The Earthquakes find themselves perhaps in the best position they’ve been in all season. They are currently holding the final playoff spot in the standings, with enough games in hand to climb higher. They have a relatively friendly schedule the rest of the way with games against bottom dwellers from the Eastern Conference. And due to player signings and injury recoveries, they currently boast the best set of attacking players since being reformed as an expansion team.
That also means that for the first time there may actually be some pressure to perform and win games. None of the above will mean anything if San Jose does not capitalize on this opportunity by making the playoffs. The push continues with a midweek game against the Philadelphia Union.
The Quakes defeated Philadelphia on the road by a score of 2-1, though San Jose was perhaps lucky to emerge with three points in a game that the Union generally controlled throughout. But that San Jose team is very different from the team that will take the field Wednesday. That team could not call upon the services of Geovanni, Eduardo or Khari Stephenson, and those three players will be expected to spearhead the Earthquake attack.
Stephenson sat out San Jose’s 0-0 tie with FC Dallas with an ankle injury sustained against Houston, but he is expected to return to his attacking midfield role tonight. Eduardo should be joining him after making his return from a series of injuries as a substitute last Saturday. It was only 15 minutes, but Eduardo looked like a dangerous target man during his brief cameo, and he should have the midfield talent to get him the ball.
Philadelphia, meanwhile, has been playing well lately behind the continued excellent form of MVP candidate Sebastien Le Toux. But it’s possible that the Union will be without standout rookie Danny Mwanga, who injured his shoulder last weekend. He made the trip to San Jose but is officially listed as questionable. Quake fans probably remember how dangerous he looked last time and his absence would be a major blow for Philadelphia’s attack.
Keys to the game
Shut down Le Toux – Le Toux is statistically the most productive attacking player in MLS. With the third most goals and second most assists in the league he’s easily the most dangerous player for the Union. San Jose has been unable to find a dedicated defensive midfielder. Sam Cronin, Jason Hernandez and Brandon McDonald have all spent time at the position. Whichever player takes on the role must control Le Toux
Offensive cohesion – The San Jose offense, for perhaps the first time, is indisputably talented. Geovanni, Stephenson, Eduardo and Bobby Convey all have pace and/or creativity. What they don’t have is experience playing together. A playoff chase is a difficult time to try to develop chemistry and pitch awareness, but San Jose has no other choice. If they can develop it quickly San Jose could become a very dangerous squad.