SAN JOSE, Calif. – It's not 100 percent official yet. US Soccer still has to confirm that its system to determine its four entrants into the 2013-14 CONCACAF Champions League will remain the same as it has since the tournament was reformatted.
But either way, the San Jose Earthquakes look like they're headed to the next edition of the CCL as either the outright Supporters' Shield winners or – if 2012 US Open Cup champions Sporting Kansas City stunningly pip them to the prize – the Shield runners-up.
And for the Quakes, it’s the culmination of a three-year ascent after a slow start from their expansion rebirth in 2008. San Jose made it to the conference finals of the 2010 MLS Cup playoffs, then retooled this year and sit within one point of clinching the Shield.
“It means everything,” Quakes coach Frank Yallop told MLSsoccer.com after training Tuesday. “We’ve had a terrific past three years, making the playoffs in 2010 ... and now being in first place with two games to go, making Champions League, winning the [Western Conference]. It’s an amazing story of what these players can do and the level the club has got to.
“We’re looking forward to putting ourselves against the top teams in other countries. It’s an exciting adventure for us.”
The Quakes sit five points ahead of Sporting Kansas City with two matches remaining for both clubs, and can finish no worse than second in MLS’ overall standings. Since Sporting KC took the US Open Cup earlier this year, they are already guaranteed a CCL berth. That means, as long as US Soccer doesn't make a drastic change to qualifying (they're not expected to), the Supporters’ Shield slot will go to San Jose regardless of how they fare against the LA Galaxy on Oct. 21 and at Portland on Oct. 27.
That would mark San Jose’s first try at regional tournament play under the Champions League format. The Quakes participated in the CONCACAF Champions' Cup from 2002 through 2004, reaching the quarterfinals in ’02 before being bounced by Mexican side Pachuca 3-1 on aggregate.
San Jose captain Ramiro Corrales, the only current Quake to have played on those earlier CCC sides, is pleased to see the club get back onto the larger stage – even if the Quakes are 0-3 in CONCACAF tournament matches held outside the United States.
“Getting back into that tournament is an accomplishment in itself,” Corrales told MLSsoccer.com. “There’s some good teams in that tournament, and I’m looking forward to that next year. We know we have a good team here, have a lot of depth on the team, and I think we can do some good stuff in that tournament, win it all.”
The rigors of CCL road matches and fitting those dates into a crowded MLS schedule can be daunting, yet from Yallop’s perspective, it’s well worth the effort.
“It’s not easy, because you have a lot of travel thrown in the middle of a very tough MLS schedule,” Yallop said. “But we’re looking forward to it; you can’t be afraid of success, and success brings more games and more pressure on you. And we’re ready for that challenge.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.