SAN JOSE, Calif. – Three matches in, the San Jose Earthquakes are ready to get down to the heart of their 2012 MLS season.
The Quakes have opened the year 2-1, with a plus-3 goal differential, but Saturday’s trip to face the Seattle Sounders (10 pm ET; watch LIVE online) will be the first time this year San Jose face a Western Conference foe. And with MLS revamping its playoff system so that five teams each from the West and East qualify for the postseason, intraconference play has taken on a whole new level of significance.
“Any time you can beat a Western Conference team, it’s picking up six points, basically,” Quakes star Chris Wondolowski said. “So that’s always huge.”
So are the crowds, of course, when it comes to Seattle. And with the added interest of a goal-scoring showdown between the Sounders’ David Estrada (currently the league leader on four tallies) and Wondolowski (tied for second, on three), the CenturyLink Field faithful won’t lack for interest-driving storylines.
“It’s going to be a great atmosphere, as it always is up there, and they’re a great team,” San Jose goalkeeper Jon Busch told MLSsoccer.com. “We know it’s a big test for us. You don’t hang your season on it, for sure – it’s the fourth game of a long season – but this is our first major test, and we’re excited for the challenge.”
The Quakes struggled last year against the class of MLS: Against the 10 playoff teams, San Jose were 4-9-7. Facing the other seven clubs which went home early, the Quakes were 4-3-7.
And even though San Jose had the vast majority of chances two weeks ago against MLS Cup 2011 runners-up Houston, the Dynamo strode out of AT&T Park with a 1-0 victory. So getting at least a point out of Seattle would be a step forward for the Quakes.
San Jose coach Frank Yallop acknowledges his club has something to prove, but doesn’t feel that’s anything new or different from other game days.
“Yeah, it’s a test, for sure, but every game’s a test,” Yallop said, pointing to the Quakes’ 3-0 win at Toronto FC over the weekend. “I think Toronto was a test: Can we go in there and spoil a home opener for a team and do our thing, play our game and do those things that we need to do? I think that we did that. We accomplished that.”
It's time to see if they're ready to accomplish that against the West.
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at email@example.com