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Final

History reminds SJ path to Shield not as easy as it looks

Frank Yallop (SJ - CHV)

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SAN JOSE, Calif. – With eight matches remaining, the San Jose Earthquakes lead the MLS table, three points clear of Sporting Kansas City. Chivas USA sit 13th among 19 clubs at 1.17 points per match.

So with an elongated home-and-home series beginning Sunday at Buck Shaw Stadium (9 pm ET, NBCSN, live chat on MLSsoccer.com) and finishing Sept. 15 at the Home Depot Center, how do the Quakes take their less-successful opposition seriously?

By remembering their history, for a start.

Since coming back to the league in 2008, San Jose are 1-6-2 against Chivas. The Quakes’ only victory in that timeframe came by a 3-0 count in October 2010, when San Jose constantly fed Chris Wondolowski for a hat trick that helped him win his first Golden Boot award.

Changing that paradigm could be a critical piece to securing what would be the second Supporters’ Shield in San Jose history – and the club’s first piece of hardware in their new MLS incarnation.

The road for San Jose to finish first is paved with teams in the bottom third of the league standings. In addition to the Chivas matches, the Quakes have a pair of games against Portland (17th, 0.96 points per match), a home date with FC Dallas (14th, 1.14) and a trip to Colorado (16th, 1.00). Only Seattle (third, 1.72) and LA (ninth, 1.48) remain as top-half opponents.

For Quakes coach Frank Yallop, the key to Sunday is to remember that circumstances have changed from those earlier struggles.

“I just think it’s what time of the season we meet them, or maybe they have some players that are thorns in our side,” Yallop said. “We’re a different team this year, so are they. You can’t look back on the last five years. It’s kind of irrelevant.”

One thorn was sheared when Chivas USA dealt Justin Braun to Real Salt Lake earlier this year. Braun remains Chivas’ all-time leading scorer against San Jose, with four goals in eight appearances.

In addition to the regular-season trophy, San Jose are also chasing a very tangible reward: home playoff dates at Buck Shaw Stadium, where the club haven’t lost since Aug. 13, 2011. And regardless of placement in the standings, the Quakes recall the importance of a strong finish heading into November; San Jose closed 2010 on a 7-4-2 run before knocking off top-seeded New York to reach the Eastern Conference final.

“It’s making sure that we moving in the right direction,” Yallop said after the Quakes stormed past Colorado 4-1 last weekend. “I said in the meeting before the game, it’s like, ‘We’ve got to make a statement. . . . We’re top of the league. Let’s stay there. Let’s not limp into the playoffs. Let’s not get beat and just lay down.’”

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