Friday, September 14, 2012

San Jose Earthquakes won't relax with playoff berth assured - San Jose Mercury News

SAN JOSE -- The Earthquakes don't have to play a numbers game as the first team to qualify for Major League Soccer's playoffs.

But coach Frank Yallop isn't waiting for the postseason to begin to have the team ready. Yallop is asking his players to keep their focus over the final seven regular-season games, starting Saturday night at down-on-its-luck Chivas USA.

With three games in nine days, San Jose (16-6-5) is looking to avoid injuries and overall fatigue in an attempt to close out the 2012 season with the league's best overall record. The MLS playoffs begin in six weeks.

"All we've clinched is the fifth spot," Quakes star Chris Wondolowski said of the playoffs. "That's not good enough for us right now. We want to try to get first."

San Jose is trying to win its first regular-season championship since 2005, the year its former owners moved the club to Houston.

The schedule seems to favor the Quakes because they face only two legitimate playoff contenders the rest of the way. The final stretch starts at the Home Depot Center in Carson against Chivas USA, eighth in the nine-team Western Conference. The Southern California club has scored eight goals at home this season, whereas San Jose has netted 20 goals on the road.

After allowing four goals to San Jose two weeks ago Chivas is expected to play without top defender Danny Califf because of a hamstring strain.

San Jose returns to Buck Shaw Stadium on Wednesday

night to play host to the last-place Portland Timbers. The Earthquakes end their long week with a highly anticipated game against the Seattle Sounders, one of the few teams challenging them for the Western Conference title.

"It's hard to play three games in a week, especially this late in the season," Yallop said.

To prevent players from breaking down the coach plans to use his deep roster. Just don't expect wholesale changes, the coach added.

Chivas might get a break Saturday if energetic midfielder Marvin Chavez doesn't play because of a sore hamstring. Chavez and center back Victor Bernardez returned this week after playing World Cup qualifying matches for Honduras.

"If there are any doubts with anybody's situation, we will not risk them," Yallop said. "Other than that we are trying to win every game we play."

The Earthquakes started the season just hoping to be in the 10-team playoff mix. But after earning 53 points, the players didn't rejoice when reaching their objective last weekend.

"It's not a big storyline for us," central midfielder Sam Cronin said. "We just want to keep playing well and getting wins."

History shows how important it is to remain sharp for the playoffs. When San Jose won the Supporters' Shield in 2005 with an 18-4-10 record many expected it to cruise to a third MLS Cup title. Instead the Quakes fell to rival Los Angeles Galaxy in the Western Conference semifinals in a home-and-home series.

Wondolowski, who played a total of five minutes in '05, is the only current Quakes player who was on the roster then. He's now trying to win his second MLS Golden Boot title in three years.

Wondolowski has 18 goals but has scored only on a penalty kick in the previous seven league matches. By contrast he got 10 goals in San Jose's final eight games in 2010. The Danville native also had eight goals in the final nine games last year.

"It's like a home run hitter," Wondolowski said of scoring goals. "You can't try to hit a home run. It's not going to happen."

Yallop has not been concerned about his leading scorer. "As we know from the history of Chris, he's going to get going," the coach said.

Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865 and follow him on Twitter at

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