SAN JOSE, Calif. - The San Jose Earthquakes locker room is a pretty vibrant place these days, and when you consider how much ground the team has covered over a relatively short span, that should come as no surprise.
The numbers continue to pile up - unbeaten record at home (6-0-4), a 7-1-1 mark in their last nine matches - but the most significant stat of all can be gleaned from a look atop the Western Conference standings: for the first time all season, San Jose is in sole possession of first place.
"I think we're playing some of the best stuff I've seen here at Spartan Stadium in a number of years," said head coach Dominic Kinnear, "and I think the guys deserve to be where they are."
Following a dismal scoreless draw at home against D.C. United on June 4, the Earthquakes found themselves mired in fourth place with a 3-3-5 record. While they were still comfortably in playoff position due primarily to the struggles of Western Conference rivals Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA, the Earthquakes did not appear to be a team capable of making a deep run into the MLS Cup Playoffs.
However, several factors have come together since then, including the dynamic central combinations of Danny Califf and Eddie Robinson in the back and Ricardo Clark and Dwayne De Rosario in the midfield. Clark, who was named MLS Player of the Month for July, has been dominant on both sides of the ball, a fact not lost upon Brad Davis, who returned to the club Saturday night after a month-long absence with the U.S. national team.
"He's a workhorse - he's playing so well right now," said Davis of Clark. "He made two or three crucial tackles tonight and covered so much ground. He's playing with a lot of confidence."
"Confidence" is a word used often around the San Jose locker room, as the Earthquakes have been able to blend in key components all season long. Davis validated his immediate return to the lineup with a spectacular free kick - "I can't say I could have hit it any better" - and Kinnear has been able to keep the team rolling despite a variety of absences to key players.
"This locker room is a great place to be," said forward Alejandro Moreno, formerly of the Los Angeles Galaxy. "And the more you win, the better it gets."
Moreno points out that, despite taking a complete week away from training during the MLS All-Star break, the team came back strong in its return to MLS action.
"We picked up right where we left off after the break," said Moreno. "That just shows you that this team is prepared, well-coached, we trust each other and we're confident in each other's abilities."
Danny Kadah is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.