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“New Quakes” look to maintain momentum against United

Posted on 04 September 2008 by mdiamond

As the San Jose Earthquakes suit up for their game this Saturday against D.C. United, the players and coaches will be dealing with a kind of pressure they have not had to face yet this season: a serious expectation to win. Since the franchise’s revival earlier this year, the Earthquakes organization and their faithful fans have relished the “baby steps,” as captain and center back Nick Garcia put it in a February interview, that have snowballed into the team’s current seat at 4th place in the Western Division. Now, with a newly and somewhat suddenly productive offense that has offered 14 goals in its last 7 games (as opposed to the 12 tallies it managed in the 16 games before that), the Earthquakes are as offensively potent and as fun to watch as they were before their departure from Spartan Stadium in 2004, and have maintained a defensive stinginess that is most exemplified in Joe Cannon’s fantastic goals-against average of just 1.18.

The last match these teams played means exactly as much as the four stars atop United’s crest will mean come 7 p.m. Saturday – nothing. The June 22 matchup between these two squads (which D.C. won 3-1) should be neither a source of apprehension nor a spring of revenge-fueled motivation for San Jose. They are a different squad entirely, sporting a midfield and front line that contain few of the players that took the field at RFK stadium. The addition of Darren Huckerby on the left flank, Artruro Alvarez and Scott Sealy in the forward slots and Ronnie O’Brien’s consistent hard work up and down the right sideline have given every other team in the MLS something to think about.

San Jose’s defense should have their hands full this Saturday matching up against Luciano Emilio and Jaime Moreno, who have combined for 20 goals already this season. Captain Nick Garcia and central defender Jason Hernandez, both solid ball-winners, should be able to contain D.C.’s deadly duo one-on-one, but when combination play at the top of the penalty area ensues the Quakes need to maintain their composure and double their work rate in order to prevent disaster. Without the settling presence of injured Ramiro Corrales in the midfield, San Jose must be wary of through-balls and quick counterattacks in the middle of the park. Ned Grabavoy slid into Corrales’ vacant position in the Quakes’ match against Kansas City last Saturday and looks to build his confidence and establish greater chemistry with the rest of the starting 11 this weekend. Grabavoy must maintain the blistering end-to-end pace that makes San Jose dangerous, but if his performance against the Wizards was a preview of what he will do against United, the Earthquakes midfield looks to be in good shape. For a team that lives and dies on momentum (only 10 of their games this season have seen a goal from both sides) the Quakes must look to score early, control the pitch with crisp passing and physical tackles, and manage the center of the park even without Corrales’ guidance.

D.C., on the other hand, enters this game a statistical favorite and with a well-established track record. They have scored 15 more goals than San Jose so far this season and, though not on a hot streak like their 6-win tear that spanned all of June and half of July, they are an opponent not easily held scoreless. Captain Jaime Moreno will be especially goal-hungry after missing an 81st-minute penalty kick that would have given his team a much-needed win at home over New York on Saturday. United is enjoying a boost between the pipes at the moment in Liberian-born Louis Crayton, the recent acquisition who has allowed just 2 goals in his 4 games. United’s defense has aided Crayton in securing shutouts in 3 of its last 4 games despite concerns over a relatively shallow bench caused by the absences of Dominic Mediate and Gonzalo Peralta, both of whom are currently sidelined by injuries.

As San Jose continues to emerge from their goal-anemic formative period that was its first 16 games, the team needs to play with confidence in the fact that they are a team good enough to win plenty of their remaining games and even, dare I say it, make the playoffs. The underdog image has been shattered and in its place stands the imposing and familiar silhouette of a team that can dump 4 goals on New England, hold Houston and Columbus scoreless and play the fast-paced, physical, electric soccer that their home city remembers, loves and deserves. Instead of being a conventional expansion franchise, one which lurks at the bottom of the standings for several years until some stroke of magic turns them into a viable championship contender, the Earthquakes are playing with the kind of precision, flair, and motivation that rekindles memories of the championship squads of ’01 and ’03. In short, if the Earthquakes play Saturday like they have in their last 6 games, they should continue their climb up the standings.

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