SAN JOSE, Calif. – You could look at the San Jose Earthquakes’ first non-preseason match of 2014 as a dress rehearsal for their MLS opener.
The Quakes, however, won’t be joining you in that view.
For the first time since CONCACAF rejiggered its premier club competition, San Jose are in the knockout stages of the region’s version of Champions League. And even with a daunting task in the form of top-seeded Mexican side Toluca standing in their way on Tuesday (10 pm ET, Fox Sports 2), the Quakes are excited to take their swings at one of Liga MX’s premier clubs.
“That’s what we’re gearing up for and [getting] ready for,” star forward Chris Wondolowski said. “I think it’s a great test, just kind of see where we are. It’s definitely going to be a big battle, but I love those.”
“Big” might be an understatement. San Jose had to scramble to get out of a three-way tie in Group 5 last fall, beating fellow MLS club Montreal and Guatemalan side Heredia on goal differential. Toluca breezed through Group 6 with four straight wins.
Then there’s the readiness factor: The 10-time Liga MX champions currently sit second in the league’s Clausura competition, while San Jose are just wrapping up their six-week training camp.
Nevertheless, the Quakes are not looking at this as merely a final warm-up to their MLS regular-season opener against Real Salt Lake on March 15.
“Any time you have a chance to play in a tournament like that, an international tournament, it’s definitely an honor and something we’re going to take very seriously,” Quakes defender Clarence Goodson said.
The schedule congestion doesn’t come at a great time for the Quakes, who will face Toluca twice, RSL and defending MLS champions Sporting Kansas City in the space of 12 days. But it’s still a positive for someone like Wondolowski, and a consolation prize to take home after just missing out on the 2013 MLS Cup postseason.
“I think it’s a reward,” Wondolowski said. “Last year, we had two huge goals – make the playoffs and advance in Champions League. One of those two didn’t happen, but one did, and so we’re going to continue to try to strive to do better.”