CenterLine Report: Season opener portends season results

A look at past season openers ahead of Saturday's MLS home opener

On Saturday, the San Jose Earthquakes will take to the Buck Shaw Stadium pitch to open their 2014 MLS regular season. Weeks of preseason preparations will culminate in a match against Real Salt Lake on March 15, kickoff at 7:30 p.m. 

And if it seems like the Quakes always open the season against RSL, it wouldn’t be hyperbole to say that it was true. In fact, in three of the past four years, San Jose has hosted the Utahans at Buck Shaw as part of MLS First Kick. But if the memory of such visits has been forgotten, it would be understandable. To wit, the Earthquakes lost all three of those games against RSL.

Now that doesn’t necessarily consign the Quakes to fourth straight season opening defeat to Salt Lake, though the defending Western Conference champions will most certainly pose a challenge. The task will be tougher still with San Jose’s two-game CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series with Toluca sandwiching the MLS opener on March 15, but these are the “Never Say Die” Quakes, right?

After falling to Real Salt Lake 2-0 to kick off 2013, the Earthquakes went undefeated at home for rest of year and only missed out on the postseason due to a tiebreaker with the Colorado Rapids. In 2010, the loss was even more one-sided as RSL blanked the Quakes 3-0 at Buck Shaw Stadium, but San Jose rebounded and made the playoffs, missing out on MLS Cup after a narrow conference championship loss to the Rapids. It begs the question: do season opening results portend the final season standings?

Going back to the inaugural year of MLS in 1996, San Jose has played 16 seasons and qualified for the MLS Cup playoffs eight times. It has opened the regular season at home for nine of those seasons, including each of the past five years. During the club’s impressive 2001-05 run, in which it won two MLS Cups and captured a Supporters’ Shield, four of those five seasons were started on the road. The following table captures the permutations of the myriad results, including the connection between those results and San Jose’s playoffs fate:

 

Season Openers

Qualified for Playoffs

% Conversion

Win

6

5

83.3

Loss

9

2

22.2

Draw

1

1

100.0

And focusing only on the first home game of each season, seven times coming in either week wo or week three of the season, the table changes slightly:

 

Home Season Openers

Qualified for Playoffs

% Conversion

Win

5

3

60.0

Loss

8

2

25.0

Draw

3

3

100.0

It doesn’t take a math expert to see that a positive result to start the year has led to a berth in the postseason nearly 80% of the time. And for those who take a glass-half-full perspective on such matters, pulling for a season-opening draw all but guarantees the Quakes a spot in the MLS Cup playoffs. Keep that in mind on March 15!

The season won’t be decided in the first weekend, but points earned in March count equally in the standings as those earned in October. First Kick nemesis Real Salt Lake presents challenge #1 of 34 in 2014, and there is no better occasion that the season opener to get things started on the right foot.

Robert Jonas is a writer for CenterLineSoccer.com and SJEarthquakes.com. Send him feedback on Twitter: @RobertJonas