SAN JOSE, Calif. – Dominic Kinnear has played or coached in MLS since the league’s 1996 inception. But the 47-year-old couldn’t immediately recall anyone else facing the situation his San Jose Earthquakes will battle this week: A stretch of three league matches, all on the road, in the space of eight days.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen it,” Kinnear told reporters earlier this month. “Just off the top of my head, I don’t think that’s happened. ... I remember going maybe two on the road in a short period of time. But three, it’s a tough one.”
The setup is rare but not unheard of in MLS’ history. Sporting Kansas City did it in 2009 and the LA Galaxy in 2007, for example.
And the Quakes won’t be away from San Jose the entire week, with the club planning on breaking up their journey by returning home after visiting Real Salt Lake on Friday (10 pm ET, Univision Deportes). San Jose will then travel to Houston for a Tuesday match – one that will mark the return to BBVA Compass Stadium for former Dynamo men Kinnear and assistants Tim Hanley and Steve Ralston -- and go from there directly to Colorado for another Friday night special. The Quakes will finally resume their home schedule on May 16 against Columbus.
Even with the post-RSL return, however, the three games still represent an undeniably difficult stretch for San Jose, who have lost three of four on the road this season. San Jose held Dallas scoreless at Toyota Stadium until losing in second-half stoppage time and won at Seattle despite playing a man down for more than 30 minutes, but they have come out flat in their last two trips away from Avaya Stadium.
Both New England and New York scored twice in the first half of their contests, the result of fairly intensive pressure in each case. San Jose were unable to claw back after the break on either occasion.
“We’re allowing ourselves to get to a slow start,” midfielder JJ Koval told MLSsoccer.com. “I really think it is the mentality. We know we have the talent. We know we have the ability. We start well here. We’ve started well on the road at times. ... So we need to be more consistent with that.”
On the plus side, having last weekend off – San Jose’s home match against Montreal was postponed while the Impact participated in the two-leg CONCACAF Champions League final – allowed the Quakes to regain some fitness and get midfielders Fatai Alashe and Tommy Thompson back from international duty. With veteran left back Jordan Stewart back at training, San Jose are currently missing only forwards Steven Lenhart and Mark Sherrod, midfielder Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi and defender Shaun Francis due to injury.
“That’s where you need a good squad, people rotating around,” Stewart said of the three-games-in-eight-days scenario. “Everyone has to be fit. The more people that are fit, it gives the chance of fresh guys coming in to prove themselves. That’s why it’s important to have a good squad, a squad that are together, and that’s what we have this year.”
Several Quakes agreed that the toughest part of the trips was the air travel before games, rather than facing a stadium full of opposing fans. But there’s no easy answer as to why road points are so hard to come by.
“That’s a good question,” Kinnear said. “And it’s in every sport, too. Some players, maybe they feel more confident playing at home. Sometimes the home crowd may intimidate you, or it may spur you on. Sleeping in your own bed, your own home routine – sometimes that goes a long way. It’s just maybe a comfort level. Some guys and some teams thrive playing on the road, upsetting the home fans. They feed off of that. And sometimes, guys don’t. I think the majority of them don’t.”
Of course, as Quakes right back Marvell Wynne pointed out, there is one potential benefit to playing on the road that won’t happen at Avaya.
“You don’t have thousands of people on your side, but it always feels good to have them all quiet down when you score a goal," he said.