Shrader: A look into the future

who ride a three game unbeaten streak into Spartan Stadium for Saturday night's game with Dallas -- is that they're playing as well now as they have all season long.

Just in time, says forward Brian Ching.

"We struggled a little bit in the beginning," Ching said after a 1-0 win at the MetroStars Saturday. "I think we're coming into our rhythm and hopefully we can continue that. We have a huge test this week against Dallas and then L.A."

Don't blame Ching for looking ahead. He can read the schedule just like the rest of us.

A 32-game schedule has some ups and some downs. This is an up cycle: big, high profile, intra-conference games back-to-back, games that involve old friends who are now adversaries.

"A big three points for us last week," said Ronald Cerritos, who scored the only goal against the Metros, "especially with Dallas, a Western Conference team, coming to town."

The Quakes (2-1-3) finally shut out an opponent, finally got some luck (they watched two shots hit off the woodwork in the Meadowlands last week) and now with the home field, and some confidence gained in the last three weeks, they are in the hunt. And the good news is that they're hunting a little under the radar right now. Landon Donovan is all over the talk shows and the soccer magazines (more on him in next week's View), and Carlos Ruiz and Richard Mulrooney are the newest "hot couple" in the Big D. They have combined for five goals and three assists, which are the exact numbers Donovan has put up in four games with the Galaxy.

Those are all good enough reasons to take added interest in the next two games; but let's add to them: Brian Ching (four goals and two assists), Brad Davis (league-leading six assists), Ronald Cerritos (three goals this year, 58 in a San Jose uniform), Dwayne De Rosario (in the Landon Donovan role), two wins and a tie in the last three games, a chance to move into first place, high scoring games (12 goals for, 11 against), and rough and tumble soccer (league leaders in fouls caused and fouls suffered).

After the visit to Los Angeles on the May 21, the Quakes have trips to Colorado (Wednesday, May 25) and Kansas City (Saturday, May 28) before the end of the month. Let's not discount the importance of those two games. Let's discuss them when we get past the next two weeks. Survival could be the mantra in this stretch of five games in six on the road. It's too early to be tired and it's too early really for the results to matter that much, at least in the standings. But it's not too early to set the correct tone with your two major rivals.

And it's not too early to "greet" Donovan, Mulrooney, Ruiz, et al, one play and one game at a time.

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.

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