San Jose happy to wear a target as first in the West

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Chris Wondolowski knows what it means for the San Jose Earthquakes to be sitting atop the Western Conference standings.

“I don’t think we’re going to sneak up on anyone,” Wondolowski said this past Saturday, minutes after his league-leading eighth goal clinched a 3-1 victory over former West leaders Real Salt Lake. “I think that they know that we can play.”

With a 5-1-1 record and a five-match unbeaten streak, San Jose have gone from being an afterthought at the end of last season to the forefront of most power rankings. This is the Quakes’ first stint on top of the conference standings since the club was refounded as an expansion side in 2008.

So how big is that target on San Jose’s back as they prepare for their first stretch of three-games-in-eight days this season, beginning in Philadelphia on Saturday?

“We’re still going to do what we do, regardless of whether we’re at the bottom, middle or top [of the table],” Quakes defender Steven Beitashour said. “We’re just going to keep working hard, get better every day and never be content even if we’re in third, second or first. We’ve just got to keep working and give 100 percent effort, and I think we’ll stay up there.”

For his part, Quakes coach Frank Yallop doesn’t subscribe to the notion that clubs will be gunning even harder for San Jose now that they enjoy a higher profile.

“If I’m speaking for all the coaches, everyone prepares to win every game,” Yallop said. “They’re not looking at who they’re playing. Against LA last year, it’s not like you change your game to say, ‘We’ve got to pick it up more in this match.’ We’ve got to be the same in every game.”

Players really don’t get an extra little bit of excitement at the opportunity to knock off the top dogs?

“I wouldn’t think so, because every game matters,” Yallop said. “It’s three points no matter who you’re playing. I think there’s more pressure playing teams that are on the bottom, because you’re expected to win. I don’t see teams looking at us going, ‘Oh, if we don’t do this, we’re going to get [whipped].’”

Quakes goalkeeper Jon Busch responded to a question about the importance of this initial appearance as the West’s No. 1 side with a rhetorical question of his own.

“What’s the date today?” Busch asked before providing his own answer. “It’s April. We want to be at the top of the table in October. It’s great to get off to a good start, but the season’s 34 games, and this was game seven. ... There’s a lot of season still to be played and there’s a lot for us to improve on.”

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