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WATCH: Rafa Marquez’s latest blatant, unnecessary attempt to injure

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Rafa Marquez can be a really bad dude.

I don’t mean “Bad” like Michael Jackson’s hit song, but bad like little kids identify the “bad guy.” He’s a villain. He’s hard-nosed.

And he’s a scummy player.

The latest example, pointed out by Sports Illustrated this morning, is his flying cleat into the back of Bolivar’s Gerardo Yecerotte on Tuesday night. He earned a red card for his troubles, costing Leon a chance to advance in the Copa Libertadores.

You may remember Marquez’s “inadvertent legs” from such previous films as “Shea Salinas’ clavicle: We hardly knew ye” (trailer below):

He’s just a player who doesn’t need to be playing, bad for the sport and arguably bad for humanity (judging from his various rifts through the locker room during his time with the Red Bulls).

For now, though, he’s just another villain awaiting a punishment. It’ll likely be too lenient.

MLS Season Preview: San Jose Earthquakes

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Injuries, a shaky defense and some plain bad luck sent the San Jose Earthquakes crashing down in 2013, sliding down from the team that won the Supporters’ Shield in 2012 to a team that couldn’t even make the playoffs last season. But, provided the team hasn’t actually been cursed, it’s highly unlikely 2014 will be as disappointing for Quakes fans.

Why? They’ve got their new head coach locked down for the season. The side is healthy. Sensible, strong acquisitions were made since the start of the 2013 season. The defensive holes have been mended. And really, just how much bad luck can one team attract?

After scoring 27 goals in 2012, Chris Wondolowski scored just 11 last season, primarily due to playing most of the year with a broken toe. He’s back to health, as are Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon, so the goals should be coming more freely – particularly if Lenhart has learned to control his temper.

On the other end, bringing in Clarence Goodson midway through last season proved to be one of San Jose’s smartest moves, strengthening the defense to the point where the Quakes conceded just 10 times in their last 14 games. And with Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi now on board, Sam Cronin doesn’t need to spend quite as much time covering for the disappointing Rafael Baca, and can be more effective in his role as defensive midfielder.

LATEST MLS 2014 SEASON PREVIEWS, HERE

Players In: Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi (Discovery); Atiba Harris (Trade with Colorado); Billy Schuler (Weighted lottery); Tommy Thompson ( Homegrown); Bryan Meredith (Free); J.J. Koval (SuperDraft); Shaun Francis, Brandon Barklage (Re-Entry Stage 2)

Players Out: Ramiro Corrales (Retired); Nana Attakora, Dan Gargan, Marcus Tracy, Evan Newton, Peter McGlynn, Cesar Diaz Pizzaro (Option declined); Mehdi Ballouchy (Out of contract); Jaime Alas (Loan expired); Rafael Baca (Transfer to Cruz Azul); Justin Morrow (Trade to Toronto); Marvin Chávez (Trade to Colorado); Steven Beitashour (Trade to Vancouver); David Bingham, Sam Garza (Loan to San Antonio)

Key Player: Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi

source: AP
Can Pierazzi provide the missing link for San Jose?

Yes, it would be easy to put Wondolowski here. But we know what he can bring to a side when fully fit: goals, goals, and more goals. He will bother defenders and even create chances. But he, alone, cannot pull the Quakes out of the mire.

Enter Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi. The central midfielder, about at his prime at age 28, began his professional career with AC Ajaccio in 2006 and has been with the French club ever since. He’s not going to be a goalscorer (he’s had just two goals in his career) but Pierazzi is the man that San Jose are hoping can help with ball distribution in the center of the field. If he’s as good as they hope at winning the ball and getting it out wide to spark an attack, then calling him “key” is no exaggeration.

Manager: Mark Watson, who took over the reins as interim manager when Frank Yallop departed last June, was appointed as the Quakes head coach in October. He’s been with the team since 2010, when he came on as assistant coach. Watson earned his promotion by righting the sinking ship, patching up the defense to go unbeaten in the last seven games of the season. Plus, he must get some credit – and some adoration from the fans – for steering his side to a comeback win over the LA Galaxy, just a few weeks after taking over as head coach.

