Quakes know the challenge ahead

The San Jose Earthquakes know what the mission is in their final six regular season games -- secure a playoff spot. Following Wednesday night's 1-0 home loss to Columbus, that mission has become even clearer.

"We are playing well enough," said San Jose head coach Dominic Kinnear. "We just are not winning the games."

Kinnear added: "We need to go to L.A. (Saturday) and win. We have six games left and we knew it was going to be tight. The best thing about it is you don't have to rely on anybody but yourselves."

Kinnear was pleased with his team's efforts and didn't want to make any excuses regarding the fact that his first-choice strike force (Landon Donovan and Brian Ching), top backup forward Dwayne DeRosario and his Canada teammate goalkeeper Pat Onstad were away on national team duty.

Despite being shutout on a night when they were missing the second-leading scorer in MLS in Ching, Kinnear said, "Missing Ching had nothing to do with the outcome of this game."

In fact, the first-year MLS head man was pleased with the play of reserve forward Brian Mullan. "Brian could have scored two or three goals tonight. He played well, but we just didn't finish our chances," Kinnear said. "It was a frustrating night. We played good enough defense to win."

Mullan said, "I think we played a little rushed in the first half, but we had our chances."

How will Mullan and the Quakes comeback from a tough loss and get their mission back on track?

"We need to comeback against L.A., go out there and play our game," Mullan said. "We didn't play bad. We had two or three shots. We played great defense except for one letdown [Tony Sanneh's extra-time game-winner]."

Mullan didn't completely agree with Kinnear on the loss of the national team call-ups, Ching and Donovan in particular.

"We [Mullan and his strike partner Chris Brown] still got some chances, but he [Ching] and Landon are great goal scorers. It will be nice to have them back," said Mullan.

The lone goal came from a bit of good fortune -- for the Crew. Simon Elliott played a free kick into the box, and somehow it found its way to Sanneh, who scored his first goal for Columbus in the second match of his return to MLS after a six-year stint in Germany.

"We have some guys who can do some damage on set pieces and adding Tony (Sanneh) to the mix is another weapon," said Crew coach Greg Andrulis. "Simon (Elliott) served a great ball in the box and it was a little surprising that it made it all the way to Tony's foot but he knew what to do with it."

Said Sanneh: "It was a good ball from Simon and I was able to put myself in a good position to get on the end of it."

The three points means the Crew will remain in first place in the Eastern Conference at least through the weekend - they lead the MetroStars by four points.

"It's nice to be in first but they don't give out trophies in September. It doesn't mean a whole lot at the moment and they guys know it," said Elliott.

Tim Sitar is a contributor to This story was not subject to approval by Major League Soccer or its clubs.

Stay connected: Get access to breaking news, videos, and analysis from North America's best soccer reporters via "This Week in MLS" newsletter or using our FREE mobile app.