It's not often that a team has the power to select their playoff opponent, but as the San Jose Earthquakes finish off their regular season schedule against the Los Angeles Galaxy, that is exactly the situation in which the Western Conference top seed finds itself.
If the Quakes defeat the Galaxy this Saturday at The Home Depot Center, they will face a repeat encounter with their southern rivals in the first round of the playoffs. A tie or a loss will see San Jose matched up against the Colorado Rapids.
But despite being able to dictate their playoff opposition, Quakes head coach Dominic Kinnear insists his focus is only on the immediate game in front of him, and that means coming away with the team's first ever regular-season triumph against the Galaxy in Carson.
"I'm trying to field a team that is going to win the game," said Kinnear. "I'm not looking to rest guys, and I'm not saying I want to face this team or that team [in the playoffs]. I think all of the teams that make the playoffs pose problems, no matter which way you look at it. We just want to win on Saturday."
While Kinnear might not be looking to rest players, there are several walking wounded who will sit out the match. A hamstring injury picked up while on national team duty will keep Wade Barrett sidelined, meaning Kevin Goldthwaite will get his second consecutive start at left back. Ronald Cerritos will also sit out the match with an injured right ankle he sustained against FC Dallas on Sept. 24.
But perhaps the most disheartening news surrounds winger Brad Davis. The Quakes midfielder re-injured his groin during his cameo last weekend against Real Salt Lake, and has flown home to St. Louis to receive yet another opinion about his ailment.
"[Davis] felt it during the game and Tuesday it was really hurting him," said Kinnear. "Brad said he's back to where he started when it first happened. I feel bad for him."
While Davis' injury is a blow, the Quakes have weathered such setbacks perhaps better than any other team in MLS, as evidenced by their record of 14-1-6 over the last four months. That success can be seen in the ferocity of their training sessions, which have lately been very intense, despite the fact that San Jose locked up home field advantage several weeks ago. According to MVP candidate Dwayne De Rosario, with the postseason arriving soon, the Quakes can't afford to have it any other way.
"The playoffs are coming up, so there's no more joking around, no laying off," said De Rosario. "In every training session, you have to be at your best. It's time to get serious, because in the playoffs, it's a whole different ballgame."
California Clasicos have long had a playoff kind of intensity, and Saturday's match should prove no different. The Galaxy have been on a high since claiming the U.S. Open Cup, with forward Herculez Gomez enjoying a scoring streak that has many clamoring for him to get a call-up to the U.S. national team.
The Galaxy's recent run has also coincided with a move of Landon Donovan to the wing. It was a maneuver that head coach Steve Sampson tried with little success during San Jose's 3-0 win against the Galaxy last June 25, but with Donovan possibly playing opposite Quakes rookie Goldthwaite, there is a distinct chance a wide role on Saturday will see the ex-Quake enjoy more success.
And despite the assertion that playing outside is a waste of Donovan's talents, Kinnear feels that his former charge can still have an impact on the game.
"[Donovan] is a good enough player that when he's facing the field, if he sees the pass, he's going to make it," said Kinnear. "But Donovan could be dangerous playing right back because he understands the game really well. We just have to get in his face and make life difficult for him as always."
If the Quakes are successful in that endeavor, then they'll be seeing more of the Galaxy in the weeks ahead.
Jeff Carlisle is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.