a potential team sale and move, loss of a number of its stars to World Cup qualifying, the burden of being the defending champions, injuries and other maladies - -it's a wonder they're in the hunt.
It's the opinion from this viewpoint that as long as they're in the hunt, they may as well win the whole darn thing -- again.
The Quakes helped themselves immeasurably with one simple point last Saturday night in Denver. They were cruising, it appeared, to yet another frustrating one-goal loss on the road. Second-half substitute Dwayne DeRosario turned minus-three into plus-one with a clutch, sliding finish in the 82nd minute, poking a long Ryan Cochrane pass past Joe Cannon for his first goal in two months, forging a 1-1 tie with the Rapids and moving the Q's one point up on the Dallas Burn with two games to go.
And to add a little to the adventure, it's another World Cup qualifying weekend, with Landon Donovan, Pat Onstad and DeRosario off to play for their countries. (Brian Ching continues to be bothered by a sore quad and was left off Bruce Arena's 23-man roster for the two games in the next 10 days. Kansas City will be without Josh Wolff and Kerry Zavagnin.)
Throw in the more than 20,000 fans expected to be in the stadium Saturday night, an opponent like the first place Wizards, a potential first-round playoff matchup and you have the makings of a special night. And if reports this week in the local newspaper are accurate, it won't be the Quakes final regular season game in San Jose.
Welcome to the 2004 MLS Cup Playoffs, and I'm here to suggest the Quakes are just as likely to win it all as any other team in the league, including the Columbus Crew, a team that is riding a 16-game unbeaten streak entering the week.
The statistics belie the Quakes' fourth-place conference standing. They are among the league leaders in goals scored, goals allowed, goal differential, road goals allowed, home goals scored and more. The Q's must feel like they're the subjects of the line from the old country-and-western song, "If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all". There have been few of the late comebacks, and in one-goal games, the Q's are a nearly unbelievable 2-9. That is a stat that does not belie the Q's record.
But in this league, regular season records don't matter, and the struggles of this year will be forgotten with a fabulous run in the postseason. There won't be a postseason, though, unless these next two games are played like it's the postseason.
You can bet they will be, and then we'll see you when the real playoffs begin and the records are thrown out -- which wouldn't displease the Quakes, that's for sure.
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.