Outlook: If luck is on San Jose’s side, they’ll certainly have a much brighter season in 2014. The midfield’s been strengthened, the defense sorted out, and if Wondo can stay healthy, there’s no reason to think the Quakes won’t make an impression in the West. It may not be another Supporters’ Shield season, but they should easily make the playoffs.

Highlights: San Jose within one point of Colorado after beating Rapids at Buck Shaw

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Thanks to Chris Wondolowski’s 10th goal of the year, San Jose’s within a sliver of a playoff spot, with the Earthquakes’ 1-0 victory Wednesday over visiting Colorado leaving them one point behind the fifth-place Rapids.

The goal came in the 69th minute, with the reigning Major League Soccer Most Valuable Player Chris Wondolowski taking advantage of young Shane O’Neill on a corner kick. On the Shea Salinas out-swinger, “Wondo” gave the young central defender a small shove, catching him off balance with the type of normally innocuous contact that’s standard procedure on corner kicks. That left the San Jose captain essentially unmarked from nine yards out, his header going into the right side-netting for the game’s only goal.

That game-winner made up for goals Wondolowski could have had in the 50th, 64th, and 69th minutes. Just after halftime, he found himself going in alone on goal after badly beating O’Neill off the dribble, but a poor finish into Clint Irwin’s feet left the score 0-0. On the next chance, Wondolowski got the ball past Irwin only to see a retreating Drew Moor save his shot off the line. Five minutes later, a header toward the top of goal off a restart from the right was palmed out for a corner – the corner Wondo buried for the winner.

Later, Clint Irwin swallowed an Alan Gordon header put on goal from a corner kick – another highlight of the Colorado’s keeper strong yet losing effort. Though the final score was 1-0, it would have been much worse without the play of the Rapids’ Man of the Match.

Ultimately, the mere fact Colorado lost was more important than how it happened. Now, only one point up on San Jose, they close the season with a home-and-home against a Vancouver team coming off a 4-1 thrashing of Seattle. Sweep that series, and Colorado’s in. Drop points, and they’ll need the Earthquakes’ help to stay in the top five. Drop too many points, and Vancouver (three points back) will pass the Rapids.

As for San Jose, they still need help to make the playoffs. Even if they sweep their final two games (at LA and home to Dallas) they could still find themselves on the outside looking in. If the Galaxy win Wednesday against Montréal or in their season finale at Seattle, the defending champions are assured of finishing ahead of the Earthquakes. If that happens while Colorado sweeps Vancouver, San Jose’s late charge will be for naught.

Well, almost for naught.  Even if San Jose doesn’t return to the postseason, we’re going to remember this run. We’re going to remember their poor start, all the early-season injuries they had to overcome, and how close they are to rendering all that adversity meaningless. LA, Colorado, or Vancouver may surge over the next two weeks, and San Jose may be left out in the cold, but after the run Matt Watson’s stoked his team to throughout the summer, nobody who’s followed the league will forget the end to the 2013 season …

Even if such memories will be no consolation to the players if they don’t return to the postseason.

Bruce Arena with strong words for Galaxy following collapse to San Jose

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The San Jose Earthquakes snatched victory from the clutches of defeat last night at the expense of their California rivals LA Galaxy.

After the Quakes were dominated for much of the match, Shea Salinas latched onto a loose ball in the box two minutes into stoppage time to equalize. Just a minute later the Galaxy defense failed to clear again and a wonder chip by Sam Cronin to the far post found Alan Gordon’s head for the win.

The win rocked Stanford Stadium, but the losers knew they let it slip away, and their manager dug in.

“I’m absolutely embarrassed at that performance, it’s disgraceful” said Galaxy manager Bruce Arena. He called his players and coaches “poor and stupid” but bore the brunt of the responsibility, saying “That game, we should win that going away at the end of the game. It’s embarrassing, our performance at the end of the game. That’s all on me. That’s my responsibility with this team.”

