SAN JOSE, Calif. – With four wins in five matches, the San Jose Earthquakes’ playoff hopes have been upgraded from critical condition to serious. And even as the Quakes go back on the road – where they’ve struggled mightily this season – the buoying effect of that run is obvious in San Jose’s brimming self-assurance.
Witness the flash of Chris Wondolowski’s eyes earlier this week when a questioner used the term “desperation” with regards to San Jose’s need to harvest points from a critical eight-day jaunt. The trip begins with an MLS tilt against staggered FC Dallas on Saturday (9 pm ET, watch on MLS Live), moves to a CONCACAF Champions League match versus Guatemalan side Heredia on Wednesday and concludes Saturday with another California Clasico hosted by archrivals LA Galaxy.
“I’m not sure about desperation,” Wondolowski said, “but a commitment to get three points.”
The recent successes, which have come as San Jose have successfully integrated mid-season signings Jaime Alas, Clarence Goodson and Jordan Stewart into their starting XI, don’t dampen the club’s sense of urgency, according to interim coach Mark Watson.
“I think it gives us more confidence,” Watson said. “I think the group knows that if they do the right things and apply themselves, they’ve got a very good chance of getting a result. The results lately have been good, and I think it just gives us that little belief that we needed, that we are a good team and if we stick together, we can be successful.”
The Quakes hope Wondolowski’s return to form – he has three goals in San Jose’s last three matches, including the game-winner in a 1-0 victory against Sporting Kansas City last week – will herald a change on the road, where they’ve gone 1-9-2 in league play. Only D.C. United (0-9-3) have seen more futility away from home.
“We have 27 points [available] and we feel we can get 20, 21 of them,” Wondolowski said. “If we do go on a run, we’ll be hitting our stride and heading in the right direction [heading into the playoffs]. I’d much rather do that than be at the top and fall and be scrambling and trying to hold on.”
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That last part sounds suspiciously like a description of Dallas, who led the Western Conference as recently as June 15 but needed a 3-1 victory against Chivas USA on Wednesday to break an 11-match winless skid. A win in Frisco for San Jose would be a huge coup, since Dallas are seventh in the West in terms of points per match, and the Quakes would pass them (on a tie-breaker) with a victory.
So, is it nerve-wracking to leave your playoff fates to be decided this late in the season? Or exhilarating?
“It’s a bit of both,” Watson said. “You know, I don’t think we think of the big picture too many times. Everyone kind of knows the reality of it. Everyone knows the standings, they know the importance of the games. We don’t really address that. . . . because everyone knows it and I don’t think it really helps, repeating it time and time again.”