Saborio, left, is still the man RSL look to for goals. Can he deliver this season?

MLS Preview: San Jose Earthquakes at Real Salt Lake

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It’s so difficult to define “too late” in the Major League Soccer season. The post-season structure remains so ridiculously forgiving that clubs out of playoff positioning can wander into July or even August and still have plenty of time to finish Top Five in conference.

So we look quickly at the San Jose Earthquakes, the Supporters Shield holders, a bunch that looks intriguing in 2013 for very different reasons than it was intriguing in 2012.

Some early injuries notwithstanding, this is primarily the same team that did claim the Supporters Shield a year ago. But as the halfway mark begins creeping closer for the current campaign – this weekend is Round 14 of 34 – it seems safe to go with this: If the Earthquakes of 2013 desire any chance to retain that trophy for the league’s best regular season record, they had better start winning soon.

That winning won’t come easy this weekend as Frank Yallop’s team travels into Utah to face Real Salt Lake. Oh, and they won’t even have their best defender, one of the tops in MLS, in fact; Victor Bernardez has been suspended two matches for a dangerous challenge last weekend in Dallas.

But that’s where things are for the ‘Quakes, who are in this position because they are winless on the road (0-4-2) so far, and because they aren’t making up the points at home. Matches that San Jose won dramatically at the end in 2012, they are drawing dramatically in the closing minute this year.

Consider that Yallop’s men needed to work hard to collect seven of a possible 15 points in matches at Buck Shaw Stadium through April and May. While it remains way too early to discuss playoff positioning, it cannot sit well for ‘Quakes fans to see the team four points out of playoff position, especially having played a more games than most of the teams ahead in the standings.

Adding another dent in this season of surprising mediocrity, the Earthquakes went out Wednesday in their initial go at U.S. Open Cup action, falling to lower-tier Charleston.

Real Salt Lake, meanwhile, advanced in the Open Cup to retain a little May momentum; Jason Kreis’ team went 4-1-1 in all competitions during the month. Old hands like Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando and a revitalized Ned Grabavoy are shepherding all the promising youngsters, and have RSL reasonably well positioned heading closer to the season’s mid-pole.

San Jose was the victim as Real Salt Lake began its semi-rebuild this year with a 2-0 win at Buck Shaw on two goals from Alvaro Saborio in both teams’ season opener back in early March. Saborio is out for this one with a groin strain.

But those young reserves (Devon Sandoval, Luis Gil, Sebastian Velazquez, Olmes Garcia and Carlos Salcedo, primarily) have mostly come through this year, understandably inconsistent but delivering regularly enough to have everyone around Rio Tinto encouraged.

All things considered, Kreis’ team can like its chances in this one.

Then again, the team is young … so you never know. Kickoff at Rio Tinto in suburban Sandy, Utah, is 9:30 ET.

MLS Snapshot: Orlando City SC 2-1 Montreal Impact

Cyle Larin, Orlando City SC

The game in 100 words (or less): For weeks, it was a widely held belief that the Montreal Impact would snatch up the sixth and final playoff place in the Eastern Conference with little or no resistance from their opposition. As they went six games unbeaten (four wins), all looked to be setting up perfect for the club that fired Frank Klopas midseason, but there was another team in the race for sixth that kept winning themselves: Orlando City SC. On Saturday night, Montreal and Orlando City faced off at the Citrus, with the expansion Lions claiming their fourth-straight victory with a 2-1 triumph. Montreal now holds a one-point lead on Orlando in the race for sixth, and have two games in hand, but it’s no longer a foregone conclusion L’Impact will qualify for the playoffs no resistance whatsoever.

[ MORE: | Week 30 TOTW | POTW ]

Three moments that mattered

33′ — Bush’s mistake gifts Larin the opening goal — Larin did what your taught to do as a striker — “put it on frame, test the goalkeeper” — but in no universe does a shot so feeble have any business finding the back of the net. Evan Bush has been great this year. Hopefully (for Montreal’s sake), this howler doesn’t turn into the yips with the playoffs looming.

43′ — Hall’s “mistake” gifts Oduro an equalizer — Dominic Oduro equalized in the 43rd minute, when he took the ball out of the hands of Tally Hall and smashed it into the back of the net, but the goal should have been disallowed due to Hall having full control of the ball.

80′ — Hines hits the winner for Orlando — Seb Hines put the ball back into the mixer and just so happened to find the back of the net in the 80th minute. Sometimes that’s all it takes.

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Man of the match: Seb Hines

Goalscorers: Larin (33′), Oduro (43′), Hines (80′)

MLS Snapshot: NY Red Bulls 2-1 Columbus Crew SC

Bradley Wright-Phillips, New York Red Bulls
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The game in 100 words (or less): Two weeks in a row Columbus Crew SC have had a chance to go top of the Eastern Conference with a victory, and two weeks in a row Crew SC have failed to take a single point from massively important fixtures. Their latest defeat, a 2-1 humbling at the hands of the East-leading New York Red Bulls, started so well for Gregg Berhalter’s side, but was undone by a pair of costly, comedic defensive errors that allowed Lloyd Sam and Bradley Wright-Phillips (15th of the season) to erase an early deficit (Justin Meram) and win all three points. The result not only keeps the Red Bulls top of the East, but gives them a three- and four-point cushion with three and two games in hand on their nearest competitors., D.C. United and New England Revoltion respectively. For Crew SC, they’re four points back of the Red Bulls in fourth place, one point ahead of fifth-place Toronto FC, who have a game in hand.

[ MORE: | Week 30 TOTW | POTW ]

Three moments that mattered

9′ — Meram pokes it past Robles for an early lead — Meram “earned” his goal all the way back in midfield, when the Iraqi international’s mazy run took a routine turnover inside Crew SC’s defensive half and turned it into a dangerous counter-attacking opportunity. Harrison Afful overlapped and provided the cross for Meram to send home.

12′ — Sam capitalizes on multiple mistakes to equalize — Crew SC pass the ball out of the back. They don’t boot it forward to clear. It’s just what they do. Sometimes, that’ll bite you. When your goalkeeper and right back both have blunders clearing the ball 10 seconds apart, you probably deserve to concede an ugly, scrappy goal.

21′ — Wright-Phillips capitalizes on more defensive gaffes — See the above description for Red Bulls goal no. 1.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Damien Perrinelle

Goalscorers: Meram (9′), Sam (12′), Wright-Phillips (21′)