SANTA CLARA — After a whirlwind five games in 19 days to start the season, the San Jose Earthquakes enjoyed a much needed two-week break before Sunday’s clash with the first place Columbus Crew at Buck Shaw Stadium.
San Jose, winless in three league games, needed to heal mentally after a gut-punch last-second loss to the New England Revolution.
The Quakes also needed to heal physically, as they have struggled with a handful of first-team injuries to start the season. Andreas Gorlitz, Clarence Goodson and Jordan Stewart are all at 100 percent.
At Friday’s training session, Earthquakes Coach Mark Watson talked about the importance of the time off:
“It came at the right time. We’ve had the opportunity to address a lot of issues … Through a crucial time when you would hope to have depth, we didn’t. Primarily it was the back line that was the concentration of the injuries. …We’re a lot healthier moving into Sunday.”
Other than Steven Lenhart, who will be out a month with a sprained left MCL, Watson told SFBay that the squad is nearly at full strength, excluding the guys who’ve been out all season:
“We’ve got one unspecified player that’s still struggling with a little something, but other than that guys are healthy. It’s guys being healthy but it’s also about guys being more match fit with an extra two weeks of training. Sometimes you play important games and you expedite that process. They’re able to play but maybe not at their potential in terms of the fitness and sharpness. … Sometimes you’re bringing guys back and they’re not quite themselves.”
To get their first win of the season Sunday, San Jose will need everybody to be — and more. After missing the playoffs last season, Columbus surged out of the gate winning their first three matches, two away from home, and currently sit atop the Eastern Conference standings.
Conversely, San Jose is propping up the table in the West, though they’ve played only three games. With things at the back looking settled with a healthy squad, the Quakes are banking on continued contributions from star striker Chris Wondolowski going forward.
Wondo is tied for the team lead with two goals, and carried that momentum into last week, scoring a crucial goal for the United States Men’s National Team during their World Cup tune up against Mexico.
When it comes to scoring goals on Sunday, Coach Watson told SFBay the counter attack is where the Quakes may have the most success creating chances:
“They throw a lot of numbers forward so that can be dangerous, but it can also be a weakness in terms of being vulnerable at the back.”
Columbus has a star forward of their own, with Argentinian forward Fedrico Higuain involved in five of the seven goals the Crew have scored.
Coach Watson talked with SFBay about the importance of containing the dangerous forward:
“You try to limit his opportunities on the ball. It’s getting our defensive shape organized where he doesn’t get the ball … He is a good player, he will find the ball, especially if he’s being denied in advanced areas he’ll come a little bit deeper. The real crux of it is denying him the ball in real dangerous attacking areas.”
It may be too early in the season for Sunday’s fixture to be considered a “must win,” though the Quakes do not want a repeat of last season’s slow start.
San Jose’s poor performance at the beginning of last season cost then-coach Frank Yallop his job and caused the Quakes to miss the playoffs despite a very strong finish to the season.
A tough match on the road next week in Colorado will give San Jose even more incentive to get their first three points at home. The Quakes will also want to get back to winning ways at Buck Shaw after snapping a 21-game home unbeaten streak with their loss to the Revolution.
San Jose (0-2-1) faces Columbus (3-1-0) at noon on Sunday at Buck Shaw Stadium. Local television coverage will be provided by CSN+.