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Eastern Conference Championship

Quakes no longer road weary after Columbus draw

The idea of an expansion team struggling is practically as old as professional sports. But few new clubs do it up quite the way the San Jose Earthquakes did on the road in their first two seasons.

Hosting the Quakes wasn’t quite an automatic win, but San Jose managed a mere three victories against 17 losses in their 30 matches away from home during 2008 and 2009.

So the fact that the Quakes improved to 5-4-4 on the road in 2010 with a scoreless tie at Columbus on Saturday underscores how far San Jose have come this year in that area.

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“I think the overall mentality and the feeling you get in the locker room is that we embrace the challenge of going to play in difficult places,” Quakes captain Jason Hernandez told MLSsoccer.com. “We embrace the challenge of playing good teams on the road and getting something out of it.”

As Quakes coach Frank Yallop put it: “We probably would have lost that game last two seasons, but we didn’t.”

With 19 points on the road, San Jose have matched their output in the last two years combined, and have taken almost half of 39 points on offer. The Quakes travel to Washington to face D.C. United next week, then close the season on the road at Kansas City on Oct. 23.

[inline_node:319930]“We’ve really worked hard as a coaching staff and a team at getting a team shape, making sure that we’re difficult to break down and making it hard to play against us,” Yallop told MLSsoccer.com. “But the players are the ones that have done it. They’ve got to buy into everything we say. They’ve got to really believe that they’re a good team and they’ve done that.

"We lose 3-0 at home, and come out to Columbus and could have won. It’s a great performance.”

The Quakes were clearly helped by the fact that open headers from Steven Lenhart and Emilio Renteria were off-line, but they had chances of their own to steal away three points, most notably a 70th minute header from Chris Wondolowski that forced a clawing, right-handed save by Crew ‘keeper William Hesmer.

“We have a lot more belief in ourselves that we can get the job done, at home and away,” said Quakes veteran Ryan Johnson, who moved to the left wing and delivered the cross that Wondolowski nearly converted. “We’ve definitely shown that this year, winning five games away and picking up almost a majority of our points away from home. It just shows that mentally, we’re more clued in and we’re more mature as teammates.”

Saturday was the second time San Jose have rebounded from a 3-0 loss at home to take points on the road. The first instance was a 2-1 win at Chicago in the Quakes’ second match of the season, which not only helped erase memories of being spanked by Real Salt Lake on opening night, but also set the tone for San Jose’s ability to rebound on the road.

“I think that the mental strength is there,” Yallop said. “I think winning and getting results early in the season away from home helped. We don’t crumble, that’s for sure.”

By preventing a crumble on Saturday, the Quakes – eighth in the MLS overall standings – moved seven points ahead of ninth-place Kansas City with four matches to play. And they showed they can play well in a stadium where they might return for a first-round playoff matchup.

“Last week, Toronto was a team that was fighting for their lives, throwing everything at us,” Hernandez said. “Coming here [Saturday night], with one of the best teams in the league, in a tough place to play, these are all things we can put under our belt.

"Knock on wood, if we continue to perform well and we have our spot in the playoffs, these kind of things are going to come back around.”

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


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