The Earthquakes this week became the first MLS team to clinch a playoff spot, marking their second trip to the postseason in the past three years.
The 2012 season has been a big turnaround for a club that has not finished higher than sixth in the Western Conference since A’s owner Lew Wolff brought the team back following the previous incarnation moving to Houston after the 2005 season, when they won the Supporters’ Shield for the best regular-season record.
Now the Earthquakes have their eye on bringing the Shield back to San Jose.
“Making the playoffs is nice,” goalkeeper Jon Busch said. “But we want that Supporters’ Shield. That’s been our goal from the beginning, so we’re definitely not going to take our foot off the pedal. We’re going to keep trying to win games and stay in first place in the Western Conference.”
The team has gotten to this point with an aggressive offense and a never-say-die attitude fostered by strong team chemistry. They started the season hot, winning four of their first five matches, and have not looked back since.
“We’ve had a target on our back all year because we started off with a win and have sort of been on the top all year long,” coach Frank Yallop said. “Nothing changes. Every game’s hard, any time we play against any team, anybody can win it. So we’re always prepared to make sure that we try and come out on top and do our thing.”
The team boasts an attacking offense with multiple threats, led by forward Chris Wondolowski’s league-best 18 goals and Marvin Chavez’s nine assists.
Coaches and players alike credit their success on the field to the chemistry they’ve developed off the field.
“It’s a belief in the group that we never give up, the game’s never over until the whistle blows,” Busch said. “We believe in what we’re doing and we have such a good team bond amongst the players, we’re never out of a game. There’s always belief, so I think that’s going to take us far in the playoffs this year.”
“I think the big thing for me, the reason we’re doing well, we have a fantastic team spirit,” he said. “It’s really an enjoyable team to work with and to coach.”
Up next for the Earthquakes is a road game against Chivas USA, which helped San Jose clinch a playoff spot by losing to Seattle on Saturday. Though the Earthquakes beat them 4-0 on Sept. 2, Busch said the team will not take the match lightly.
“It’s not going to be an easy one,” he said. “They’re playing as hard as any other team, no matter their record. It’s going to be a battle when we go down there. … It’s been frustrating for them this year, but they’re not packing it in. They’re still playing.”