The San Jose Earthquakes may have all but been eliminated from MLS postseason consideration following their scoreless draw at the LA Galaxy last weekend, but one bit of business still remains on their calendar in 2013: Advancement to the knockout round of the CONCACAF Champions League.
With one game remaining in the group stage of the tournament and the Earthquakes trailing group leaders C.D. Heredia and the Montreal Impact by 3 points, a win by San Jose Wednesday night at Buck Shaw Stadium against the Guatemalan side is the only outcome that could see it book its place in next spring's knock-out stage.
The Quakes would finish level with Heredia and the Impact in that scenario, with all three teams on 6 points, and they would earn passage forward in the tournament due to a superior goal differential, the first tiebreaker employed by CONCACAF, in their four round-robin group matches.
"Our focus is 100% on tomorrow night," said interim head coach Mark Watson following yesterday's training session at Buck Shaw Stadium. "We'll get through training and see how the guys came through it, but we will put the most competitive team possible we can. Everyone is up for selection right now."
The sting of falling short in their effort to qualify for the MLS Cup playoffs had to be shaken off as soon as possible following Sunday night's match in LA, especially with so much still to play for in the CCL.
"It's difficult for sure because everyone in the locker room believed that we could get it done," said Watson. "That is one of our biggest strengths is that we have that confidence and that belief. The message after the game was obviously addressing the disappointment but knowing that we have a really big game Wednesday night and they need to focus on that from that moment forward."
The full squad trained on Tuesday, even the players that saw the field at the StubHub Center Sunday evening, and despite the understanding that a justifiable disappointment could have been the reaction to dropping out of the playoffs hunt, everyone looked forward to task at hand against Heredia.
"We knew it was going to be difficult," explained Watson, who would not let his team hang their heads and provided a rallying call instead. "Let's get ourselves ready physically and mentally and we'll get ourselves to the next level of the Champions League."
Heredia, who with as little a result as a draw would win the group, is expected to play stoutly on defense on Wednesday night. In fact, the scenario for the Quakes opponent is nearly identical to that against the Galaxy. This time around, San Jose will need to find its scoring touch if it is to avoid the same disappointment it felt on Sunday.
"You need to win the game," said Watson. "You don't play with nine forwards and one defender. You have to be smart about the game knowing that if they score a goal, you've got to score an extra one yourself. We'll approach the game the way we approach most games at home: we'll be aggressive from the start, we'll be organized and difficult to break down, and we'll definitely be attack-minded."
The Earthquakes participation in the Champions League, a reward for winning the Supporters' Shield in 2012, could extend into 2014 if they beat Heredia. San Jose would be guaranteed of finishing as the lowest seeded of the eight quarterfinal teams, but that would be alright by the team.
"The most important thing right now is winning tomorrow night. It can put a little bit more of a positive spin on our season. We'll actually get something out of it and help with the disappointment of Sunday night. We're going all-out to win the game tomorrow night."