When the San Jose Earthquakes travel to face Sporting Kansas City this Sunday, they will almost certainly carry with them an us-against-the-world mentality.
National pundits are picking SKC and the betting odds even have the Earthquakes as the second-biggest underdogs of the first round at +375 (MTL is +650 at NE). That’s not all that surprising considering it’s a one seed vs. an eight seed, but a polite reminder that you should always expect the unexpected in Major League Soccer, especially in 2020. To read more about the team’s journey and their ability to overcome obstacles this year, click here.
There’s also something to be said about Matias Almeyda’s ability to win in a tournament format. He led Chivas to five trophies in three years, with four coming in tournament-style play. He also led the Quakes to the quarterfinals of the MLS is Back Tournament earlier this summer on the heels of three straight wins.
Let’s look at the tale of the tape:
Sporting Kansas City finished with the best record in the Western Conference and the third-best record in MLS at 12-6-3 (1.86 PPG). The Quakes held an 8-9-6 record (1.3 PPG) and finished in eighth place in the West.
When it comes to playoffs, it’s oftentimes more important how you’re playing at the end of the regular season than how you fared over the course of the whole year. San Jose and Sporting each finished the year on a 6-3-1 run over their last 10 matches, best in the West. SKC is one of three teams in MLS to win each of their last three matches of the season (COL, NYC).
Sporting’s offense is led by Mexico international Alan Pulido, who cost them a club-record fee in the offseason. Pulido leads the team with five assists and co-leads the team with six goals. Scottish forward Johnny Russelland Israeli-Ethiopian midfielder Gabi Kinda have also contributed six goals apiece. Defensively, the team is anchored by newcomer Roberto Puncec, who missed just one match all season, and hard-nosed staple midfielder Roger Espinoza.
These two teams have faced off twice in the postseason: 2003 and 2004. In 2003, the Quakes prevailed 3-2 in overtime to reach the MLS Cup Final and ultimately lift their second trophy in three seasons. The following year in the Conference Semifinals, San Jose earned a 2-0 victory at home before dropping the second leg 3-0 in KC.
The match, presented by Intermedia Cloud Communications, kicks off at 1 p.m. PT and will be broadcast live on Fox Sports 1, Fox Deportes, KNBR 1050 and 1370 KZSF.