The San Jose Earthquakes have never lost in a single tournament final dating back to the origins of soccer in the Bay Area. The only hitch is getting to them and that’s exactly the task at hand as they face Sporting Kansas City in the US Open Cup semifinals tonight.
Although the Open Cup is often taken for granted in Major League Soccer, the pressure is intensifying in these late knockout stages.
“You better believe we’re going to take [it] seriously,” said coach Chris Leitch. “Semifinals are big. It’s not an easy road going to Kansas City…but I don’t think there are any easy semifinals. We’re excited for it, it’s going to be a chance to take back some silverware in two games. I know we’ll be up for it.”
The Quakes have a tough road to victory, though, given their poor road form. The club have lost all three away matches since Leitch took over the reigns from Dominic Kinnear in June and have been outscored 12-3 in that stretch despite a solid home record.
They defeated the SF Deltas and the LA Galaxy en route to their first ever appearance in the tournament semifinals but SKC present their first road challenge of the tournament.
SKC are currently top of the Western Conference table but have only won once in their last five matches, drawing 1-1 on four different occasions. They also traded star striker Dom Dwyer to Orlando City last month but will still be dangerous through top scorers Gerso and Benny Feilhaber, who scored a wicked strike in the club’s 2-1 regular season victory over San Jose earlier this season. Their only meeting since resulted in a scoreless draw at Avaya Stadium.
SKC’s greatest asset, however, is their water-tight defense, having allowed five fewer goals than the next best defense in MLS so far this season.
If one thing, Wednesday night’s game will be a challenge for the Quakes but that only encourages Leitch’s men. “Everyone’s excited,” said midfielder Tommy Thompson. “Every team in the United States wants to lift the Open Cup, so to have the opportunity to play in a semifinal is something that we are looking forward to in the locker room.”
The suggestion that Wednesday night’s game is the most important Quakes game in four odd years was met with some raised eyebrows in the locker room, though, mostly because they plan on getting all the way to the final.