SAN JOSE, Calif. – If not for the 1998 Miami Fusion, who conceded 68 goals while scoring just 46, this year’s San Jose Earthquakes would go down as the owners of the worst goal differential for any playoff team in MLS’ 22-season history.
But as Quakes captain Chris Wondolowski pointed out in the wake of his club’s last-minute qualification to the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs field, that fact will be rendered meaningless when San Jose kick off against the Vancouver Whitecaps in Wednesday's Knockout Round matchup (10:30 pm ET | UniMás w/ SAP, free stream on MLS LIVE; TSN, TVAS2).
“It’s not how you get to the dance, but it’s what you do at the dance,” Wondolowski said Sunday in a jubilant Avaya Stadium locker room after the 3-2 win over Minnesota United. “It’s a new season. It doesn’t matter, what was it, minus-21 goal differential? That means absolutely nothing come Wednesday. That’s all we’re looking forward to right now.”
With such a poor goal differential and a 3-12-2 road mark this year, it would be easy for casual observers to write off the Quakes before the postseason begins. San Jose coach Chris Leitch, however, isn’t buying the notion that the Whitecaps will underestimate their foe.
“I hope so, but I don’t think so,” Leitch told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday. “I think [the media] make a lot of stories about those other things, and I think those that are inside kind of know which teams are playing the way that they should towards the end of the season and which teams aren’t. The other stuff, that’s a lot of different circumstances that surround that. … I don’t think Vancouver will take us lightly.”
The Quakes have strung together their best results of the season heading into BC Place, a fact that is not lost on San Jose veteran Shea Salinas, himself a former Whitecap.
“I think we have an advantage,” Salinas said Tuesday. “I think we’re going into Vancouver with momentum and Vancouver has no momentum. I think that’s our advantage. People can look at us and say, oh, we’re not very good on the road, or we’re not a very good team, but the way we’ve been playing the last three games, we’re a good team. But don’t tell them that.”
San Jose players were a loose and laughing bunch at training on Tuesday, something Salinas said has been evident for “the past three or four games.” Certainly, there’s no overwhelming pressure on the Quakes, who are playing with house money at the moment.
“It’s a big weight lifted off our shoulders,” Salinas said. “We made the playoffs; that was our no. 1 goal of the season and now it’s kind of ‘press the reset button and let’s go win the second part of the season.’”
Said Leitch: “I think we’re playing pretty good right now. What you’re seeing is a really committed group that are playing together, in every phase of the game. ... They understand how to battle and fight for each other and they also understand the other different things that we need to do to be successful in a game. When those two things go hand in hand, it makes for a pretty good team.”
Good enough to make it past their initial playoff opponent for the first time since 2010?
“Last week, we did a good match in Vancouver, so why we shouldn’t repeat it again?” Quakes defender Florian Jungwirth said Sunday. “Tough opponent, but if we play the same style like last week, why we shouldn’t win?”