After a hard-fought 1-0 win over the Philadelphia Union on Sunday, the San Jose Earthquakes are showing the grit and nerve needed to mount a late push for the playoffs.
But can the reigning Supporters’ Shield champions sneak into the postseason?
In the past few weeks the ‘Quakes are looking increasingly solid and have been able to collect plenty of points to give themselves a chance of making the dance. They are currently 5 points off the playoffs, with six points separating third placed LA with San Jose in eighth. After taking the league by storm last season with an attack heavy approach lead by Chris Wondolowski, Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon, the Earthquakes are in real danger of missing out on a chance to compete for MLS Cup 2013.
An MLS Cup has alluded San Jose since 2003 but let’s not get too carried away, making the playoffs would be a major achievement this season after early struggles and losing long-term head coach Frank Yallop at the midway point. Remarkably, since their opening day home defeat to Real Salt Lake, interim boss Mark Watson’s San Jose are unbeaten in 13 league games at home and have won their last six.
It is that home form that could see them reach the playoffs as the cluster of teams on the bubble all continue to beat each other and complicate the equation further. Poor away form could be the ‘Quakes’ downfall after an incredibly poor season away from Buck Shaw Stadium. But that would take a whole other article to dissect, so we’ll leave it at that.
San Jose have six games left and three of those are in the comfortable confides of home against Vancouver, Colorado and FC Dallas. And they will only leave the state of California once between now and the end of the season, with a trip to Real Salt Lake on September 21. The strength of San Jose’s schedule should leave their fate in their own hands, with five of their six games coming against teams in the playoff hunt in the West.
And one positive for the Earthquakes heading into the final stretch is that their defensive solidity has been impressive in recent home wins. They’ve conceded just once in their last five home games, after 1-0 wins against Philadelphia, Sporting KC and Seattle a 2-0 win against Chivas USA and a 2-1 win over Portland.
But scoring goals has been an issue this season for San Jose, as they’re the fourth lowest scorers in MLS with just 29 goals scored so far. However that doesn’t really matter because if they keep grinding out shutouts as a settled backline leads the way. The likes of Jon Busch in goal, defenders Steven Beitashour, Jason Hernandez, Justin Morrow, Jordan Stewart, Clarence Goodson and Victor Bernardez gives San Jose one of the strongest defensive units in MLS.
Four wins and a draw from their final six games should seem them squeak into the final playoff spot. Can San Jose’s stingy defense, rather than a swashbuckling offense, lead them into the postseason this season?