that they have scored five more goals than the Timbers.
This run of bad form may seem like the cliff a lot of people were expecting the Quakes to fall off of at some point, but if you watched the games, you saw a different story. The Quakes were in all those matches and were leading in New York and had a draw in Atlanta until the 90th minute.
San Jose went on the road and almost proved to the league that they were going to be tough to dispatch in the playoffs. That’s cool but to use a favorite cliche of high school coaches “almost only works in horseshoes and hand grenades.”
Now the Quakes are in a “must-win” situation with three games left in the season and the Timbers breathing down their necks. Portland next faces New England Revolution at home then heads out to the midwest to face Sporting KC before ending the season back at home against the Quakes. The Revs are in a playoff battle of their own in the East so they will be playing with all the energy they have, although their last win came on August 24. Sporting has been almost as bad at home at the have been on the road, but we have all know how much more of an advantage playing at home is in Major League Soccer.
Next on the Quakes agenda is a meeting with the Philadelphia Union who are currently 3rd in the East with a 15-9-7 record though they have not won in their last couple of games.
Shorthanded on Wednesday
That crucial battle against the Union will be made more difficult as the Quakes will be missing a couple of key players and their manager with the luxuriant hair. All of whom were all sent off in their 3-1 loss to Atlanta United on Saturday. Their best playmaker, Cristian Espizonza, will miss the match after being sent off in the 34th minute after stomping on Atlanta’s Franco Escobar leg. While the card was earned, the stomp came after Escobar tried to play the ball while he was on the floor, looking more like a b-boy doing a flare or a windmill than a soccer player. Maybe he was thinking about Atlanta’s next match in New York and wanted to practice some of his moves.
Matias Almeyda was sent off in the second half for being mean to the referee’s and will miss his 4th match of the season. I am not trying to downplay Almeyda’s actions as he has shown that he can get animated on the sidelines and players, coaches, and supporters should have the utmost respect for all the referee’s, but I wonder if the sending off has something to do with the soccer culture in this country. As much as the league and the sport has grown a lot of people around the country still see soccer as a fun activity to keep the kids busy on the weekend while the parents get some stuff done around the house.
The kind of intensity and passion displayed by Almeyda and many soccer players and supporters that are not from the United States is foreign, literally, and goes against the “family-friendly” environment MLS is desperate to create. The game between the Quakes and Atlanta had a playoff atmosphere, and the players came out playing with a different intensity that I don’t think head referee Christopher Penso was expecting. As the league grows more competitive and aggressive, they are going to have to figure out a way for the referees to understand the new dynamics and not affect the outcome of the game because emotions are running higher than usual.
Chris Wondolowski and high emotions go together like Chris Wondolowski and poaching goals, and this week it’s going to cost the most prolific scorer in league history. Wondo was sent off from the bench in the 91st minute for foul and abusive language. I want to think this is another Penso over-reaction, but after watching Wondo play for so long, I know the passion that courses through his veins on game day he probably said something he wishes he could re-word.
Last Two Home Matches of the Season
The road to the playoffs is not going to be an easy one for the Quakes. Luckily 2 of their last three matches are in the friendly confines of Avaya Stadium where the Quakes enjoy a 10-3-2 record. Neither match will be easy as the two opponents they face currently sit in the top three of their respective conferences.
First up is a Wednesday evening matchup against Philadelphia Union who is sitting comfortably in third place in the East. They are trying to catch up to second place Atlanta to get a more favorable home match in the playoffs, but first, they need to try to earn some points on the road. Winning has been especially hard for them against Western Conference opponents; they currently have a 1-3-1 when on the road, according to Dirty South Soccer’s John Fuller.
Saturday they face the Seattle Sounders who have already reached the coveted threshold of 50 points but are 1-2-1 in their last four games. Their last win on the road was a 2-1 defeat of Portland who I stated above has been less than spectacular in their newly renovated stadium. The most recently lost 2-0 to D.C. United in the nation’s capital but they were playing with one of their most dynamic players as Nicolas Lodeiro missed the match with a back injury if he is fit to play against the Quakes, it could make it a tougher match for the black-and-blue.