After fielding a new-look starting XI for the San Jose Earthquakes’ CONCACAF Champions League debut against Montreal on Aug 7., interim head coach Mark Watson wanted to make one thing clear heading into his club’s second group match.
“We’re definitely trying to get hardware in CCL,” Watson told reporters in a conference call en route to Guatemala, where the Quakes will face Group 5 leaders Heredia on Wednesday night (10 pm ET, Fox Soccer Plus). “That’s been our point all along. … I don’t think anyone has ever said that we are not very motivated to win this. But we’ll be very pragmatic in our approach.”
San Jose was certainly pragmatic in their selections for their opening CCL match. As it was the middle game of a three-matches-in-eight-days stretch – a schedule the Quakes are following again in this instance – Watson felt the need to keep his usual starters’ playing time at a minimum.
That being said, Watson acknowledged that with Heredia knocking off the 10-man Impact last week through a last-minute goal from Charles Cordoba, expectations for the group have been tossed into disarray. If the Quakes can win Wednesday, they would move to the top of the group table on the away-goal tiebreaker with two home matches remaining, putting them in the driver’s seat to advance to the quarterfinals.
“I think it shows that it’s three really good teams in the group,” Watson said of Heredia’s victory. “We come out of Montreal disappointed in the result, but our performance was good. ... Now the fact Montreal has lost as well, I think it’s a little bit more wide open. Saying that, I don’t think it will change how we approach the game. We only can control what we can control, and the plan always was to go down there and try to get a result.”
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In the absence of a last-minute reprieve from looming MLS suspensions, it’s likely Watson could use first-teamers Victor Bernardez and Rafael Baca against Heredia. And star forward Chris Wondolowski, who scored three goals in nine CONCACAF appearances with the Houston Dynamo between 2007-09, has lobbied Watson to get on the pitch – especially as it may be San Jose’s one chance during this cycle to play outside the MLS circuit.
“I think that’s the whole fun of it,” Wondolowski said of facing Central American sides in their home stadiums. “I’ve had a great opportunity with Houston to be able to experience it. It’s awesome. You get to experience what it’s like in another country, playing in front of their fans. I’m looking forward to that.”
Geoff Lepper covers the San Jose Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com.