We hit the half-way mark of the 2005 Major League Soccer season this week and to the surprise of a whole lot of people, the San Jose Earthquakes are right in the thick of the race. Battling through injuries, bad early-season defense, bad early-season breaks and plenty of lineup changes, the Earthquakes have become almost unbeatable at home and have been as competitive as anybody on the road.
In three straight games at home, the Quakes outscored their opponents 7-0 and picked up the full nine points. All three victims were Western Conference opponents and now the Quakes have played more than 500 consecutive minutes Spartan Stadium without giving up a goal.
"We want to establish this as not only our home but our fortress," said defender Danny Califf. "And nobody can come in here and impose their game on us. We are going to impose our game on them."
It's about the field size and about attitude, says Califf, who has started seven games, during which the club has gone 4-1-2 and moved closer to the top of the table in the West.
The Quakes have to spend much of July on the road, in the hot and humid climes of places like Dallas, Columbus and Washington, D.C.
"We'll just try to carry this momentum that we've established here at home into the road games," said Califf.
San Jose hits the road without Brian Ching, who had surgery this week to repair a torn hamstring. He will be out for a considerable amount of time. They're also without Brad Davis, who is with the U.S. national team preparing for the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Leading the league with eight assists and improving as a defensive player, Davis gets his first call-up to the senior national team.
Dwayne De Rosario is off to be with Canada for the Gold Cup competition. Current Canadian national team head coach and former Quakes boss Frank Yallop waited until after the mid-week game to bring him into hiscamp. De Rosario leaves at a time when he's playing the best soccer of his Quakes career and after striking the game-winner in the 1-0 win over the Rapids.
"I kind of don't want to go now," De Rosario said. "We have a good winning streak going. It's a great atmosphere here and you kind of want to keep that going. But you have to go to your national team. It's an honor to go to your national team."
De Rosario says the team will get by.
"Tonight was a sign of a winning team," he said after his 88th minute goal beat Rapids. "Guys filled the roles, they came in an did well. Yes, I want to be with the team, but I have a bigger duty to do and represent my country. I have no fear that we won't keep it rolling."
It's not just talk, it is expectation.
"We're looking to catch not only the Galaxy but Dallas," Califf said. "We're always looking to improve our position and hopefully come out with the Western Conference title."
We're halfway through the season and that's not an absurd notion.
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. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.