Having missed out on the MLS playoffs for their first two seasons since being re-established, the San Jose Earthquakes enter these MLS Cup Playoffs with a dearth of postseason experience.
But do they have enough to reach their desired destination – MLS Cup 2010 in Toronto on Nov. 21?
“I don’t think you can ever have enough experience,” said Quakes right back Chris Leitch, who went to the MLS Cup final with the New York Red Bulls in 2008, "but I think this group is more than capable of coming out in the playoffs and not being shellshocked, not looking at it as if it’s an overwhelming feat.
[inline_node:304100]“I think we are a confident bunch and we can get something accomplished.”
While the nouveau Quakes haven’t gone to the playoffs as a franchise, several of their acquisitions have been with other teams. In addition to Leitch, goalkeeper Jon Busch backstopped the Chicago Fire to consecutive conference final appearances in 2008 and ’09. Joe Cannon, though out with a broken ankle, can lend perspective from having won a title with San Jose in 2001.
“Maybe [we don’t have] as much experience as some of the other teams, but you’ve got guys like Jon Busch and Jason Hernandez,” Quakes defender Tim Ward said. “Geovanni’s played in plenty of big games. A lot of guys have played in big games. Maybe not here, but with other teams. I think everybody’s had some good experience, whether it be in the playoffs or playing with their national team or other big games.”
The Quakes have played in some big games recently, as well. Chris Wondolowski has been chasing the MLS Golden Boot, while San Jose didn't officially clinch a playoff berth until Oct. 9 against D.C. United. Two weeks before, they had put some distance in between themselves and chasers Toronto FC by beating the Reds 3-2 at BMO field. Wondolowski had a hat trick.
“We had to go to Toronto and get a result, and we did that,” Yallop said. “Go to DC and get a result, and we did that. So that’s a big, big game that’s under pressure. And this is no different. The only difference in this is that you get one go at it.”
With a few key players engaging in their first MLS season or having returned after a long absence – including Geovanni, Eduardo and Khari Stephenson – Yallop sat down with his team last week to discuss playoff soccer, MLS-style.
“The group as a whole, especially the foreign guys, they don’t really know what it’s all about,” said Yallop, who led the Quakes to titles in 2001 and ’03. “You’re not going to get many calls, there’s not many fouls called. You’ve got to really get ready for that. It’s going to be a tough go for us to go all the way.”
Wondolowski, who was with Houston during the Dynamo’s championship runs of 2006 and ’07 but didn’t see any playoff action, doesn’t foresee any problems.
“We’ve always had a pretty intense state of mind, but at the same time, very relaxed, and I think that’s also one of the reasons why we do well on the road,” he said. “We don’t get nervous, we don’t get rattled.”
For his part, Busch feels that, regardless of experience, the Quakes have enough talent to bring home San Jose’s third title.
“Any team that makes the playoffs has a chance,” Busch said. “You’ve seen that the last couple years — New York a couple years ago getting to the final, losing to Columbus. And then Salt Lake last year, squeaking in and winning the whole thing. Any of the teams that get in have a chance. It doesn’t really matter who you are. As long as you’re invited to the dance, you get an opportunity to dance. You’ve got to make the most of it.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @sjquakes