Monday Postgame: Are the Quakes living on the edge?
Did everyone see the look San Jose alum Troy Dayak was rocking at the team’s Hall of Fame ceremony on Saturday night?
Call it the neo-Richard Petty. Which was appropriate, since the Earthquakes are trying to become the kings of MLS this season, and Week 30 featured almost as many highlights as Petty has NASCAR wins.
There was a second straight statement game from Sporting Kansas City, a virtuoso performance by Thierry Henry, a hat trick from Álvaro Saborío and a tense Cascadia stalemate.
We also saw some dramatic late goals in Portland and Columbus, and — as is customary this season — more last-minute lunacy in San Jose.
That’s where we pick up this week’s Monday Postgame questions, from the buck-wild ending at Buck Shaw: Can the Earthquakes possibly keep this up? Which teams in the West are most likely to make them pay, come playoff time, for their habit of leaving things late?
Check Yourself Before You ...
The first team that could derail the Quakes is … the Quakes. Steven Lenhart’s astounding 95th-minute equalizer in their 3-3 draw against FC Dallas on Saturday was San Jose’s record ninth goal in second-half stoppage time this season, and their 12th game-winner or equalizer after the 82nd minute.
They simply cannot afford to rely on the midnight magic in the playoffs, where the stakes, the pressure, and, typically, the quality of the opponents’ defense, are on another level.
Getting Real in Salt Lake
If the Goonies don’t trip themselves up, Real Salt Lake are next in line for the job. They’ve lost just once in their last six games, and have won two in a row, including Saturday night’s 4-0 thrashing of Chivas USA.
WATCH: RSL run rampant over Chivas USA
Saborío scored a hat-trick against the Goats to move into second place in the Golden Boot race with 17 goals — an outburst that coincides with the rising form of Fabián Espíndola and Javier Morales. Espíndola had three assists in the Chivas win, and Morales had an assist to follow up his Goal of the Week performance in last round’s 2-1 win over Portland.
With Jámison Olave back from injury (and suspension), manager Jason Kreis will have his first-choice lineup just when he needs it most, and no one should underestimate RSL.
Question for the Defense
A week ago, we would’ve had the LA Galaxy in the slot above. They’d reeled off four straight wins, capped by a 4-2 romp over Toronto in which big guns Robbie Keane, Juninho and Landon Donovan all sparkled.
On Sunday night, they welcomed back David Beckham from a four-week injury absence and suited him up at Colorado against a side desperate for points to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. They tied 1-1 — no shame in that — but the takeaway from the game for LA was a knee injury to A.J. DeLaGarza, a mainstay in the Galaxy central defense for the past two seasons.
Bruce Arena’s side struggled to a 3-8-2 start this season without injured defender Omar Gonzalez. Now they may have to do without Gonzalez’s partner in central defense.
If that’s the case, the Galaxy, who have conceded 43 goals this year — second most among current playoff teams — could be in trouble against a San Jose side that has scored the most goals in the league (65).
On Any Given Day
Seattle are another side with enough talent to stop San Jose, but they’d have to reverse recent history — namely, three losses to the Quakes this year, including two at home — to get the job done. But if playmaker Mauro Rosales stays healthy (or the law of averages kicks in), Seattle can’t be counted out.
Finally, the last berth in the West is undecided, but it’s coming down to either FC Dallas or Vancouver. Vancouver are winless in their last seven games, but they’ve taken two of three from San Jose this season, and Dallas, who have lost just once in their last eight, showed on Saturday that they’re capable of giving San Jose a hard time.
Frank Yallop’s men are still the favorites, but the path through the West is rugged and it could lead to a matchup against a Kansas City team that hasn’t lost since July and has conceded the fewest goals in the league this year (25).