A few weeks ago San Jose Earthquakes playoff chances seemed to be a sure fire thing. They had just beaten the Vancouver Whitecaps on the road for the first time in club history, and were right back in the the thick of the Western Conference playoff picture. Then came a run of games against three struggling teams. They had two games at home with a chance to cement themselves ind the playoff race. It seemed the ‘Quakes were on the right track. The Earthquakes then proceeded to pick up only one point thanks to a goalless draw against the worst defensive team in the league. Amidst all that, the only team around them in the standings that picked up positive points was Portland. Seattle Sounders and Sporting Kansas City dropped results, keeping the Earthquakes alive and well for that last playoff spot. Can they still make it?
San Jose Earthquakes Postseason Hopes Still Alive
The Teams around them. Right now, the Earthquakes have three teams around them that they can reasonably catch up with: Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers, and Sporting KC. Two of those opponents have CONCACAF Champions League obligations on top of their MLS schedule. Seattle and San Jose both have eight MLS fixtures remaining, with them being split between home and away. We’ll take a look at the other three schedules, where they’ll find difficulty, and then what the Earthquakes need to do to get into the playoffs. First Up? Portland Timbers.
Portland Timbers Remaining Schedule
The Timbers easily have the hardest of all these four schedules remaining. They play 10 total games from now until October 3. That includes a set of three matches in seven days, THREE TIMES within that span. Two of them include midweek travel to Central America (C.D. Dragón and Deportivo Saprissa). From 9/24 to 10/1 Portland will play at Houston Dynamo, at C.D. Dragón, and then at Colorado Rapids. That is an absolutely murderous travel schedule. With three of these types of sets in their schedule, they could be run ragged by the end of the season. It also doesn’t help that they have some relatively difficult league opponents as well. For a team who hasn’t won back to back games at all this year, the task ahead may just prove to be too difficult.
Seattle Sounders Remaining Schedule
Personally, I think the Sounders’ remaining schedule is the easiest of them all, and I could see them maybe picking up 12-18 points in their eight remaining games. However, the loss of Clint Dempsey could potentially be crippling. They face: San Jose, Vancouver, LA Galaxy, Chicago, Vancouver, Houston, FC Dallas, and Real Salt Lake. So now, they only leave the Pacific Time Zone once with that stretch of games (Away to Dallas). They also only have one set of three games in seven days. That stretch runs from at LA, Home to Chicago, and at Vancouver. They virtually travel up the Pacific Coast in seven days. While the average “Red Line” for the West has been around 50 points over the last few years, this year I think it could actually dip below that. I’d anticipate the Red Line settling at around 46-48 Points. Seattle would need to pick up 16 points to get to 46 points. Depending on how long Clint Dempsey is out, Seattle may not be able to fully catch up.
Sporting Kansas City Remaining Schedule
Sporting Kansas City has almost as difficult of a run-in as Portland, but their CCL travel is a lot less taxing. They also play one less CCL game than Portland and one less MLS matchup. However, they do have a cluster of three games in seven days. They also have a cluster of three games in nine days. Sporting KC has been very up and down this year, and they could potentially blow. Dom Dwyer has been relatively quiet as of late, and Graham Zusi has been virtually invisible this year. As the fifth place team, they’re up six points on seventh place in the west (San Jose) while Seattle and San Jose have two games in hand. Now that we’ve seen the Earthquakes four closest competitors for the final two postseason spots, let’s take a look at their run-in.
Earthquakes Remaining Schedule
While they only play eight MLS matches, their opponent strength is tougher than the rest. While they have four winnable home games (Seattle, SKC, Vancouver, RSL) two of those games are going to have a major impact on the playoff race. Vancouver might be close on points, but their form has them trending in the other direction. They’ve scored one goal in MLS play since July 16. It might be safe to count them out of the playoff picture, having only picked up three total points since then. Their schedule includes very difficult away matches though: Colorado twice, Montreal Impact, and finishing the season at Sporting KC.
The way the Earthquakes have been playing lately has been rather disappointing. Fans are frustrated with the lack of offense and ingenuity going forward. This has led to the firing of longtime GM, John Doyle. There is more to come on what the Doyle firing’s effect will have on the club going forward. For now, as Colin Etnire of Center Line Soccer discussed in a Periscope chat is that this is a warning shot to Dom Kinnear. Etnire also discussed how the Earthquakes have been known for loyalty within the organization, even to a fault. The firing signals that poor results will be punished, regardless of loyalty. This team has only made the postseason twice since the clubs return. For a league where 60% of teams make the postseason that doesn’t cut it. Maybe the move will light a fire under San Jose.
For the Earthquakes, they need to win their remaining home matches. That’s 12 points which sticks them at 44. That just may not be enough, so they’ll have to win at least one road game to get them up to 47. There’s a safe bet that if they get to 47 points they’ll be in the playoffs. A few road draws as well would help them out. If they somehow manage to not lose, and win at least three of their final games, (14 points) I’d be shocked if they got left out of the playoffs.
San Jose and Sporting KC end up with the final two spots. I had said before on the LWSC Podcast after the All-Star Game that I didn’t see this team making the postseason. The absence of Clint Dempsey actually helps the Earthquakes a bit, and Portland’s torturous schedule may just be their downfall. If San Jose wins on September 10 against Seattle (who haven’t won in San Jose since 2010) then Seattle’s road gets a lot more difficult. Picking up points against their direct playoff rivals is probably the most important thing right now. They have three of those games and those will be the most crucial ones down the stretch.