Quakes face reigning MLS champs seeking first win

Quakes face reigning MLS champs seeking first win
March 22, 2014, 11:15 am
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The Earthquakes' last victory in Kansas City came against the then-Wizards at Arrowhead Stadium in 2004. (USATSI)

Programming note: Earthquakes-Sporting KC coverage starts on CSN California at 5:30 p.m.

While the San Jose Earthquakes were encouraged even after a tough loss, Sporting Kansas City probably isn't as upbeat following a heavy defeat of its own.

Three days after both teams were eliminated from the CONCACAF Champions League, the Earthquakes will try to end an eight-game slide in Kansas City and send Sporting to its worst league start in 15 years Saturday night.

San Jose's Champions League run came to a dramatic end Wednesday when Shea Salinas hit the cross bar on the final penalty kick. The Earthquakes lost 5-4 in the tiebreaker after drawing Toluca 2-2 over two legs, including 1-1 in the second meeting in Mexico.

"Everyone's really disappointed because we were so close, literally as close as you can come to winning a game at a very tough place," coach Mark Watson told the team's official website. "But to see the effort and the commitment, for our guys to persevere for 120 minutes is incredible. I think it shows what a great group we have and it's very encouraging for the future."

Watson can also point to San Jose's gutsy performance in its season opener last Saturday. Defender Victor Bernardez scored five minutes into stoppage time after finding the net in the 75th, helping the Earthquakes rally to tie Real Salt Lake 3-3.

There haven't been any heroics in Kansas City, where San Jose has dropped eight straight while being outscored 17-4. The Earthquakes' last victory there came against the then-Wizards at Arrowhead Stadium on Aug. 14, 2004.

Sporting KC (0-1-1), the reigning MLS Cup champion, would like to continue that dominance after its Champions League stint also ended in Mexico on Wednesday. Kansas City, however, didn't get a chance for dramatics in a 5-1 loss to Cruz Azul after winning the home leg 1-0 a week earlier.

"That team deserves what they got," coach Peter Vermes told the team's official website. "We weren't good enough at the start of the game, and we weren't good enough in the second half. You can go back and think about all kinds of things, but in the end, they were better than us."

Sporting now returns to league play trying to avoid going winless in the opening three matches of the season for the first time since losing its first seven in 1999.

Kansas City's MLS season has already been subjected to dramatics from its opponents. The team gave up a goal four minutes into stoppage time to fall 1-0 at Seattle on March 8, and surrendered another in the waning moments a week later to settle for a 1-1 draw with Dallas at home.

"It's unacceptable," Vermes said of giving up the late goals. "It's not who we are."

Vermes could use some production from forward C.J. Sapong, who has been limited to one shot on goal while failing to score in two league games. He may be looking forward to a visit by the Earthquakes after scoring in each of the last two meetings at Sporting Park.

San Jose's Chris Wondolowski, however, may also be anticipating this matchup since he's scored in five straight overall games against Sporting. The 2012 MLS MVP had a goal in the season opener.

 

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