Brian Mullan is one of several Quakes who have missed time for national team duty.
John Todd/MLS/

Shrader: Time is on Quakes' side

These are not the best of times for the San Jose Earthquakes. Three games in three cities in seven days, all of them losses. (Throw in this week's trip to Portland for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup game and it is four games in four cities in 11 days.)

The team that has won two of the last three Major League Soccer championships sits in last place in the Western Conference, winners only once since May 22. With injuries and national team call-ups, we're never sure which 11 players will be healthy enough to play and, with all the travel, it's been difficult even for coach Dominic Kinnear to get the players on the practice field on consecutive days.

This is a tune that I'm sure nine other MLS teams have sung at one time or another this year, and if they haven't by now they certainly will have by the end of the season. This 30-game marathon is not won in 15 games, but Kinnear would like to see some better results, that's for sure.

"Where we are in the standings is staring us right in the face," Kinnear said. "I'm not happy about it, and no one on this team is happy with the way we are playing."

Even with a depleted lineup, it appeared from this man's vantage point that the Quakes played better for long stretches of time in losing 2-0 at the MetroStars Saturday than they played in losing back-to-back 2-1 games, in Los Angeles and at home against the Dallas Burn the previous week.

A bad offsides call and a questionable penalty kick turned a probable 1-1 game into a 2-0 loss. In this league - and most others - when you're not playing particularly well, you don't get many breaks.

"We are not having things go our way right now," says midfielder Richard Mulrooney, "but we are not getting down."

How about a little home cooking to get well? The Quakes have home games on back-to-back Saturdays, July 17 vs. Colorado and July 24 vs. New England, then comes the All-Star break, and then the Quakes are back at home to take on D.C. United August 7.

"Almost every year we have gone through a tough stretch like this," Mulrooney said. "This year we are getting it before the All-Star break, and what that means is we still have 15 games to turn things around."

Not only do the Quakes have the three home games coming up, they play five of their seven league games through the end of August in Spartan Stadium. That's the good news; the bad news: the Q's are only 2-1-4 at home.

That said, this is a team that figured out how to overcome a fifth-place finish to win the title in 2001 and figured out how to overcome a four-goal deficit in 75 minutes to beat L.A. and then go on to the title.

"The good thing is," says Kinnear. "We can control our own destiny, we still have a lot of games left and we can control how we play against the other teams in the West."

Ten of the team's final 15 are against the Western Conference: two games each with Los Angeles and Dallas and three games each against Colorado and Kansas City. The way the league is set up, you must play well in October and November, but you must survive up to that point. So far the Quakes have been over-injured and under-performing.

"I think we all know how we can play as team, and this is not it," says Kinnear, on his way out the door; he's headed to the airport, for another road trip, of course.

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.