Gather your black and blue scarves, your Chris Wondolowski jerseys, and your Goonies t-shirts because the San Jose Earthquakes are back at Buck Shaw Stadium for a pivotal playoff encounter against the Colorado Rapids.
After finally winning on the road, not just once but twice, at Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA, the Quakes are 6th in the Western Conference with 44 points; just one spot out of MLS playoff qualification. Coincidentally, the team in front of them with 48 points is the same team they host Wednesday night. With just three league games left, the Quakes’ playoff dreams are certainly attainable and in their hands. Mark Watson’s men just have to do their job, win outright and, well, “never say die.”
San Jose round off the season with two home games and an away Cali Clasico against the LA Galaxy sandwiched in the middle, so using the home crowd to their advantage is a massive key to this match. The Quakes have been downright filthy and resilient at home, only falling to RSL in the season opener back in March and are currently riding a 4 game clean sheet streak. Tapping into that home form and energy is absolutely paramount for the Quakes’ playoff push. Expect the 1906 Ultras supporter’s section to lead the charge in inspiring Buckshaw to be nothing short of intimidating and bombastic.
Buoyed by the crowd, San Jose’s stalwart veteran goalkeeper, Jon Busch must have another standout performance between the posts. Busch, who earned his 100th career MLS win this season and has put the Super Cuts’ clean sheet-clean cut promotion into overdrive, will have his hands full against a Rapids side that has a respectable goal tally of 42 on year, ten more than San Jose.
Rapids forward, Deshorn Brown, leads the team with nine goals and is coming off a lightening quick goal against the Seattle Sounders. Brown scored the second quickest goal in MLS history, slotting the ball past Michael Gspurning after a mere 15 seconds. And Brown is not scared to take his chances. With 90 shots on goal, one can make the argument questioning his accuracy but Busch and San Jose’s defense will not rest on percentages alone to diminish Brown’s influence. He is simply not daunted by space or distance. And while limiting his movements will be a key factor, the Rapids aren’t shy to spread the love. With Dillon Powers, Edson Buddle, and Atiba Harris each recording five goals apiece make the prospect of Busch having a busy 90 minutes very likely.
Almost mirroring those statistics are the Earthquakes’ individual goal tally. Wondo leads the team with nine while Alan Gordon, Steven Lenhart, and Adam Jahn, trail with four apiece. The only difference is that the Quakes are not beating teams by routes. As the previous game against Chivas USA suggested, Wondo’s 87th minute winner was not an outlier. In fact that game marked the 9th time of the year where the Quakes managed to only put one on the scoreboard. Now without the services of Lenhart, who got a questionable red card against Chivas USA, the Quakes will need to look elsewhere for goals. Gordon and Wondo will surely start up front and should be able to puncture the net and deliver three points. Also, look for Cordell Cato to be a thorn in the Rapids side as Watson’s confidence in the young Trinidadian has grown this season. He has continued to inspire the Quakes amidst this playoff push and with Marvin Chavez away on international duty Quakes fans should expect another big game out of Cato.
Chavez’s Honduran brethren, Victor Bernardez will also be absent. Now while this is unfortunate, Jason Hernandez is more than capable in partnering with Clarence Goodson. Although his speed has waned, having a veteran central defensive pairing is nice insurance for San Jose and Hernandez has stepped up, starting four of the last six matches for the team. Sticking with the defense, right back Steven Beitashour accepted a call up for the Iranian national team and fortunately will join that squad and their Asian Cup pursuits after this match. Beitashour, with his pinpoint crosses and slashing runs up the right flank, Beitashour can be the x-factor of this match.
The Rapids can earn an MLS playoff birth with a win over the Earthquakes and a Seattle Sounders win or tie over the Vancouver Whitecaps. Both of those games will be on Wednesday night, but if Earthquakes just focus on their own game and strengths, they can halt the rapids pursuits and maintain their own. The next 90 minutes of soccer at Buckshaw will be immense.