After fighting through a mid-week showdown with the Seattle Sounders, the San Jose Earthquakes travel across the country to PPL Park to challenge the rested Union on Sunday.
With the Quakes eager to complete a stretch of three games in seven days, the eager Union are drooling over the prospect of facing a road-weary team.
“When teams go on the road mid-week, it is challenging,” interim Union manager Jim Curtin said. “Anytime I look at the schedule, I always look if a team is going away mid-week. That’s a good thing, and then they have to come across the country. The travel element is huge. They’re in a difficult spot.”
Yet while Curtin hopes the Quakes have tired legs, he isn’t preparing his team for anything less than a battle. Though the Union are coming off a 7-2-4 run in their last 13 games in all competitions, they have no room to rest. The club remains 6-9-9 and one win outside of the Eastern Conference playoff window.
The Union are coming off a 2-0 loss to the Houston Dynamo.
“They’ll fight,” Curtin said. “They’ll fight for their coach right now. [Mark] Watson’s a great coach and a guy who always has his team prepared to compete. We’ll have to jump on them early. We’ll have fresh legs; we’ve been rested and they guys are getting the appropriate rest and the right amount of fitness ramping up for this home stretch, and we’ll be ready to go.”
The Quakes, led by Chris Wondolowski’s nine goals, have had a forgettable season in the tough Western Conference. While they are well outside of the playoff picture at 6-9-7, the struggling club has been better in its last four games, with a win and tie over the Sounders, a draw with the LA Galaxy and a 5-0 loss to FC Dallas.
But the Union are at home. And according to Curtin, that should make all the difference.
“On our home field, though, it’s about us,” Curtin said. “We can talk about San Jose all we want, but we know we have seven of 10 here down the stretch so we’ll only be able to look at ourselves in the mirror at the end of the year and say if we’re a playoff team or not. It will be our fault if we don’t make it. San Jose is a huge game. Every game is a playoff game.”
Playoff importance or not, the Union will once again be without newly signed goalkeeper Rais Mbolhi, who suffered visa issues and got in a minor car accident in France, delaying his Union debut. The Algerian World Cup goalie could be in the 18 for the Union, but Zac MacMath is expected to start.
“Zac has been a pro,” Curtin said. “I’ve talked with him, we’ve had several discussions and he knows I’m high on him as a goalkeeper. He’s been very understanding of the situation. He’s a good young goalkeeper and we have a lot of faith in him.”
The Union will also be armed with their top playmaker, Cristian Maidana, who missed the club’s last four MLS matches with an injured hamstring. Maidana leads the team with eight assists.
“He looked like the Chaco Maidana we saw on the good run that he was on," Curtin said. "We need to get him back there if this team not just wants to make the playoffs but make a run in the playoffs.”
With key players making a return and the Union hosting a worn down club, they are well aware that Sunday is the perfect time to claim three points.
“It’s going to be tough,” MacMath said. “Obviously every playoff run is tough. You’ve got to take it game by game and get a point at every game, especially at home trying to get three points.”