There have been several oddities about the San Jose Earthquakes season -- the biggest being that a team which lost players like Landon Donovan and Richard Mulrooney has still managed to contend for the MLS Supporters' Shield.
But ahead of this weekend's match against Chivas USA an even stranger occurrence is taking center stage: The Quakes are one of two MLS teams that have failed to beat the expansion side.
The good news of course is that San Jose hasn't lost to their California brethren either, earning two ties during the first half of the season. And Quakes fans will be quick to point out that both games nearly landed in the win column. Back on April 9, San Jose was poised to win 3-2 only to see Douglas Sequeira's stoppage time header forge a 3-3 tie. In a 1-1 draw on June 12, Dwayne De Rosario looked to have scored an apparent game winning goal in stoppage time, only to see it disallowed for a phantom offside call.
Still, despite the near-miss nature of both matches, the fact remains that the Western Conference cellar-dwellars have saved some of their best games for San Jose.
"[Chivas] has played us hard," said San Jose head coach Dominic Kinnear. "In both games, each team had their chances and each team could have come out with three points."
But the Quakes have grown into a far more confident side than the one that faced Chivas back in June, and much of that has to do with the transformation of its defense.
Early in the season, the Quakes were conceding goals at an alarming rate. But the addition of right back Kelly Gray and the emergence of center back Danny Califf has turned San Jose into one of the stingiest teams in the league. Chivas have undergone some changes as well, although their additions have occurred further upfield, with midfielder Juan Pablo Garcia and forward Francisco Palencia adding plenty of firepower to their attack.
The reinforcements appear to have improved the expansion side's fortunes somewhat, as Chivas earned credible road draws against FC Dallas and the MetroStars before succumbing to Columbus 3-0 at home last weekend.
In that match, the Crew employed a counterattacking strategy that worked to perfection. But that's a game plan Kinnear intends to avoid, opting to take the game to the visitors instead.
"I want to make sure that we put them under pressure because with them playing three in the back, it will allow us to create mistakes in their end of the field and create chances from there," said Kinnear.
That's because the arrivals of Garcia and Palencia haven't changed the fact that with 56 goals conceded, Chivas has the most porous defense in MLS. In fact, with a little luck, Chivas may yet break Colorado's record of 69 goals allowed during the 1998 season. With matters still shaky in the back for Chivas, Kinnear plan is to strike quickly.
"Our first pass, we have to get it out of pressure because they push five or six guys forward," added Kinnear. "If we can get that first ball forward into [Cerritos] and [Moreno], and then join them, then we should have some good success."
Getting the ball quickly to Moreno has proved to be a good strategy of late. The Venezuelan has scored in each of the last two games, giving him a career-high seven goals this season. After getting only sporadic playing time in during his previous years with Los Angeles, Moreno has been a constant in the lineup this year, which according to the Quakes forward, has been the key to his success.
"I've learned to play with consistency," said Moreno. "And that allows me to be a little bit more confident and trust the things that I'm doing on the field. I'm not looking over my shoulder thinking that if I make a mistake, I'm going to be off the field."
And as far as getting their first ever win against Chivas, Moreno indicates that it all comes down to the approach San Jose brings to the match.
"When we come with the right attitude, most of the time we're going to do very, very well," said Moreno. "We need to keep winning. The more we win, the more comfortable we are, and certainly the better the atmosphere is within the team."
Jeff Carlisle is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.