Has San Jose Really Reached “Must Win” Mode?

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Chris Wondowlowski walks up the field during a game against the Chicago Fire at Avaya Stadium on September 27th, 2017. Photo by Lyndsay Radnedge.

In 2012, the San Jose Earthquakes adopted the iconic line “Goonies never say die” from the 1985 cult classic Goonies as they made a surprising run through the regular season in route to winning the Supporters Shield, often getting wins or saving draws on last minute goals. Now, five years later after that memorable run, (which was also the last time they made the playoffs) the Earthquakes find themselves at a crossroads, once again needing to not say die as they head into Saturday’s match with the Portland Timbers sitting in eighth in the West with three games left and a league worst -23 goal differential.

The story line for the Earthquakes season has been their ability to play well at Avaya Stadium, but have been absolutely abysmal on the road. Wednesday Night their poor run of form from the road extended to Avaya Stadium, as a lifeless Earthquakes side fell to the red-hot Chicago Fire 4-1, in a game that Defender Flo Jungwirth said after the game could easily have gone to seven or eight.  The team may have looked disjointed on the pitch, but after the game were in agreement that they needed to take all nine points from their remaining three games, starting with the Portland Timbers this Saturday. The Earthquakes will take the International Break next week before finishing up with a difficult trip to West leading Vancouver before finishing the season with expansion side Minnesota United.

Tommy Thompson stretches for the ball in a game agains the Chicago Fire at Avaya Stadium on September 27th, 2017. Photo by Lyndsay Radnedge.

The saving grace for the Earthquakes is that the Western Conference has been as weak as it’s ever been. While four of the six spots in the East have been clinched, nobody has officially clinched a spot in the West. Top to bottom, the table has been pretty fluid for most of the season, but heading into the final month of the season, the top 4 (Vancouver, Portland, Sporting Kansas City, and Seattle) have separated themselves from the pack and barring an epic collapse, should all slot into those first four spots.  That leaves the next four clubs (Real Salt Lake, FC Dallas, Houston, and San Jose) to fight over the final two spots. Heading into Saturday, RSL and FC Dallas sit in the final two spots with 41 points, leading Houston by one and the Earthquakes by two points. The two Texas sides also have the advantage of a game in hand on RSL and the Earthquakes.

Here is how the remaining schedules play out:

Real Salt Lake: LA Galaxy (A), Colorado (A), Kansas City (H)

FC Dallas: Orlando (A), Colorado (A), Seattle (A), LA Galaxy (H)

Houston: Minnesota (H), Kansas City (H), Kansas City (again!) (A), Chicago (H)

San Jose: Portland (H), Vancouver (A), Minnesota (H)

The remaining schedule appears to be a wash, as Houston and San Jose play most of their remaining games at home, but also play multiple games against teams in their conference’s top four. Two wins and one loss for the Earthquakes would take them to 46, meaning that RSL and FC Dallas would only need five from their remaining games, without factoring in Houston, whose remaining opponents I think will prove too much to overcome. Taking the maximum points from the rest of the games puts them at 48, which would put a lot of pressure on RSL and FC Dallas to pick up some road points against the bottom of the West.

Chris Wondolowski reacts during a game against the Chicago Fire at Avaya Stadium on September 27th, 2017. Photo by Lyndsay Radnedge.

If the Earthquakes can bounce back from their last four games, in which they’ve been outscored 12-2, and take those remaining nine points, I expect they will make the playoffs. Any stumble along the way, and their playoff chances will be at the mercy of Colorado and the LA Galaxy.

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