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Red hot San Jose Earthquakes look to roll Colorado Rapids

Quakes put eight-game home unbeaten streak to the test against their fellow MLS originals

San Jose Earthquakes centerback Florian Jungwirth ready to lead defense against the visiting Colorado Rapids. (Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports)

SAN JOSE, Calif. — The San Jose Earthquakes are the talk of MLS, having put their early season struggle behind them and cemented their name in the Western Conference playoffs conversation.

The Quakes are 5-1-0 in their last six matches, and at Avaya Stadium, where they host the Colorado Rapids Saturday night (kickoff at 7:00 p.m.), they’ve gone unbeaten in eight straight games (7-0-1).

The Rapids, meanwhile, are winless in three games this month, and are languishing alongside the Vancouver Whitecaps at the bottom of the table. Colorado has fared better, however, away from their Rocky Mountain home of late, sporting a four-game unbeaten streak on the road (1-0-3) since the start of May.

The Earthquakes are taking nothing for granted this weekend, knowing that the Rapids, like themselves, are playing with a renewed confidence that wasn’t apparent at the beginning of the season. Matias Almeyda and his coaching staff have urged their players throughout the week to be ready for a resolute opponent in Colorado.

“We’ve discussed the match and that the team we’re facing is similar to ours,” Almeyda said. “They are a team that started the season poorly but have improved, very similar to our situation. We need to have the same respect for every opponent. Just as I treat every person the same, every opponent, for me, is an equal.”

The Quakes’ three game winning streak includes two straight wins on the road, the first time the team has accomplished that since August 2015, that featured a combined 64 shots taken — an MLS record for consecutive games. The intensity of the team’s approach to games, which entails harassing opponents on the ball with man-making defending and quickly transitioning into attack when they win back possession, has afforded the offense numerous scoring opportunities.

“We had like 90 shots in the last three games, so why stop that,” defender Florian Jungwirth said this week, though he was slightly off with his numbers.

During the Earthquakes recent six game run, they’ve taken 20 or more shots in five of them: the lone sub-20 shot game was three weeks ago at Avaya Stadium against Real Salt Lake. A somewhat sluggish Quakes side managed only 12 shots that night, finally getting a goal from Danny Hoesen deep in stoppage time to eke out a 1-0 victory. Everyone with San Jose is hoping for a much more complete performance against the Rapids.

“We expect they will sit back a bit, so we need to have a lot of patience,” Jungwirth added. “I think it’s tough to compare both games, especially in the RSL game we were really tired because it was our fourth game in ten days. If RSL was our first game in that 10 day stretch I think it would have been a different one.”

The Earthquakes’ schedule has lightened up a bit in recent weeks, and the extra time between games has been beneficial. This week in particular, not having to travel and getting to practice on their own training field every day, has been an advantage, and the players know the added time in familiar environs will pay dividends against the Rapids.

“We have not had a long week in a while,” defender Harold Cummings said. “It gives us time to prepare for a match. The coach is making the modifications that need to be made for this match.”

Cummings missed over a month of the season while on international duty with Panama in the Concacaf Gold Cup, but he looked like he hadn’t missed a beat when he partnered with Jungwirth in the center of defense in last week’s impressive 3-1 win at Vancouver. Cummings replaced Guram Kashia in the lineup against the Whitecaps because the Georgian centerback was back in his home country working to secure his U.S. Green Card, which would open up an international roster slot. That process is still ongoing — Kashia has not yet rejoined the team — so Cummings is expected to start again against Colorado.

Almeyda will still have the rest of the squad to choose from in setting his starting eleven on Saturday, with defender Marcos Lopez back from suspension and added to the mix. The four-man attacking corps of Valeri “Vako” Qazaishvili, Chris Wondolowski, Magnus Eriksson, and Cristian Espinoza — all who either scored or delivered an assist in the Whitecaps win — will again lead the attack, and the Quakes game plan will emphasize their ability to break down the Rapids, even if the visitors show up in a defensive shell at Avaya Stadium.

“Of course, when a team tries to play, tries to open up a bit, it’s benefiting us more because we can use our speed and our dribbling on top,” Jungwirth said, “but I’m convinced that we will find the pockets in between, get Vako and Cristian outside against the one-on-one they need.”

The Quakes may not take another 32 shots on Saturday, as they did against the LA Galaxy and Vancouver the past two weekends, but they will get their chances. And if they can find their finishing touch too, then there’s no reason to believe they won’t walk away with all three points on the night.

Match Information:

When: July 27, 7:00 p.m. Pacific Time
Where: Avaya Stadium, San Jose
Broadcast: Telemundo 48, KNBR 1050
Live Stream: ESPN+
Earthquakes injury/suspended report: Out: Anibal Godoy (abdomen surgery)

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