San Jose Earthquakes believe midweek CCL game will help kick off MLS season on a strong note

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Jose Earthquakes may be playing their first MLS regular-season match of the season, but they won’t be coming in cold against Real Salt Lake on Saturday (10:30 pm ET, MLS Live).

A 1-1 tie in CONCACAF Champions League play against top-seeded Mexican side Toluca on Tuesday -- and the way in which that result was gained, with a 95th-minute equalizer from Alan Gordon -- gives the Quakes a shot of confidence heading into their league opener.

“I think it helps us a lot,” Gordon said Tuesday. “It was a first trial run, really. I know we’ve had some preseason games, but preseason’s preseason. This is where it counts and we’ve got new guys that are going to step up and fit in well. You saw it tonight.”

Midfielder Sam Cronin, last year’s team MVP, said there were technical aspects that needed work after Toluca was able to hold the ball for nearly 65 percent of the game, but San Jose’s fight to level the two-legged quarterfinal tie was an impressive display of mental toughness.

“In terms of the mentality and the cohesiveness and the commitment for 90 minutes, that was very strong,” Cronin told after training Friday. “The attitude’s great. Everyone’s willing to learn. It was a good start.”

San Jose coach Mark Watson said his team is dealing with “a few little” injuries in the wake of Tuesday’s game, but that nobody had been ruled out for fitness reasons on Friday. However, full back Jordan Stewart was listed on Friday's injury report as "out" with a right hamstring strain. The only other certainty is that Yannick Djalo, the freshly arrived Portuguese winger, won’t be available as he works on getting his visa processed.

“We’ll get guys evaluated again today and then make our decisions tomorrow,” Watson said. “There’s still those little niggly [injuries] where you’re trying to assess the risk/reward [equation]. We still have three games in a very short period of time. We’re looking at all the factors before we make our decisions.”

One likely bet is the center-back pairing of Victor Bernardez and Clarence Goodson. Goodson would be fresh, having been forced to miss the CCL game Tuesday due to a red card in San Jose’s last group-stage game, back in October. And Bernardez will be missing next week in the CCL rematch at Toluca due to yellow-card accumulation.

In any case, the Quakes are desperate to come out of the gate swinging, after opening 3-6-6 last year -- a stretch that culminated with the abrupt departure of coach Frank Yallop, who had been in charge of the club since its 2008 rebirth as an expansion side.

“We realize the importance of the start” of the season, Cronin said. “We learned that hard lesson last year. It’s really imperative that we get points this weekend, honestly, and then just keep moving and progressing. This game Saturday is massive for us.”

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