Brian Ching (right) is still tied for the league lead in goals.
Essy Ghavameddini/MLS

Payne: Quakes can't stumble now

In the wake of their best back-to-back performances of the season - a 2-0 win at Kansas City on Aug. 14 and 3-0 laugher against visiting Dallas one week later - the Earthquakes have caused little movement on the Richter Scale.

In their last five matches, including a 1-0 loss to Kansas City in a U.S. Open Cup semifinal in Overland Park, Kan., the Quakes have been reduced to a mere tremor while scoring only two goals since their domination of Dallas. After being eliminated from the Open Cup, the Quakes tied Colorado 0-0 at home, outlasted New England 1-0 on the road on a Chris Brown header, and have lost 1-0 to visiting Columbus and 2-1 at Los Angeles in league play.

True, the Quakes faced New England and Columbus without forwards Landon Donovan, Brian Ching and Dwayne De Rosario and goalkeeper Pat Onstad, all of whom were away serving their national teams. But Donovan, Ching and Onstad were on the field during San Jose's loss Saturday to Los Angeles, which was winless in its previous eight games (including a 1-0 U.S. Open Cup loss to the A League's Minnesota Thunder). The Quakes had been 5-0-3 in the previous eight matches Donovan and Ching had started together up front.

San Jose (9-9-7, 34 points) has had room to stumble up until now, but no longer. The Quakes have only five MLS games remaining, beginning Saturday against Kansas City (11-9-5, 38) at Arrowhead Stadium. They return home against the Galaxy on Sept. 25, head to conference-leading Colorado (10-7-9, 39) on Oct. 2, entertain Kansas City on Oct. 9, and finish on the road at Dallas (9-11-5, 32) in a game where a playoff berth could be at stake.

The Quakes are going to be shorthanded on Oct. 9 against K.C., with Donovan and Ching expected to be with the U.S. national team and Onstad and De Rosario with the Yallop-coached Canadians for World Cup qualifiers. The U.S. (1-0-2, 5), which leads its four-game CONCACAF Region group, visits El Salvador. Canada (0-2-1, 1), last in its group, travels to Honduras.

As of now, De Rosario is sidelined indefinitely with a sprained left groin suffered last week while playing for Canada.

In the MLS playoffs, the top four clubs in the two five-team conferences qualify. The Quakes reached the playoffs the last three seasons under head coach Frank Yallop and assistant Dominic Kinnear, winning MLS Cups in 2001 and 2003. Prior to Yallop's arrival in 2001, the Quakes' only postseason appearance was in the league's inaugural season (1996).

THROW-INS: Ching remains tied with Ruiz in MLS with 11 goals, and he's second in points (26) to the MetroStars' Amado Guevara (28).

Forward Roger Levesque, a third-round draft pick by the Quakes in 2003 out of Stanford who is on loan to Seattle in the A-League, will be in the lineup Saturday for the Sounders when they face Montreal in the A-League final. Fox Sports World will televise the match at 4 p.m. (PT). Levesque, who helped lead the Cardinal to the College Cup semifinals in 2001 and '02, has 8 goals and 4 assists (20 points) for the Sounders.

Montreal eliminated the Laurie Calloway-coached Syracuse (N.Y.) Salty Dogs 3-1 (aggregate) in a two-game series. Calloway was San Jose's first coach in MLS and coached the San Jose Blackhawks to an American Professional Soccer League (APSL) title in the 1990s and played for the original Quakes in the North American Soccer League (NASL).

Dave Payne is a freelance soccer writer. He previously covered soccer for 33 years for the San Jose Mercury News. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not represent those of Major League Soccer or its teams.

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