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Sandy • A year ago, the San Jose Earthquakes were in control. A year ago, when the team was down, stoppage time always seemed just long enough to find an equalizer or better yet, a winner. A year ago, Chris Wondolowski couldn't miss.
Now the Earthquakes are on the other side. Five points out of the postseason picture in the West with just five games left to go, San Jose is fighting for its playoff life.
Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis believes his team should be doing the same.
"This is what the end of the season is all about," Kreis said this week. "We're not in the playoffs yet either. We have a chance to win the Supporters' Shield. We also have a chance not to make the playoffs. So there's still a lot left for us."
It would take a monumental collapse for Salt Lake to miss out on the postseason; RSL's 48 points are good for second most in the league. But after a disappointing loss last weekend in Seattle that bumped the team out of first place for the first time since June, Real is acutely aware of the implications of compiling poor performances.
"It's very tough to play a team like [San Jose]," defender Nat Borchers said. "But I think it's tough to play us right now because we just lost a game, we didn't play well and we weren't happy with it. So we're also in a situation where we need to win."
San Jose could be a nice stepping stone to recovery. After the Earthquakes swept the three game series with RSL last year (outscoring Salt Lake 10-2 in the process), RSL has returned the favor. After a rocky first half on the season's opening night in San Jose, Real has outscored the Earthquakes 5-0 en route to a pair of wins.
Kreis remains wary of the 'Quakes, though.
"There will be no score line that is safe for us," he said. "We know that about San Jose. They never quit. They never say die."
RSL midfielder Ned Grabavoy said the team is "going to have to scrap a little more, definitely more than we did in the Seattle game."
Seattle out played RSL badly last weekend, racing down the field from the start and crossing in balls for a pair of first half goals that dealt a major blow to Salt Lake's Supporters' Shield hopes. Around the training field this week, the talk was of moving past the defeat.
"This is like a shake off, you know?" said center back Carlos Salcedo. "We've got to shake it off and keep going."
Kreis said his players have taken responsibility for a poor showing in the Pacific Northwest. With five games left in the regular season (and one of the easier remaining schedules in the league), RSL has a chance to reclaim the top spot should Seattle falter down the stretch.
"The only thing that becomes important when you get to this time of year is results," Kreis said. "We've talked a lot about performances and trying to win the right way over the majority of the season, but you get to the end of the season and it's all about getting three points when you're at home and getting a result when you're away."
San Jose at RSL
O At Rio Tinto Stadium (Sandy)
Kickoff • Saturday, 7 p.m.
TV • CW30
Records • RSL 14-9-6, 48 points; San Jose 10-11-8, 38 points.
Last meeting • A 3-0 Salt Lake win on June 1 at Rio Tinto.
About RSL • Fell out of first place for the first time since June with last week's loss in Seattle. … Leading scorer Alvaro Saborio (10 goals) is doubtful with a calf injury. … Has outscored San Jose 5-0 in two games so far this year.
About San Jose • After claiming the Supporters' Shield last year, the Earthquakes have fallen back to earth this year and need wins just to get back in the playoff picture.