SAN JOSE, Calif. – All week long, the East vs. West showdown between Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake has been the talk of MLS. But that’s not the only potential MLS Cup preview being staged Saturday.
When San Jose and New York kick off at Red Bull Arena (7 pm ET, watch LIVE online), it will be a battle between the second-placed clubs in their respective conferences, both of which are riding three-game winning streaks.
After authoring the best five-match start in franchise history at 4-1-0, the Quakes are not shy about setting their sights on what would be the Bay Area’s first MLS crown in nearly a decade.
“I think we’ve got a special thing here, right now,” Quakes captain Ramiro Corrales, the franchise’s all-time leader in appearances, told MLSsoccer.com. “I’ve been saying it since preseason – I think we all believe in the quality that we have here.
“Obviously, our first goal is to make the playoffs. We know once you make the playoffs, anything can happen. That’s our main goal. But we know once we’re there, I think we have a good chance, to be honest, to win the whole thing.”
San Jose haven’t done that since 2003, when a young Landon Donovan roamed Spartan Stadium alongside the likes of Brian Mullan, Brian Ching, Dwayne De Rosario, Richard Mulrooney, Jeff Agoos, Ronnie Ekelund and Corrales.
By most measures, the Quakes have proven themselves worthy of being taken seriously. With a plus-6 goal differential, they’re tied with New York for third-best in the league, just one back of Sporting KC and RSL. Since Real have played one more game, the Red Bulls and Quakes actually rank above them in terms of a per-match average.
“I certainly hope that we can get there,” Quakes star Chris Wondolowski told MLSsoccer.com of the team's MLS Cup ambitions. “It’s still seven months away, so there’s still so much season and so many ups and downs. But I really do believe that we have the capability of making a run deep in the playoffs and I know that they have the firepower to do the same. So anything can happen. They could be there at the end and so could we.”
As is the case with many MLS sides this year, the Quakes have been focusing on their intraconference matches, since only five playoff teams will come from each half of the map. But the chance of winning at RBA – site of the new Quakes’ only playoff win, a 3-1 romp in 2010 – adds a certain frisson of excitement. Certainly, a victory would only help bolster their credentials with a general public perhaps skeptical of such a quick turnaround from last year’s 8-12-14 belly flop.
“If we can go to New York and get a good result, then that will be very good for us,” San Jose coach Frank Yallop said. “But it’s not just a one-off where, if we lose this game, it’s all over. I think if you look at our guys now and the way they go about training, just around the locker room, they’re pretty confident that they’re going to be fine and feel comfortable that they’re going to win the game.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.