Quakes determined to avoid slow start in playoff quest

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Since their 2008 reconstitution, the San Jose Earthquakes have lost all four of their home openers, with an aggregate scoreline of 6-0 against.

According to Quakes defender Jason Hernandez, a veteran of all four defeats, that stat is “no bueno.”

Whether talking about it in English or Spanish, the evidence is clear: San Jose have had their troubles early in the schedule since returning to MLS an as expansion side. The Quakes opened last year on a 1-4-3 skid and never caught up to the playoff qualifying line.

And with the league’s new postseason format pitting the seemingly stronger collection of nine Western Conference sides against each other in a scrap for five MLS Cup Playoffs berths, the Quakes can’t afford to again stumble out of the gate.

“We know in this league, it’s always hard to play catch-up, so we’ve got to get off to a good start,” head coach Frank Yallop said. “With a 34-game season, it seems a lot of games, but once you get 10, 12 into it, you go, ‘Oh, we’re a third of the way through.’ And if you haven’t got a good number of wins by that, then it’s not impossible ... but it helps you. You can have the odd game where you maybe don’t have the result you’re trying to get.”

That makes notching a victory Saturday – and finding the goals necessary to bag the three points – pretty imperative when San Jose host New England in both teams’ season opener (10:30 pm ET; MLS Live).

“All thoughts are on getting a good start and getting a win at home,” Yallop said. “I think guys are really focused to do that. It’s kind of a cup final for us. We want to come out and show the fans that we’re not here to make the numbers up.”

For Quakes fans, it will be a chance to see how their rebuilt squad looks, with newcomers Marvin Chávez, Shea Salinas and Víctor Bernárdez expected to start on either wing and the back line, respectively. Simon Dawkins, back for a second loan stint from Tottenham Hotspur, and Tressor Moreno, the Quakes’ biggest free-agent splash, should suit up but probably won’t start due to match-fitness concerns.

“All in all, it’s just a better unit,” Yallop said. “They’ve got more firepower.”

Foremost in the arsenal is the reunited front line of bull-in-a-china-shop target man Steven Lenhart and 34-goals-in-the-last-two-seasons Chris Wondolowski. Lenhart hasn’t played since July 20, having missed the remainder of the season on a family leave of absence in the wake of his father’s unexpected death.

Lenhart left in the midst of a franchise-record 13-match winless streak, a drought that reiterated the need for San Jose to retool once some big-dollar contracts came off the books this winter. The Quakes finished on a 2-1-3 uptick that they’d love to build upon.

“I would say we’re a team has a lot to prove after last season,” Hernandez said. “And I think we’re going to do that, starting this weekend.”

For the Quakes, that would be muy bien.

Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at sanjosequakes@gmail.com

GET TICKETS to San Jose Earthquakes vs. New England Revolution, Saturday, March 10, 2012, 10:30 pm ET at Buck Shaw Stadium. Watch on MLS LIVE.