SAN JOSE, Calif. — Even if striker Edmundo Zura receives his P-1 work visa in time to join the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday as they take on the league-leading LA Galaxy (10:30 pm ET; watch LIVE online), the new Ecuadorian import will have only a maximum of 10 games to help the Quakes right their ship.
Given that the Quakes are on pace to finish nine points shy of playoff position, have burned through more than 70 percent of their schedule and own a franchise-record winless streak that stands at 11 matches and counting, there’s an obvious question lingering over San Jose’s biggest mid-year acquisition:
Is it too late already?
The Quakes, naturally, disagree strongly with that premise.
“No,” San Jose coach Frank Yallop said. “For some reason, we’re not getting the breaks, but you can’t give up. I thought we played well enough to win [Saturday against the Colorado Rapids].”
“It’s never too late,” Quakes goalkeeper Jon Busch said. “When you have a chance, you have a chance. Until you’re eliminated, you always have a chance. We’ve just got to pick ourselves up again and dust ourselves off.”
San Jose (5-9-10), who secured the final available playoff spot last year with 46 points from 30 matches, are currently on pace to net just 35 points from 34 games this season. That would leave them 14th overall in an expanded league where 10 teams, rather than the previous eight, will make the postseason.
After salvaging a point at the death against the New England Revolution on Wednesday night, the Houston Dynamo currently project as the No. 10 finishers, with 44 points.
To realistically expect a playoff return, therefore, the Quakes must win at least five of their last 10 matches. Six would be more comfortable. Either outcome is hard for observers to fathom, given that San Jose have only won five matches all year — and none since June 11.
Taking a closer look at those remaining 10 matches, the Quakes’ schedule breaks down into three distinct classes:
1) The Must-Wins: at Toronto FC (Aug. 27), vs. Chicago Fire (Sept. 10), at New England Revolution (Oct. 8)
Out of 17 other MLS sides, there are only four that currently rate lower than the Quakes in terms of points per match. Fortunately for San Jose, they have three of them still to come on the docket. Toronto will be a bit of a grudge match, given that the teams exchanged four players earlier this year. Chicago bounced the Quakes from US Open Cup play in May, although that might have been a blessing, given San Jose’s injury onslaught since then. The New England match, rescheduled from its original Aug. 3 midweek date, could be the Quakes’ last, best chance to go over the 44-point barrier.
2) The Head-to-Heads: at Houston Dynamo (Sept. 17), at Portland Timbers (Sept. 21), vs. Sporting KC (Oct. 1)
There’s a glut of five teams on pace to finish somewhere between 42 and 47 points. That group includes Houston (44) and Sporting KC (47). Portland (37) aren’t currently in playoff form, but they are a team the Quakes have to climb over to crack the top 10. A loss here would hurt doubly because it gives three points to a direct competitor in the scramble for the last few playoff berths.
3) The Bonus Round: at LA Galaxy (Aug. 20), at Colorado Rapids (Sept. 24), at Seattle Sounders (Oct. 15), vs. FC Dallas (Oct. 22)
These four clubs are well ahead of the cut-line pace, each with at least 40 points in the bank already. Whatever results San Jose glean from here should be likened to found money. Given that the Quakes close with the Sounders and FC Dallas, that puts an even higher premium on getting things sorted out as soon as possible — regardless of when Zura arrives.
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @sjquakes