Earthquakes, Wizards figuring it out

if not a result -- on Wednesday, the Earthquakes are poised to make a playoff run.

The problem is that they are running into the hardest team in MLS to play right now, the Kansas City Wizards. I wish we had relegation in times like these because then this game would really be fun to watch. We don't have relegation, of course, but it doesn't mean that I'm not happy Quakes-Wizards is this week's ESPN2 game.

Early in the season Earthquakes head coach Dominic Kinnear had a choice: to freak out and scream at his guys or to simply keep doing what they have been doing for the last three years in San Jose. That is, to never panic, just trust yourself as a coach and let the boys play. Coming off a championship season, it would be really easy to be concerned as to why the results weren't happening, but Kinnear didn't. When I talked to him last month his response was direct and clear about the possibility of panic.

"Why would anybody in our group panic at this point? It's not like we don't know how to fix things; it's not like we don't know what we are doing," Kinnear said. "We just have to get it done and stop taking things for granted. The results will come."

Even though his club lost Wednesday (2-1 to the Chicago Fire), they put in a good performance. They've gone from being a good team playing poorly to a good team playing well, but still getting unlucky results.

Even after losing Landon Donovan to a well-deserved suspension they still beat D.C. United, convincing many that they are not going to be in last place very much longer.

By the way, I'm not condoning Landon's outburst, nor am I saying that MLS was wrong to suspend him because it was the right thing to do, but he was right. The refs had a nightmare in that game against New England and it's good to see that the kid cares enough to be mad about it (just don't do it again, Landon).

As far as this team goes it would be hard to imagine them finishing the season behind Colorado. To quote Rapids midfielder Mark Chung, "It's not good when you see San Jose in last. They are not the team you want behind you because eventually they will get it right."

Well said, Mark. The Earthquakes also have two games in hand on the Rapids, which puts Colorado in last as we speak in my book. Regardless, it's going to be interesting to see who outlasts the other for that last spot in the playoffs. For selfish reasons I would much rather see L.A. vs. San Jose again in the first round. Last year was some of the best playoff action ever, and I'm hoping for part two. We'll see.

Kansas City is a team that seemingly nobody ever gives enough credit. They have a solid defense and they are scoring goals. Wizards head coach Bob Gansler is a guy who simply knows what he is doing. I think he has proven that over the years. Like them or not, respect them or not, the Wizards are a good team, and they might end up winning the whole thing, as they did in 2000. If you don't want that to happen, here's a little advice: start respecting them. The alternative isn't working.

I like the Wizards for several reasons. They have the kind of guys who you don't want to play against, like Jimmy Conrad, Diego Gutierrez and Chris Klein, not to mention some guy named Tony Meola who, once again, has the best numbers in the league for goalkeepers. (Of course, Joe Cannon is close but it's a whole different deal over there in Colorado.)

The Wizards have also had a breakout performance from Davy Arnaud, who keeps proving to everybody every week that it's time we start remembering his name. I think maybe they misspelled his name on the All-Star ballot. I'm sure they won't make that mistake again. Yeah, we all know it's Davy, not "Dave" personalized.

The one thing that needs to be pointed out is that they are the only team with a winning record that has been able to score more goals than their opponents and keep balls out of the net on a consistent basis. Basically, that's called being a complete team. It's why they are near the top of the league. And everybody thought they were toast when Preki went down. Can you imagine how good they might have been with him available?

The point here is that this is finally going to be a great game for TV. In past weeks, we've seen some games that haven't exactly been thrilling. I am hoping to see some good soccer, and I think the Earthquakes and Wizards will deliver. For their own sake, they'd better.

This is the time where teams don't have the option to not come to work. This is the most crucial time of the season, where teams solidify their playoff spot or start playing chase. Consistency is the key now. There is no more time for, "We'll get 'em next week." Every point counts and sometimes one isn't enough. (That one was for New England and Colorado, who may not make the playoffs because I'm not sure they've figured that out.) You can't tie your way to the top and now is the time to start winning.

Former U.S. international forward Eric Wynalda scored the first goal in MLS history, and is currently the analyst on RadioShack's Soccer Saturday on ESPN2. He can be reached at takingshots@hotmail.com. He will be inducted in the National Soccer Hall of Fame during the Oct. 9-11 weekend. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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