Back on March 28, the San Jose Earthquakes beat the Houston Dynamo 3-2, and all seemed right with the club. The forward line delivered a solid performance, and a defense that was shaky early on held firm to secure the victory.
Little has gone right since, however -- something the Quakes will be looking to change when the two budding rivals resume pleasantries this Saturday at Robertson Stadium.
San Jose is currently in the throes of a seven-match winless streak in all competitions, one capped off two weeks ago by a 4-1 debacle at New York. The run has ratcheted up the pressure on the team to get some kind of result, but that will be easier said than done against a notoriously physical Houston team that is unbeaten in their last five league games.
"I'm thinking about their set plays, and their power," said Yallop of the Dynamo. "If you're weak, and not ready to play against Houston, they'll murder you."
To that end, the Quakes have been hard at work during their bye week in an effort to sharpen all aspects of their game. Of particular note was shoring up the team's mental strength. Defender Nick Garcia believes that the team has been successful on all fronts.
"I think we're more fit, more aggressive," said Garcia. "I think we're more in tune with where we need to be. Houston is a team that has done well in the past. They've got some guys out, but they're a pretty well-oiled machine. It will be a good test for us."
Of course, matches against Houston are always emotionally charged affairs given that the Dynamo organization once called San Jose home. But this edition of the Earthquakes has given Houston all they could handle in past, notching a 2-1-1 record, although it should be noted that the Quakes lost in their only previous trip to Robertson Stadium.
That said, the San Jose players feel that they have a good idea of what is in store for them whenever they play the Dynamo, and that has contributed to their past success.
"We're not going to beat Houston by playing pretty football around them," said forward Ryan Johnson. "We're going to beat them by outworking them and putting away our chances and buckling down defensively. It's going to be one of those nail-biting type of games."
Of particular interest will the battle in the center of midfield. The Houston duo of Ricardo Clark and Stuart Holden has been coming on of late, with Holden in particular beginning to emerge as a worthy replacement to the departed Dwayne De Rosario. That will require Ramiro Corrales and his likely partner, Simon Elliott, to apply plenty of grit and nastiness, the better to disrupt the Houston attack.
Another matchup worth watching will be the one between Garcia and Houston forward Kei Kamara. The San Jose defender has been so successful in getting under the skin of his former teammate in past games that Kamara has twice been ejected due to incidents involving Garcia, including a red card in an exhibition game last February.
Such enmity seems to guarantee a match short on aesthetics especially given the continued absence of San Jose winger Darren Huckerby, who remains bothered by a right quadriceps strain. Yet the Quakes are at a point where getting results, regardless of how, is foremost on their list of priorities. This is especially key given the team's poor road performances that have seen them score just once in four games.
"There is an attitude and an urgency that we definitely need to play with to start getting results and changing the momentum," said Quakes goalkeeper Joe Cannon. "We just need to stop the bleeding right now."
A win against their new rivals would be the perfect place to start.
Jeff Carlisle is a contributor to MLSnet.com