The Earthquakes went through their final practice Wednesday afternoon at West Valley College before flying to Columbus, Ohio, early Thursday for Saturday's match against the Crew. With a lengthy injury list, and missing Dwayne De Rosario and Pat Onstad due to national team commitments, head coach Dominic Kinnear was again forced to work with a small group of players."You come out here feeling good about last week [a 4-2 in over Los Angeles] and then you look around the practice field and wonder 'Where is everybody?'" Kinnear said. "But we know that injuries and national team call-ups happen, that is part of the game and our team has really responded." The Quakes will be without eight players in Columbus, including Chris Brown (left ankle sprain), Troy Dayak (upper back strain), Todd Dunivant (left quadriceps strain), Ronnie Ekelund (neck infection), Eddie Robinson (ruptured hamstring tendon), Chris Roner (ankle surgery), De Rosario and Onstad. With Onstad gone, San Jose's veteran Jon Conway will start against the Crew, while rookie Steve Cronin will make his first trip with the club and serve as the backup. "Obviously, I'm excited to play," Conway said. "Everyone wants to play. It is not going to change the way I prepare though, I prepare the same way for every game, whether I am playing or not." Conway last played 90 minutes in the Quakes' 4-1 exhibition win over Sporting Clube de Portugal on May 12. Conway sparkled, making several tough saves against a tough European opponent. Conway's last MLS appearance was on Oct. 10, 2003, when he shutout Colorado in a 0-0 tie. "The game against Sporting was good for me because it was another opportunity to play 90 minutes and to get some game experience," Conway said. "Playing games like that keeps me sharp for when I am going to be called on to play." Kinnear is confident that the change in goal will not affect a Quakes defense that features rookie Ryan Cochrane filling in for the injured Troy Dayak. "There will be no change at all," Kinnear said. "We know what Jon can do. We are confident in him. We knew heading into this season that Pat was going to miss some games, and we are just fine with Jon in goal. He is a very good goalkeeper." Conway is aware that the Crew, who woke up from their early-season offensive struggles to down Chicago 3-1 on Saturday, will be a tough opponent. "I expect them to attack us," Conway said. "[Jeff] Cunningham is a tough player, and [Kyle] Martino is always somebody that you have to look out for. But I expect our team to give the same strong performance that we have been giving and to keep scoring goals." Ching makes some noise: Earthquakes forward Brian Ching continues to impress following his two-goal performance on May 22 in the Quakes' 4-2 win over Los Angeles. Ching now has five goals in 2004, second in the league next to Carlos Ruiz. Ching's recent scoring binge is all the more impressive following his tragic end to the 2003 season, which saw him carted off the field on Aug. 16 in New England following a ruptured right Achilles tendon. At the time of the injury, Ching was playing at an extremely high level, rising from an A-League forward to a Quakes starter to an appearance with the U.S. national team on May 26, 2003. After surgery and an extensive and grueling rehabilitation, Ching returned to the Quakes starting lineup on May 1 and has not looked back since. "We didn't know how fast he would be able to get back," Kinnear said about Ching's recovery from the injury. "With that kind of thing, you never know. But we know that Brian is an extremely hard worker and that he would be able to come back strong. I told him at the beginning of the year to not rush himself. He was playing at a very high level before he got hurt, and I know that he will get back there again. I just told him not to rush it." Ching was frustrated at the beginning of the season, but as he slowly gained his match fitness, he is back to scoring goals and becoming the target man that the Quakes offense needs so much of. "He is valuable to us as a target man," Kinnear said. "I think our whole attack changes a bit when he is on the field. He really worked well with Dwayne [against L.A.], and they hadn't played that much together. He is playing well right now, and I know that [U.S. national team head coach] Bruce Arena was looking at him last year, and Brian deserved his call-up."
Eastern Conference Championship Leg 2
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