SAN JOSE, Calif. - When the San Jose Earthquakes travel south to take on Chivas USA this Saturday at the Home Depot Center, they face a team coming off an embarrassing loss and looking to impress a new coach. Ordinarily, that combination tends to be a little dangerous for a visiting team, but the Earthquakes are not at all looking at it that way.
"I look at every team the same," said San Jose head coach Dominic Kinnear. "Sure, they have extra motivation with a new coach, they're at home, but first and foremost we have to worry about ourselves."
Both teams have come a long way since they played to a 3-3 tie April 9 at Spartan Stadium. Well, one of them anyway. Chivas still finds itself mired in the Western Conference cellar, owners of one of the worst starts in league history. New coach Hans Westerhof was not able to provide a quick spark to Chivas, which was blasted 5-2 in his debut last weekend in Chicago.
Having conceded 29 goals in 12 matches, Chivas USA is a team looking for an identity, with just one win and two draws in 12 games. For the most part, they have stuck with a 4-3-3 formation, but San Jose is not sure what to expect this Saturday.
"We don't know what to expect - they've changed their lineup twice now," said Kinnear. "I'm sure they're looking at everything, trying to find the best formation to complement their squad."
Just when the Earthquakes have begun to solve the defensive problems that plagued them early in the season, they find themselves having difficulty scoring goals, notching just three goals in their past six matches. However, Kinnear feels that the starting unit is creating enough chances to merit at least one more opportunity to start finding the net, and is expecting to use the same lineup this Sunday.
"I'd be really concerned if we weren't creating chances," said Kinnear. "If you're getting completely shut down, then there's cause for concern, but that has not been the case."
San Jose has worked extensively on wide play this week in training, both offensively and defensively. In the first matchup between the two teams, Chivas scored all three of their goals from crosses, often getting outside backs forward to put pressure on their opposite numbers.
"We didn't deal well with crosses in that game," said Kinnear. "Sometimes individual mistakes can lead to a team mistake. The reason we were so disappointed with that game was that we felt it was three points."
Defensively, the Earthquakes have been impressive of late, compiling four shutouts in their past six games. The key has been the play of veteran MLS stalwart Danny Califf, who has added stability to the center of defense.
"We were certainly playing some exciting games when we were tying with multiple goals," said captain Wade Barrett. "Danny Califf has made a difference in the back."
Califf and Eddie Robinson have created a formidable partnership in the center of defense, complementing each other well by working to their strengths. While Califf has done an outstanding job organizing the defense, Robinson has been free to do what he does best, namely attack the ball and make life difficult for opposing forwards. Meanwhile, Barrett and right back Chris Aloisi will be looked upon to shut down the Chivas attack out wide, with Barrett matching up against veteran Ezra Hendrickson on the left side of the San Jose defense.
In the first matchup, Chivas forward Thiago Martins proved to be a tough matchup for the Earthquakes, and midfielder Hector Cuadros had a strong game, but the team feels the rare offensive outburst from Chivas was more a case of their own mistakes.
"I think we've shored up things in the back since then," said Barrett. "More than anything, it came from us not being organized to give up those goals. If we're compact and organized, I don't think they'll be able to break us down quite like they did the last time."
Danny Kadah is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.