With a 1-8-2 record away from home this season in MLS play, the San Jose Earthquakes might seem to be put at a disadvantage by a CONCACAF Champions League schedule that begins with two road games.
Yet if the Quakes are going to succeed in CCL play – and also pull themselves back into serious contention for an MLS Cup postseason berth – now might be the perfect time to attack those problems away from home.
San Jose make their CCL debut Wednesday night in Montreal (8 pm ET, Fox Soccer Plus) riding the wave of a three-match winning streak – their first string of consecutive victories all year. Even though those matches all took place at Buck Shaw Stadium, interim coach Mark Watson feels this club – with new additions Clarence Goodson and Jordan Stewart at the back and returning star Chris Wondolowski up front – is capable of carrying that momentum across time zones and borders.
“I think we have improved,” Watson told MLSsoccer.com by phone on Tuesday from Quebec. “We’re healthier, we’ve added depth to the squad. And I think our guys have really embraced the things we’ve been working on. There’s been a lot of progress shown. So I’d like to think that, regardless of where we play, we’re going to be more competitive and a little more solid on the road.”
The Quakes have lost six of their last seven road matches, and were shut out in five of those contests. But San Jose should bring plenty of firepower to bear against Montreal. Wondolowski retained his fine Gold Cup form, if his game-winning brace against Chivas USA last Saturday is any indication.
And Watson did allow that Marvin Chávez (above) – the kind of player whose never-ending running would normally make him less likely to participate in midweek games – “will definitely play significant minutes” Wednesday after serving a suspension against Chivas USA.
The presumed inclusion of Chávez might not be the only change coming.
“We want to do well in every competition,” Watson said. “The main thing now is just to be smart with how we manage the players. We’re fortunate enough that we have some more depth now and we have a really deep squad. We’ll look to freshen up our lineup Wednesday night.”
The match will mark the Quakes’ CCL debut; the last time San Jose reached the heights of CONCACAF play, in 2004, the tournament was still using its previous format, called the Champions' Cup. The Quakes were knocked out that year by Costa Rican side Alajuelense in the quarterfinals, 3-1 on aggregate.
If San Jose are going to reach the quarterfinals in this year’s tournament, they’ll have to win a group that features Montreal and Guatemalan side Heredia. And doing that might just require pulling out a victory or two on hostile territory – a challenge Wondolowski relishes.
“That’s the great thing about this team: We don’t look in there just to get a tie or come away with a point,” Wondolowski said. “We want to try to get three. That’s going to be our mentality.”