There are wild weeks, and then there are weeks in which every game on the schedule goes down to the wire, seven goals are scored after the 87th minute (including four in stoppage time), refereeing decisions provoke press-conference outbursts of raw frustration, and the San Jose Earthquakes boggle the minds of 50,028 spectators at Stanford Stadium.
And that’s without even mentioning Chivas USA's situation.
The Goats, who are in the midst of an 11-game winless skid, appear headed for a midseason overhaul, just months after their preseason overhaul and, well, it’s not a pretty picture.
But on the field, the Fourth of July fireworks came a few days early, with 28 goals in eight games, a seven-goal slugfest, and two five-goal thrillers, including the Earthquakes’ shocker.
If you went to bed before Saturday night’s California Clasico reached its corkscrew ending, you missed a finish that, had it been pitched to M. Night Shyamalan, would have had the director shaking his head and saying, “Guys, c’mon. There are limits.”
The Quakes’ stoppage-time reversal of fortune from down a man and down a goal to running off 3-2 winners was so jolting, it could be the kind of game to hot-wire a previously stalled season.
Which begs the question: Can San Jose ride the momentum of their sensational win to a playoff berth in the West, or have the Goonies left it too late?
Let’s take a look:
If the Galaxy had held on to win Saturday night’s game – as by all reasonable expectations they should have – Bruce Arena’s side would have finished the night in fourth place in the West with 27 points, leaving the Quakes twisting in the wind behind the pack on 18 points.
But after the game completed its dizzying 180, the Quakes came to a stop with 21 points – tied with Seattle (who have four games in hand), two behind Colorado, and just three behind LA in the fifth and final playoff spot.
San Jose are now 5-7-6, two wins away from .500 and, with 16 games to play, well within reach of a respectable final record. There are eight teams still vying for playoff spots in the West and, after last night, the Quakes are one of them.
Among San Jose’s many problems in the early going – along with injuries, suspension, and poor form – was the fact that their defense had become the leakiest rearguard in the Western Conference, and second-most porous in the league.
Before Saturday night’s game, only last-place D.C. United had given up more goals (26) than San Jose (25). (After this week’s games, the teams are tied with 27 goals conceded.)
The Quakes brass addressed that problem this past Friday, signing US international Clarence Goodson to help shore up their backline. The veteran center back should do just that, providing a solid stay-at-home complement to the more freewheeling style of Víctor Bernárdez.
Call of Duty
So the Quakes have enough games left, and a respectable enough current record, to climb above the red line, and they’ve also made a key acquisition to help them toward that goal.
One of those four – Goodson – hasn’t played a second for the Quakes this season, so they can’t quite lament his "absence" as much as a delay in his acquisition. Of the remaining three, Chris Wondolowski and Marvin Chávez are starters and key players, while Nana Attakora is a bench player whose absence strips the Quakes of some of their depth.
The Gold Cup is going to roadblock two key areas Quakes fans might reasonably have hoped to see improve during the second half of the season: 1) the defense, which will be thinner and will have to wait to add its new veteran US international and 2) the goalscoring form of 2012 Golden Boot winner Wondolowski, who had fallen off his record-setting pace of a year ago.
San Jose fans waiting for Wondolowski to bust out in MLS in 2013 will have to wait some more.
The Quakes are 0-3-1 after victories this season, and whatever effect Saturday’s landmark triumph has on the club, San Jose’s next three games are tough ones. First, they travel to Chicago to take on the resurgent Fire – a team hungry to salvage its own season – then they visit Eastern Conference bubble team New England before facing fellow Western Conference playoff strivers Seattle at home on July 13.
That’s a rough stretch, and the Quakes will have to travel it without all four of their Gold Cup players, as the regional tournament will still be in the group stage and no teams will have released players back to their clubs yet.
San Jose round out the month on July 27 with a match against the Portland Timbers, who have lost just once all season.
The Quakes have the talent to weather the Gold Cup absences, but it’s time for other players to start contributing if the team is going come out the other end of July with its playoff hopes intact.
They’ll also have to avoid the injury bug that plagued them in the early part of the season and has shown recent signs of returning (Steven Lenhart, Alan Gordon and defender Steven Beitashour all have minor knocks).
Saturday night’s incredible finish may have cast a bright new light on the season, but considering the absences, the impending road trip, and the crowded field of contenders in the West, the hour is later than it seems.