For the Earthquakes, the month of July was a nightmare.
A record-setting nightmare to be specific, with San Jose going 0-7 in all competitions, their worst string of results in any month for the team, ever. Frustratingly, the swoon was preceded by an excellent run that included back-to-back wins against powerhouses Seattle and Los Angeles.
The poor spell knocked San Jose out of the sixth and final playoff spot into ninth place in the Western Conference. The Quakes were outscored 11-3 in their last four league matches, plummeting their goal differential to minus-5, the worst in the West.
On the bright side, the Earthquakes return to Avaya Stadium to face a Portland team struggling in their own right. The Timbers are winless in their last three games and, despite currently holding onto the West’s final playoff spot, have an unimpressive goal differential of minus-4.
The Earthquakes trail Portland by seven points in the standings, but hold two games in hand, meaning the result of Sunday’s match could go a long way to determining who sneaks into the postseason.
The Quakes are also close to full strength after losing Chris Wondolowski and Cordell Cato to CONCACAF Gold Cup duty for much of July. The only potential absence is defensive stalwart Clarence Goodson, who left last week’s 3-1 defeat at Vancouver in the 13th minute after suffering a leg injury, and is listed as questionable for Sunday.
Goodson has been one of the best defenders in the league this season, and his absence was felt last week, with the pairing of Victor Bernardez and substitute Paulo Renato frequently out of position. His presence would be a huge boost in what could prove to be a season defining game.
Both teams have also added a talented player to their roster in recent weeks, with the Earthquakes signing former Liverpool midfielder Marc Pelosi, 21, after a successful trial stint, and the Timbers signing Argentine forward Lucas Melano, 22, to a designated player contract, both looking to make their first MLS start.
The Quakes are hoping the addition of Pelosi will be a catalyst in getting them over the playoff hump for the first time in three seasons. Pelosi can play centrally or on the left side, and it will be interesting to see how Kinnear sets up his team (and whether he deviates from the 4-1-4-1) if Pelosi gets the nod.
With 14 games remaining, it’s a little early to call Sunday’s game a must win for San Jose, but it’s close. The Quakes are a point away from last place in the West, and seven points out of the final playoff spot. A loss to Portland would put them 10 points behind a Timbers team that isn’t all that good.
The Earthquakes have a couple games in hand on most of their Western Conference foes, and play five of their final seven games at Avaya, but falling any farther behind could turn their postseason hopes into a pipe dream.
Has San Jose hit rock bottom, or will the free fall continue? We’ll find out Sunday at 2 p.m.