The San Jose Earthquakes took to training on Friday morning to finalize preparations for Saturday’s match against the Columbus Crew. Spirits were high following the club’s solid 1-0 victory over the Colorado Rapids last weekend but the mounting pressure of their playoff contention battle added an edge to their routine.
“We’re right in the thick of right now,” said rookie Nick Lima, whose spectacular volley was the difference against Colorado.
“Scoring is always fun, but the best moments are when you get a win,” he told Quakes Talk. Especially road wins, which have been elusive for the Quakes. In coach Chris Leitch’s first three away matches in charge of the club, they’ve been outscored twelve to three and now have to play catch-up in the playoff battle.
Said Lima: “We just have to control what we can.”
Saturday night’s match against Columbus presents an opportunity to reassert their playoff intentions. “Confidence begets confidence,” said coach Leitch. “Every time you win you’re going to be a little more confident heading into the next team.”
He is hopeful that key midfielders Anibal Godoy and Jahmir Hyka will be fit to return from injury and “factor significantly” against Columbus. Their return is also the likely catalyst for a potential formation change.
“We may switch formations depending on a number of different factors,” said Leitch. “’For example tomorrow we probably won’t play a 3-5-2. As the opposition comes up we’ll see what situations we can come up to with to take advantage of who we’re playing and the players we have at our disposal.”
Columbus have been a dangerous attacking team so far this season but their leaky back-line has kept them in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff battle and the Quakes will hope to capitalize, spearheaded by the likely home debut of DP-signing Vako.
There is an added incentive for Leitch, who grew up supporting the Crew. “Columbus is special,” he said. “It’s where I grew up, it’s my backyard. It’s a big reason why I was a pro, to be able not only to play the game growing up as a kid but to have a team that’s in your backyard and you can go down and watch games, it gives that dream a spark. It gives those goals a different slant. When you have that ingrained in you as a young kid, it doesn’t leave you.”
Even now, he can rattle off the Columbus lineups of the late nineties and early 2000’s.
“Every single player that I went and watched I was in awe of,” he said. “When you’re a kid you don’t think you’re ever going to be there, you just hope that you can be a good player. My first year, I was like: ‘Wow, I’m playing with [Brian] McBride, with John Harkes, with Brian Maisonneuve.’ Back then there were nine teams, so those rosters were stacked with national team guys and a who’s who of guys playing at the highest level within this country and abroad. It was pretty darn special playing with those kind of guys…I can name so many players on Columbus it’s not even funny.”
Leitch won’t let the nostalgia get in the way of the task at hand, though. “You want to beat them even more because of it and knowing what it’s going to do for us in the standings is important,” he concluded.
Without the full three points, Saturday’s outing could represent a key playoff setback.
“You’re never satisfied until you look back at the end of the year and see if you’ve achieved your goals,” he said. “We’re still in a very good position to make the postseason but this is a crucial, key portion of the season for us to take advantage of all of the opportunities we have and we have a big one this weekend at home.”