First-place Quakes still want more

SAN JOSE, Calif. - With just one loss in their past 13 matches, the San Jose Earthquakes have surged to the top of the MLS Western Conference standings and are within striking range of the league's overall best record. However, don't look for the Earthquakes to become content with their recent hot streak, which has pretty much assured them a place in the MLS Cup Playoffs.

"It's way too early to start preparing for the playoffs," said San Jose head coach Dominic Kinnear. "You look at the remaining 10 games and we have only two out of conference, so there are still tons of points available. We haven't clinched anything yet."

One of those conference games is this Saturday, when the Earthquakes pay a visit to Real Salt Lake. All-Star midfielder Brad Davis, who strained his groin in San Jose's 1-1 draw with Colorado last weekend, is listed as questionable.

"We want to make sure he's 100 percent," said Kinnear. "Ever since he game back from the national team and the All-Star Game, he's had some ankle problems and now it's the groin. So we don't want to put him at risk for further injury."

If Davis cannot go, Brian Mullan is likely to slide back in at his normal right midfield position, with Mark Chung moving from the right to the left. Mullan came on as a second-half substitute when Davis went down against Colorado.

Despite a relatively disappointing performance against the Rapids at Spartan Stadium, San Jose still has lost just one MLS match since May 28. And although the Earthquakes missed a chance to extend their lead over FC Dallas and Los Angeles, two teams that lost last weekend, they were still satisfied with the point.

"Any time you get a result, I think it's a positive," said Kinnear. "You look at it as a lost opportunity to open up more points on Dallas and L.A., but I can't complain with the guys' effort."

One of the keys to the Earthquakes' staggering run has been the play of center midfielders Dwayne De Rosario and Ricardo Clark. In capturing two of the last four MLS titles, San Jose has always been known for a strong central midfield pairing in Ronnie Ekelund and Richard Mulrooney, but De Rosario and Clark are going about their business in a different manner.

"It's been totally different. With Richard and Ronnie, Richard was your worker and Ronnie was your possession guy," said Kinnear, who spent three seasons as an Earthquakes assistant before becoming head coach prior to the 2004 campaign. "Dwayne and Ricardo are probably more mobile as a tandem. Dwayne is more attack-minded and Ricardo has really found his place in there.

"They really do complement each other well and are able to cover a lot of ground."

In Real Salt Lake, the Quakes are facing a team that has been leaking goals of late, having conceded four goals in each of their last two matches, a 4-1 loss at New England and a 4-2 home defeat to Kansas City. Clint Mathis will serve the last of his three-match suspension this weekend for his actions in Real Salt Lake's 2-1 victory against Chivas USA on Aug. 6.

In addition for the Quakes, U.S. national team forward Brian Ching, who has appeared in just 34 minutes of action since May 14, is on the comeback trail. Ching trained with the club on Thursday for the first time since reinjuring his hamstring in a reserve league match on June 26.

Danny Kadah is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.

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