CONCACAF Champions League is upon us and the San Jose Earthquakes are in town to face a slumping Montrel Imapct team. Marco Schallibaum has more tools in his shed as we expect Hernan Bernardello to see significant minutes, tonight at Stade Saputo.
Why the CCL matters to the San Jose Earthquakes
While the measure of success in MLS is making the playoffs, the CONCACAF Champions League provides the opportunity for teams to compete with the best the region has to offer. In European club soccer, the Champions League is so important and so popular that the top teams from each country have even put forth the idea of creating a super-league so that they can face each other on a regular basis. Now, that eventuality in our confederation seems beyond the realm of possibility, so the CCL is and will be for the foreseeable future the pinnacle of club tournaments in North and Central America (and you too, Caribbean).
For the San Jose Earthquakes, who have dug themselves a huge hole to open the MLS regular season and look at each league game as a must-win in order to qualify for the postseason, the CCL provides a four game slate to keep guys that might not otherwise get minutes with the first team hungry and healthy in case they are needed to step into a potential playoff race. Long road trips and unfamiliar opponents could normally be seen as a negative for a team struggling to climb back into contention. Instead, the CCL will give interim coach Mark Watson a chance to hone his lineup choices and give San Jose the best chance over the next two months to do well on both the tournament and league fronts.
Why the CCL does not matter to the San Jose Earthquakes
An exotic tournament played in far flung parts of the region, or a drag 'em out street fight for league survival: for the vast majority of Quakes supporters, qualifying for the postseason and making amends for last year's early exit are the only things this team should be focused on. The CCL, much like the U.S. Open Cup, is fast becoming a favorite tournament for soccer insiders, but the general populace going to the games or watching on television have yet to embrace it. Sure, someone has to be a pioneer and be the first team from MLS to lift the trophy, but to think it will be the Earthquakes, already dealing with immediate problems in league play this season, is nonsensical.
Like MLS reserve matches, which do provide critical playing time for fringe players looking to crack the matchday 18, the CCL games will unlikely be seamless affairs. Teams will be sloppy and make mistakes, naturally, as they look to find a rhythm with an unfamiliar formation. And like the results from MLS reserve matches, most observers will only glance at the score from Wednesday's match and make a quick footnote as to how the Quakes performed. League results are where it's at, and the Earthquakes have a vital game at the Vancouver Whitecaps this weekend circled on their calendar.
What to expect from the San Jose Earthquakes
With regular season MLS matches bracketing tonight's CCL match, and with the stated focus on qualifying for the playoffs, the Earthquakes will used a mixed line-up in their group stage opener. Marvin Chavez and Alan Gordon, normally in the starting lineup but suspended for last weekend's Chivas USA game, and displaced first teamer Justin Morrow are likely to start. New signing Jaime Alas, cut from the Chavez mold, also looks to make his debut start for San Jose. Long time captain and MLS Original Ramiro Corrales should feature for the Quakes. Others in the mix include Mehdi Ballouchy, Adam Jahn, Brad Ring, and David Bingham. All are players that have seen action in MLS this season, so they will not be intimidated by the situation. And if the formation gels quickly enough, it should prove a formidable foe for the Impact.