Shrader: No underestimation here
One team is cruising toward the best record in the Western Conference and the other has been officially eliminated from the playoffs; one team has allowed 26 goals in 26 games, the other has allowed a whopping 29 goals in the last 30 minutes of their games and 59 overall; one team just overwhelmed the other with a three-goal second half in a 3-0 win last Saturday night.
So why should the San Jose Earthquakes - who won that game in Spartan Stadium - be so wary of Chivas USA, in the second game of their home-and-home series this weekend in The Home Depot Center?
"Probably, the nice thing is it got a little nasty in the end there," said goalkeeper Pat Onstad, who earned his club record 10th shutout of the season. "I think a few guys realize they have a little bit more to give."
Chivas USA may be 3-19-5 in their first MLS season, but defender Danny Califf says they are not as bad as it seems.
"They are a dangerous team. They live by the sword and die by the sword and on the big field [at The Home Depot Center] that can be even more apparent and they can be even more dangerous."
Going into Saturday, the Earthquakes are riding an incredible run of seven wins and a tie in their last eight games. They are also 11-1-4 in their last 16 games, going from third place in the conference to a 12-point lead over the Galaxy and a 14-point lead over third-place Dallas. The Quakes have won three straight away from home, four of their last five outside Spartan Stadium, and with six games to play, they are on the verge of securing the best record in the Western Conference. The Quakes are the only team to have qualified for the playoffs.
"We're striving for first place in the West," Onstad said. "And, if we can, we'd like to catch New England [for the best record in the league]. We have a lot to play for. By no means do we want to take our foot off the pedal, as [Quakes head coach] Dominic Kinnear tells us day in and day out."
After two frustrating ties with Chivas USA this year, 3-3 at Spartan Stadium and 1-1 in Los Angeles, the Quakes blitzed the Goats for three goals in the second half on September 10, taking advantage of a couple of deflections and their visitors' late defensive lapses.
Defender Eddie Robinson understands what the Chivas USA players are going through.
"I think that if we were in the same position we'd be frustrated too," he said. "It's not that they are a bad team and it's not that they have bad players. They want to get points and they get a little frustrated at the end of games."
When that happens, the Chivas USA defense opens up and they attack with too many players. Then before you know it they've allowed a bunch of late goals. Nearly half the goals they've allowed have come in the last half hour of their games.
This, says Califf, is not the time for the Quakes to get too full of themselves, nor is it the time to take Chivas USA too lightly.
"We're at our best when we play with energy and we work for each other," Califf said. "And when we don't, we're bad. Everybody understands that and they understand their role on the team, and that's going to keep us from slipping."
Consistency, focus, hard work and defense: the hallmarks of Kinnear's team in 2005. Dwayne De Rosario may be a candidate for MVP of the league after picking up two assists in the Sept. 10 win over Chivas USA. He now leads the league with 11 assists, two short of Eddie Lewis' club record. De Rosario knows the team wins consistently not only because it has a plus-15 goal differential, but also because they just don't allow teams to have easy chances to score.
"It's a whole team effort," said De Rosario. "There are 11 men out there defending and I think we have been doing it great this year and hopefully we can keep it up."
You can count on a spirited effort by both teams Saturday night at The Home Depot Center, as the Quakes and Chivas USA play for the fourth and final time this year. One team is in first place, the other in last place.
The Quakes wouldn't be in first place this late in the season if they looked only at their opponents' records, and they won't pay much attention to it this week.
John Shrader has been the voice of the Earthquakes since 1996 and has worked in television and radio in the Bay Area for the past 20 years. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.