San Jose Earthquakes hope Champions League mojo carries over to MLS schedule

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The San Jose Earthquakes couldn’t have asked for a better springboard into arguably the most difficult match remaining on their MLS schedule.

After a month of scuffling offensively, bemoaning near-misses and squandered opportunities alike, the Quakes busted out Tuesday with a 3-0 victory against the Montreal Impact in CONCACAF Champions League group play.

And if San Jose can carry that momentum into a result against Real Salt Lake in Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday night (9 pm ET, MLS Live), the Quakes might just carry out their audacious plan of sneaking in the MLS postseason.

“Yes, this tournament gives us confidence,” said Marvin Chávez, one of the Quakes’ goalscorers Tuesday. “It keeps us motivated, keeps us pushing forward. We need to get a result in Salt Lake this weekend, obviously.”

That will be difficult, of course. The Quakes are 1-2-2 lifetime at Rio Tinto, including a 3-0 spanking delivered by RSL on June 1. And RSL, enmeshed in their own hunt for the Supporters’ Shield, won’t lack for motivation.

Yet the comprehensive nature of San Jose’s win Tuesday – just the second three-goal performance for the Quakes in all competitions this year – and the fact it came against a Montreal side that didn’t lack for first-teamers in the starting lineup leaves some room for supporters to daydream about a point, or even three.

“Any time you win a game, see the ball hit the back of the net a couple times, it gives you a boost, something to really build on, and hopefully we can do that,” Chris Wondolowski said Tuesday. “I’ve always said scoring goals is a bit contagious. Hopefully we can continue that trend going on.”

There’s another hopeful sign at the other end of the field. San Jose opened the season with just one shutout from their first 20 league matches, a stretch that included a pair of meetings with Real Salt Lake. Since adding Clarence Goodson and Jordan Stewart, however, the Quakes have five clean sheets in nine league games.

“The guys were unbelievable,” midfielder Shea Salinas said of the Quakes’ back four on Tuesday. “Jason [Hernandez] had like six blocked shots, Clarence was winning headers. Dan Gargan and Justin [Morrow] were great. Defensively, I thought it was one of the best games we had. ... I think we have amazing depth on our backline.”

Despite all the positives, the Quakes know they have a very slim path to reach the playoffs. San Jose sit five points behind fifth-place Portland, who have a game in hand on the Quakes. But midfielder Rafael Baca thinks there’s something additional to play for.

“Knowing that it’s going to be really difficult for us to make the playoff push, I think it’s just a matter of leaving everything out there for the fans that have been there with us since the season started,” Baca said. “It wasn’t a good season, like the one they expected. I think we’ve got to do that for them, just an appreciation of what they do to support us in good times and bad times.”