In the shadow of last years incredible Supporter’s Shield, the San Jose Earthquakes have seen a roller-coaster in 2013 to say the least. But since Frank Yallop’s departure in June of this year, Mark Watson has proved competent, courageous and shown poise in the face of a potentially disappointing season. With only six MLS regular season games left the only route to validation is a playoff spot, but is it even possible? Of course it is! Any True Blue Goonie (especially myself) will tell you that the Quakes always have a chance, and we never say die. Putting blind faith aside for a minute, a Quakes playoff birth will require a lot of moving parts and should really be embraced with caution before the San Jose Faithful really have a cause to cheer. Before we break it down, lets review the MLS Playoff Qualification for those who don’t know–or need a refresher. How to Qualify: “Ten teams, the top five in points from each conference at the end of the regular season, qualify for the 2013 MLS Cup Playoffs.” “The fourth and fifth place teams in each conference will play a single knockout game, the winner of which will advance to the Conference Semifinals and face the first place team in the conference.” Source – MLS For full listing of qualification procedures and protocols see here: http://pressbox.mlssoccer.com/content/competition-rules-and-regulations So, what do the Earthquakes need to do in order to qualify, and what do we need to pray for to make sure it all goes smooth? First and foremost, WIN. The Quakes have had trouble on the road lately, but still hold a six game home unbeaten streak and need to build on that in the next few weeks. September holds a series of crucial matches against division members Vancouver (September 14th), Salt Lake (Sept 21st) and Chivas USA (September 29). Taking points from Chivas has become a habit and we can fully expect to take three there–as Chivas have become the theoretical gas station for those looking to recharge with some points this season. However, Vancouver will be a perhaps the most valuable game this season. Currently Vancouver holds 37 points (tied with the Earthquakes) but with a game in hand. A three point boost would put the Black and Blue into 7th place and only two spots away from qualification. Passing the Whitecaps now would work wonders, as they have a significantly harder run-in (every team they have is already in a top 5 spot). Next on the list would be RSL. The league leaders will be a sure test for Watson’s XI, but stealing a point (or even three) would keep us in the mix. Four points out of six in September will make for a VERY interesting October. The final month of the season will surely yield a heavy dose of nail biting. The main problem is that all the rivals for the fourth and fifth playoff will be facing each other (assuming RSL, Seattle and LA securing their 1-3 finishes as they seem set to). The Quakes not only face the LA Galaxy in the final California Clasico of the season, but face another CONCACAF Champions League game the same week–which will surely change the ideal roster a bit. The elephant in the room is that the Quakes unfortunately do not control their own destiny. For sake of argument five teams are competing for the two remaining spots (again assuming RSL, Seattle and LA hold form), and we will likely need a variety of mixed results to ensure our destiny. I expect Portland to take the fourth spot (again God bless Chivas, whom the Timbers get to play two more times), and an all out brawl for fifth place. If Colorado and Vancouver can’t find form in the next few weeks, we can hope that the Quakes’ October 26th matchup against FC Dallas will be our ticket into the big dance. Those who say Giant’s baseball is torture clearly haven’t been following the Earthquakes that much!