When asked what specifically the Galaxy could have done better, the frustration showed. “I don’t even want to go into that” said the 61-year-old. “If you have an IQ of 50, you can figure that out.”

The Galaxy will be ruing their missed opportunities to go well up in the match. Robbie Rogers, Robbie Keane, Gyasi Zardes, Hector Jiminez, and Marcelo Sarvas all missed key opportunities. Other than a short spell after the halftime break, LA were firmly in control.

One in particular stood out, where Keane – who was brilliant most of the night – had an opening but continued a never-ending back-and-forth with Landon Donovan, and neither shot the ball before possession was lost.

“The longer you play this game, the more you see games like that, where one team dominates and you don’t score, and the next thing you know, you’re on the losing end” said Arenas.

The win gives the Goonies life towards the bottom of the Western Conference, just three points back of the Galaxy who remain in fifth.

Major League Soccer team previews: SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES

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Each day from now until the beginning of Major League Soccer’s 18th season, we will preview one Eastern Conference team and one from the West. First kick is March 2.

No. 1 in the West is San Jose Earthquakes:

Significant additions and subtractions: As you might expect coming off San Jose’ 2012, the roster is relatively unchanged.

Simon Dawkins is the only major loss, but he’s a big one. There isn’t an obvious candidate to replace his eight goals.

Khari Stephenson’s gone (Real Salt Lake) as is Ike Opara (Sporting KC), but among Frank Yallop’s top 14 minutes-getters, 13 return.

The additions have all been spare parts, though some will prove valuable. Mike Fucito will get some early starts. Same for Dan Gargan at right back. Nana Attakora and Ty Harden replace Opara’s depth in defense.

Strengths: Thanks to Chris Wondolowski, goals shouldn’t be a problem, though with Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon out to start the year, San Jose’s attack won’t be the huge edge in March that it will be in October. Still, with modest production from Fucito (who has looked good in preseason), the Earthquakes should be fine.

San Jose also have a lot of tactical versatility, something that enabled last year’s last match heroics. With a few subs, a tweak to Wondolowski and Rafael Baca’s positioning, San Jose can easily shift from a two to three forward look. With Martin Chavez and Shea Salinas wide, they can go to a speed team, or they can stay more balanced by playing only one of their burners. They can play wingers or, with Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour, go narrow through the middle and rely on their fullbacks for width.

All teams can do this, but San Jose is actually good at it. It’s as if Yallop can spend 60 minutes figuring out your weaknesses before using his team’s versatility to exploit you. And other teams just don’t have this much versatility.

Pressure points: Injuries are the obvious one, with questions about Chavez and Beitashour joining a list that includes Lenhart and Gordon, but the real problem is replicating 2012. With the possible exception of goalkeeper Jon Busch, you can argue every player in Yallop’s starting XI had the best year of their career. That’s nearly impossible to replicate.

Let’s just look at the goal totals. Wondolowski had 27. He’s not going to do that again. In fact, he could score anywhere between five and 10 less, particularly when those bulldozing No. 9 strikers are hurt to start the year.

Gordon’s production will be down. Lenhart’s production will be down. And Simon Dawkins scored eight goals last season. San Jose’s losing a lot in attack.

source: Getty ImagesDifference maker: Even if Wondo merely competes for the Golden Boot, he’s going to keep contributing in other ways. Whether playing withdrawn, wide, or as an attacking midfielder, Wondolowski is the focal point of San Jose’s attack, and while he may be better be known for his scoring, his seven assists speak to his importance for others’ production.

Potential breakout player: If Shea Salinas picks up a bulk of Dawkins’ minutes, he’ll put up the best numbers of his career. The speedy Texan has seven assists in limited time last year, but he only had one goal. The assist number may be difficult to improve, but if he gets more than 1155 minutes, he’ll beat his career best for goals (two).

Bottom line: We have them at No. 1, but as we mentioned yesterday, it’s close, particularly with all the injuries. Like the rest of the West, San Jose is less concerned with where they finish in October than being ready for November. That may entail sacrificing points over the next eight months.

(MORE: full roster of ProSoccerTalk’s Major League Soccer previews and predictions)