SAN JOSE, Calif. — With the San Jose Earthquakes aware that they need to win the majority of their remaining 10 games to even have a chance at making the MLS Cup playoffs, midfielder Shea Salinas is not going to waste his time scouring the schedule trying to find the most likely victims.
“We know we have 10 games left,” he said this week. “We know we need to win more than half of them. And that’s about all. We haven’t picked any games we have to [win], particular ones or anything like that. We’re going to take each game.”
First up is a date against Eastern Conference-leading Sporting Kansas City (Sunday, 10 pm ET, watch on MLS Live). From a strength-of-opposition standpoint, this might be San Jose’s toughest remaining test, but it is one of five matches left at home, where they have been one of the strongest MLS sides this year.
The Quakes have lost only once at Buck Shaw Stadium in 2013, placing them in a group of seven clubs to lead the league in that category, and are pulling down, on average, 2.08 points per home match – barely down from last year’s mark of 2.12.
“Any time we’re at home, we’re trying to protect our home field,” San Jose defender Steven Beitashour said. “We’re definitely going for the win. If we get those 15 [points] there, it’d be making things a lot easier for the road games.”
Those road games have been the trouble, of course. Where San Jose picked up 1.76 points per match away from home in rolling to the Supporters’ Shield last year, they rank 18th of 19 this season, on 0.42 thanks to a 1-9-2 mark. Their 5:1 ratio of home to away points is by far the most imbalanced number in the league.
And even if the Quakes take the full 15 points from their remaining home matches, that still likely won’t be enough to see them safely to the postseason. The LA Galaxy, currently fifth in the West in terms of PPM, are on pace for 50 points, which means San Jose realistically needs road results the rest of the way. That’s what made the Quakes’ 2-0 defeat at Vancouver last weekend – a match in which San Jose proved the better side over the opening hour before falling apart – so disappointing.
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“I don’t think there’s a marked difference” between the Quakes’ home and road performances, Salinas said. “Usually, it’s a mentality thing, going on the road, just mentally willing yourself to come away with points. And I just think we haven’t had it go our way this year, so far.”
One thing that might tip the scales is the continued improvement of Salvadoran winger Jaime Alas, who joined the club earlier this month. Alas, who has made two league appearances off the bench, went 90 minutes and was often the Quakes’ most dangerous player in a 1-0 loss at Montreal last week in CONCACAF Champions League play. He could be in line for his first MLS start on Sunday.
“Tactically, he’s very good, and the things that we try to do, he picked up on right away,” Quakes interim coach Mark Watson said of Alas. “And I thought he had an impact in both the games he’s come on as a sub. ... He’ll definitely be in contention to start the game.”