Playoffs booked, but no let-up in mind for soaring Quakes

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SAN JOSE, Calif. — Coming off a 38-point season, the San Jose Earthquakes had one goal in mind for 2012: getting back to the MLS Cup playoffs.

Achieving that mission in the first week of September exceeded even the rosiest predictions the Quakes could have imagined, and it leaves San Jose with an interesting motivational conundrum: how to stay focused even after crossing off the No. 1 item on your yearly to-do list.

"It’s a bit surreal to feel the hard work has already paid off, and we’ve secured our spot,” San Jose defender Jason Hernandez told MLSsoccer.com. “It’s a bit of a sense of urgency on us to make sure we don’t get complacent and just be happy to know we punched our ticket.”

If one were creating the recipe for a letdown, the Quakes’ trip to Chivas USA on Saturday (10:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online) might have all the necessary ingredients: a two-week layoff, a road trip to a historically unfriendly stadium and an opponent whom they waxed 4-0 just two weeks ago.

But Quakes midfielder Sam Cronin said Thursday that he’s seen no signs of San Jose collectively easing off the gas pedal.

“Our goal at the start of the year was definitely to make the playoffs, and now that we’ve done that, I haven’t really heard much about it,” Cronin said. “Since we’ve qualified, no one’s mentioned anything. It’s not a big storyline for us. We just want to keep playing well and getting wins.”

Coach Frank Yallop wants his club to keep up its pace heading into the playoffs, so he won’t be mixing in large numbers of younger players just to give them experience. But he also will take special care in watching the health of players with minor injuries — meaning that players such as Marvin Chávez, still troubled slightly by hamstring soreness this week, might get a pass for an extra match or two.

“We’ve just made the playoffs, which is great for the club, the fans and everyone involved with our team,” Yallop told MLSsoccer.com. “But the big picture and big thing we want to achieve is win the MLS Cup. The Supporters’ Shield is obviously a big target now for us, but winning the MLS Cup is it.”

Despite the new focus, November can’t come soon enough for some Quakes, such as midfielder Shea Salinas, who hadn’t been on a playoff team in his first four MLS seasons.

“They say [postseason matches] are a different game,” Salinas told MLSsoccer.com. “You’re playing to stay alive. I hear that they’re intense and there’s nothing like them, so I’m really excited about it.”

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