John Shrader 55
San Jose Earthquakes

The kings are not yet dead

The laid-back Hawaiian and a mad bunch of Earthquakes combined Saturday afternoon to alert the rest of Major League Soccer that the Kings are not yet dead.

"I think it sends a message that we are starting to play better," coach Dominic Kinnear said, after a 3-1 pounding of the Colorado Rapids at Spartan Stadium. "We are pleased, but we don't want to get too high, it is just one win."

But a mighty impressive one at that.

"We should have lost 10-1," said Rapids coach Tim Hankinson, who watched his goalkeeper of the year candidate Joe Cannon keep the game respectable. The former Quakes 'keeper Cannon had six saves, half of them of the spectacular variety.

"But for Joe, it could have been 5-0 or 6-0," said Landon Donovan who scored one of the goals and assisted on the other two.

Donovan was probably second choice for MLS Player of the Week, to the Quakes Brian Ching, who scored two times for the second time this season, and it should be no coincidence that the other time came in a 4-2 win at home May 22 over the Los Angeles Galaxy. By any measure, that game and the win Saturday over the Rapids were the most impressive of the season, in terms of ball movement, scoring opportunities and entertaining soccer.

What's maddening to the Quakes and those of us who observe them regularly is that these moments of greatness haven't come often enough this season. These two great games came nearly two months apart. There are of course plenty of reasons and/or excuses but nonetheless this has been an inconsistent bunch.

"This team is not used to losing, so we were mad before the game," said Brian Mullan. "I think we are just sick of losing and we are not going to take it anymore."

The Quakes are 5-6-5 and still tied for last place in the conference with the Dallas Burn, as the Quakes get ready for a visit from the New England Revolution Saturday night. It is the second of three-game homestand, interrupted only by the Sierra Mist MLS All-Star game July 31 in Washington, D.C. There won't be much rest that week for the five Quakes who are playing in the game: Donovan, Ching, Richard Mulrooney, Jeff Agoos and Pat Onstad. The Quakes close the homestand with a game August 7, against Freddy Adu and D.C. United.

Ching, the hard-working Hawaiian, goes into this weekend trailing only LA's Carlos Ruiz for the league goal-scoring lead. He has nine goals and two assists, while Ruiz has scored 10 times. For all the fanfare Ruiz brings to his game, Ching is just as much a load for opposing defenders. He is indefatigable (though still not quite back to 100 percent from last year's devastating Achilles tear), very physical and generally finishes what he starts. In 15 games, Ching has taken 31 shots, 16 of them on goal and has scored nine times. That is an almost improbable 56 percent scoring rate on shots on goal! As a reference point, Ruiz has 36 shots, 27 shots on goal and 10 goals.

What should give the rest of the league pause is that the Quakes' six attacking players have rarely played together. With Ching and Donovan up front, they were supported by Mullan and Ramiro Corrales on the wings and in the middle, Mulrooney and Ronnie Ekelund.

Donovan thinks the combo is pretty effective. "We move the ball well, we get a lot of chances," he said. "Ching and I know how to get space, and when we do, we have Ronnie and Richard back there to give us the chances." And Saturday the plan worked so well it looked like teams playing on different competitive levels.

"I thought we played the best soccer we played all season," said the goalkeeper Onstad, who is a two-time player of the week this year.

May 22 to July 17, 56 days between what anybody on the team would consider great performances, at least performances worthy of this team's talent and expectations. It would behoove this team to reduce that gap to a more manageable number.

Say, about seven days.

John Shrader has been the voice of the Earthquakes since 1996 and has worked in television and radio in the Bay Area for the past 20 years.