It's pretty clear that the Quakes will be in "survival" mode for a while. They're missing two starting defenders (Troy Dayak and Craig Waibel) for the year, and they're missing two attacking players (Brian Ching and Brian Mullan) for at least a few more weeks.
Even with those players in the lineup it was like a 12-round fight every night the Quakes stepped into the ring. They have played 10 games and each and every one of them has been a close contest from the get-go. Not once have the Quakes or their opponents enjoyed a two-goal lead in a game, with every game ending in a one-goal difference or a tie.
The lineups have changed, but one thing does not change from week to week, month to month and year to year. Ever since Frank Yallop and Dominic Kinnear stepped on to the practice field, this team has been characterizedby its attacking style and its interest in using young American players. And they are fun to watch. The Quakes worked their way this week through Colorado (the Rapids played that night like a dysfunctional family at a holiday dinner) and Kansas City, who seemed content to play defense first and hope to bury one of the few chances they could create on the counter. I can assure you the Quakes style will do more for the American game than most of what you see on a weekly basis, especially this past week.
My TV partner, Ray Hudson, says the Quakes play the "loveliest football in MLS." And, for a variety of reasons, they have played the unluckiest football in MLS this season. The Quakes have, to be fair, made their share of mistakes and it seems they have been punished on nearly every one of them.
There have been tough losses and tough ties. It doesn't get much worse than that 3-3 debacle at home with struggling Chivas USA, who now have had more head coaches than victories this season. Through it all, Kinnear's team has played the same entertaining style, with the same work rate and commitment to both the fans and to all the members of the squad.
The really good news is that there are 22 games left in the regular season, 13 of them at home, four of them in the month of June. Sitting in third place with a 3-3-4 record isn't bad, considering the extenuating circumstances. The Quakes have seen the quality teams in the league up close: the Revolution, the Galaxy and FC Dallas. Most would agree they are the class of the league so far, and the Quakes have been just a notch below their levels, primarily because of the late goals they've given up. Especially galling were the goals that came late in a tie with Chivas USA, a loss at Chicago and a loss at Los Angeles.
None of the negatives have affected the real positive, though, and that is the way this team plays. The commitment the Quakes bring night in and night out to play their "style", to play a passing, possession, attacking style of soccer that sends the fans home feeling like they spent their time and money wisely.
We all walked out of the stadium (including some of the Wizards players) Saturday night, after a 1-0 Wizards win, and felt like the best team didn't win the game. The Wizards had one really good chance to score and made good on it. And for another night, they verified the style of soccer where you dumb down the game, play defense first and hope you get a chance to score. The style seems to suggest that if they get that chance to score great; if not then you leave the field 0-0 and at least get a point out of it. Problem is, you have to wake up the fans before you clear out the stadium.
That's not good for the fans and it is not good for the development of American soccer and its players.
American soccer will survive and thrive when more coaches consider two factors as important than anything: entertainment for the fans and development of young players.
You think I haven't thought about where winning fits into the big picture? That's where the "survival" part comes in. Coaches have to win enough to survive, and one hopes, make a whole lot of friends along the way.
I figure Dominic Kinnear is making a lot of friends and I believe that the results are coming as well.
John Shrader has been the voice of the Earthquakes since 1996 and has worked in television and radio in the Bay Area for the past 20 years.