The 2012 Supporters’ Shield winners have a full week of training ahead of their first-leg match in the Western Conference Semifinal on Nov. 4. The Quakes will either travel to Los Angeles or Vancouver as they await the result of Thursday night’s 7:30 p.m. play-in match between the LA Galaxy and Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
Quakes players took the time to answer some questions to discuss the week ahead, playoffs, and Steven Lenhart.
Question: What are the differences between the regular season and playoff matches?
Chris Wondolowski: Everything is just magnified. You have to do to all the little things. These games are so close and it comes down to the little things.
Alan Gordon: There is less forgiveness for errors. You got to tighten things up and you can’t make mistakes. When you make mistakes, you’re going to get punished. We have to be tuned in as a team and that’s what has got us here.
Jason Hernandez: There’s a lot more urgency in every play. As the playoffs begin, players start to take fewer plays off, if any. Each play gets magnified. One mistake or one slip up can make the difference. It will be really important for us to focus on the details and become as close to perfect as possible in the way we play.
Frank Yallop: If you saw the games that just passed, when you go into the playoffs, you start to take your foot off the gas waiting for the playoffs. You don’t want to get injured. You don’t want to get a red card. The last couple of games are always a little bit different to the playoffs. Even the LA vs. Seattle game, the game was not really like a playoff game because Seattle had already qualified. Because both teams had qualified and were jostling for position, it was a game that didn’t really matter. It was the same as the two games that we had. We’ve done enough to get the best record in the league and that job is done so we have to refocus on being prepared for the Galaxy or Vancouver.
Question: What are the takeaways from the 2010 postseason?
CW: There are two legs. If we were down 2-0 to New York, it would have been a different ball game. It would’ve been an insurmountable lead.
JH: I think the main thing you take from that experience, from an underdog perspective, is that you can’t take into account what the experts have to say. The game is played between the lines. No matter what your record is, you start with a clean slate. It’ll all mean nothing if we can’t continue in the postseason so we are looking to continue to be hungry and aggressive going forward.
Question: What does Steven Lenhart bring to the frontline?
CW: He’s just a very talented player. He’s able to stretch the team with his speed. He can definitely battle and he’s a great target man. I know him both on and off the field. He’s a great guy and a great friend. I obviously love the guy. I think he’s a great individual. Some of the things that referees have called might have frustrated fans but he plays the game hard.
JH: I don’t see what the big fuss is about. Teams play him once or twice a year but I’m out here battling him every day. In reality, he is a physical presence who doesn’t give up an inch. A lot of defenders think that they can muscle [Lenhart and Alan Gordon] around but that’s Lenhart and Gordon’s game. For me, it’s a great exercise to use my smarts to my advantage. They help me get better and I’m glad that they are on my team.
Lenhart’s going to try harder than you. He doesn’t quit. He doesn’t have a bone in his body that will relinquish anything to anyone. Whether he’s going against a national team player or a rookie, he is going to put all he has into every single player. Some players don’t like it. I know when I played against him in the regular season, I didn’t like it. It is what it is.
Question: You guys are nine games unbeaten. Do you feel like you guys are hot?
AG: We haven’t lost which is good. Have we been playing our best soccer lately? I wouldn’t say that. Momentum is in our favor. We are going to build on what we’ve been building on this entire season. We still have the will and the fight to win and pull off results no matter who we play against. I’m excited for the opportunity.
FY: Alan [Gordon] hasn’t played. Simon [Dawkins] hasn’t been fit. Both are key guys. We expect both to be fit for the weekend but you never know. For us, it’s about what we’ve done consistently all year. Usually, if we’ve lost a game we won’t lose two in a row. We haven’t done it this year. If we lose one game, we come back and get either a tie or a win. Playoffs are a little different because there are two games, but we find a way to pick our game up and drive on. I don’t see any difference with this group. Sunday and Wednesday is tough but I’d expect our players to raise our game.
Question: Although your opponent has not been determined, does that effect how you go about training?
AG: No, we really haven’t been focused on other teams at all this year. We are just focused on ourselves. When we focus on our games, that’s when we play our best. Obviously, there are some key matches up we got to look at. There may be some little things to focus on.
JH: For the most part, we have just concentrated on what we are doing here – what we want to get better at and what advantages we want to create. Not knowing who we play doesn’t make a huge difference for us. At the end of the day, if we have a good week of training and a game plan, we will be just fine.
FY: Not really, we go about our own business. Either Vancouver or LA know that they will play us on Sunday so maybe it is easier for them. For us, we have some tough games no matter who we play. We are just going to go about a normal week of training. Obviously the mentality will step up now. We have to be ready for whoever we are playing against.