Back-to-back games have a way of creating enmity between two sides where none had previously existed. Case in point is the home-and-home series between the San Jose Earthquakes and Chivas USA that will conclude this weekend at The Home Depot Center.
Last Saturday, the Quakes cruised to a 3-0 victory against their Western Conference brethren in a result that officially eliminated Chivas from this year's playoff race. But given the tackles -- and yellow cards -- that were flying around Spartan Stadium last weekend, it makes sense that this Saturday's match will contain plenty of intensity.
While San Jose head coach Dominic Kinnear acknowledged that the physical nature of last week's match might carry over into this weekend's tilt, he's looking at the game as yet another opportunity to extend his side's lead atop the Western Conference.
"You don't want to give the guys behind you any hope that maybe they can catch us," said Kinnear. "But I told the guys that discipline will be a key for us. Just play the game. Obviously, all of the games are physical, and sometimes emotions will run higher than at other times. But we just need to keep our eye on going in there, playing hard, and getting a win."
Getting a win may require a slight change in tactics. Last weekend's match saw the Quakes successfully apply their high-pressure game in the cozy surroundings of Spartan Stadium. With Saturday's game set to take place on the vast expanses of The Home Depot Center, Kinnear admitted that a different approach might be in order.
"Instead of just trying to go at them all of the time, maybe we have to just come out and play around a little bit and find gaps," said Kinnear. "But from back to front we have to make sure that we're a good solid unit."
With defender Kelly Gray nursing a tender left hamstring, Kinnear may be forced to tweak his lineup, inserting Ryan Cochrane into the right back slot. Nominally a central defender, Cochrane has been expanding his game this season. When Gray was suffering from flu-like symptoms in the team's 2-1 win against Los Angeles on Aug. 27, Cochrane entered the match and moved seamlessly into the right side of the Quakes' defense, delivering a composed performance.
Prior to that match, Cochrane had only played the position once at any level, that being last year's 1-1 tie at Colorado. But despite Cochrane's relative inexperience at right back, it's a position with which he feels comfortable.
"It suits me, especially with the style of running you have to do," said Cochrane. "When you're a center back, it's more short, sharp runs and out wide you can open up your legs a little bit. It's definitely a nice change."
Picking the right times to get forward will take some getting used to as well, especially given Kinnear's emphasis on getting his outside backs into the attack. But Cochrane adds that the tradeoff is that playing wide doesn't require the same amount of paranoia that playing in the middle demands, especially with center backs Danny Califf and Eddie Robinson helping him out.
"There's definitely a little bit less pressure out there," Cochrane adds. "It will be a little bit different because Chivas plays with three forwards, but I couldn't ask for two better center backs to back me up. They're both good at talking, so I'll always know when to step up or drop back."
As for the expected intensity of the match, Cochrane feels his team is ready for that as well.
"We're not going to let down at all," said Cochrane. "[Chivas] are going to come out fired up, but our team hasn't ever taken its foot off the pedal."
Jeff Carlisle is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.