San Jose Earthquakes: Who should they want to face in MLS playoffs?

San Jose Earthquakes. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
San Jose Earthquakes. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports /

The San Jose Earthquakes are ready for the MLS playoffs but who should they want to face?

The San Jose Earthquakes clinched their inclusion in the 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs with a 3-2 win over LAFC at Earthquakes Stadium, coming a long way from earlier perils. This was done with a game to spare, so their decision day matchup against the Seattle Sounders at CenturyLink Field will only have a bearing on seeding. The points per game model is still a bit tricky even if you got straight A’s in math back in high school, so I’ll briefly simplify matters:

  • Quakes need to win and at least one of LAFC or Colorado Rapids to lose to get higher than an 8th seed.
  • If Quakes win and both the aforementioned clubs lose, they will finish in the 6th seed. If just one of them win but the other loses, Quakes finish in the 7th seed.
  • Draws will not be enough to lower their PPG to become less than the Quakes.

In any case, this situation means the Quakes opponents as of now have been narrowed down to 5 suspects, so let’s break each of them down and see what a playoff matchup against them would entail.

Sporting Kansas City: The Plain Jane Derby (1st in West)

Possible Lineup: Tim Melia; Jaylin Lindsey, Roberto Puncec, Fontas, Amadou Dia; Gadi Kinda, Ilie, Roger Espinoza; Johnny Russell, Alan Pulido, Gerso

Injuries: Felipe Gutierrez and Graham Zusi (both out for season)

A Sporting Kansas City vs San Jose Earthquakes matchup wouldn’t attract the most neutrals to watch ever, but these are two teams where they are exceeding the sum of their respective parts. Peter Vermes and Matias Almeyda would make for an interesting tactical matchup too. A win for the Earthquakes would serve as a reminder to Alan Pulido of what could’ve been had he signed there, but his decision would feel even more justified if Sporting Kansas City were victorious and went on deeper into the playoffs.

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Portland Timbers: The Newest Vendetta (2nd in West)

Possible Lineup: Steve Clark; Chris Duvall, Larrys Mabiala, Bill Tuiloma, Jorge Villafaña; Andy Polo, Diego Chara, Eryk Williamson, Yimmy Chara; Diego Valeri, Felipe Mora

Injuries: Sebastian Blanco, Jaroslaw Niezgoda (both out for season), Julio Cascante (out for now), Dairon Asprilla, Jeremy Ebobisse (both questionable)

Whether drawing inspiration from the crushing loss that denied the Quakes a spot in the 2019 playoffs or wanting revenge for the difficult losses this season, San Jose have an ax to grind with Portland.

Portland Timbers have reaffirmed their title credentials being one of the league’s deepest and most consistent clubs since winning the MLS is Back Tournament. Losing Sebastian Blanco, in particular, should have hurt the Timbers more than appears to have been the case, but with a strong starting XI and options on the bench, they are built for a deep playoff run.

Seattle Sounders: Familiarity Breeds Clarity (3rd in West)

Possible Lineup: Stefan Frei; Kelvin Leerdam, Yeimar Gomez Andrade, Xavier Arreaga, Nouhou; Joao Paulo, Gustav Svensson; Cristian Roldan, Nicolas Lodeiro, Jordan Morris; Raul Ruidiaz

Injuries: Brad Smith (questionable)

Wanting to face the Sounders in the playoffs in recent years has been equivalent to wanting to take a punch from Manny Pacquiao: it will not end well. The Sounders did inflict the most painful defeat to the Earthquakes this season by a 7-1 scoreline, but the Quakes have also held them to some draws. There is some belief that the Quakes are a slightly better performance away from being able to dethrone the current MLS Cup Champions, but it remains a big risk. San Jose will have one last look at them on Decision Day before the season ends.

FC Dallas: Unfinished Business (4th in West)

Possible Lineup: Jimmy Mauer, Bryan Reynolds, Matt Hedges, Reto Ziegler, Ryan Hollingshead; Andres Ricaurte, Thiago Santos; Michael Barrios, Jesus Ferreira, Santiago Mosquera; Ricardo Pepi

Injuries: Paxton Pomykal (out for season), Bryan Acosta (not medically cleared)

FC Dallas were originally drawn to Group B in the MLS is Back Tournament but had to withdraw due to COVID-19 issues. This means the San Jose Earthquakes played Chicago Fire instead, which isn’t quite the same as facing one of the better clubs in the Western Conference. There’s a sense of unfinished business and mystery shrouding the Texas-based club as these two have not faced each other at all this year. Despite Pomykal’s injury and Reggie Cannon’s sale to Boavista, there is more youth were that came from in the form of Jesus Ferreira and Bryan Reynolds among others.

Minnesota United: Breaking Another Curse? (5th in West)

Possible Lineup: Dayne St. Clair; Romain Metanire, Michael Boxall, Jose Aja, Bakaye Dibassy; Jan Gregus, James Musa; Emanuel Reynoso, Kevin Molino, Robin Lod; Kei Kamara

Injuries: Tyler Miller, Luis Amarilla (both out for season), Ike Opara, Osvaldo Alonso, Jacori Hayes (all three not medically cleared), Hassani Dotson (out for now)

San Jose Earthquakes fans feel a lot better about facing LAFC now that they have beaten them twice this season. That is one monkey off their back, but another remains in the form of Minnesota United. The loons seem to know exactly how to exploit the weaknesses of the Quakes having beaten them in each of their five most recent encounters. However, this season has not been kind to them in the form of injuries. Could San Jose take advantage of the presence of a less experienced goalkeeper, or will Adrian Heath find a new way to achieve a similar result in the playoffs?


FC Dallas and Minnesota United appear to be the most beatable of these opponents, and not just because of their league positions. Both clubs are missing key players due to injuries, and in FC Dallas’s case, they do not have a lot of recent postseason success to draw upon (which makes a difference considering the same can be said of San Jose Earthquakes). Sporting Kansas City are an efficient team while both Portland and Seattle have depth in spades and high-powered offenses.

Of those three, perhaps the Sounders are the most beatable since the Quakes have come closer to beating them than the Timbers (despite their recent struggles) and Sporting Kansas City are a bit more of a wildcard. There is that paradox to consider that in order to avoid Seattle in the first round of the playoffs, the Quakes have to beat them, but then facing them sounds a bit better. Regardless of who the Quakes face though, they are playing with house money. They are scoring goals more regularly and handling adversity much better than they did earlier in the season. That’s how they find themselves in the playoffs in the first place.

1=Optimal Opponent, 5=Avoid at all Costs

1. FC Dallas (lack of recent playoff success evens the playing field)

2. Minnesota United (lower than FC Dallas due to recent trends)

3. Seattle Sounders (familiarity factor)

4. Sporting Kansas City (they’re number 1 for a reason)

5. Portland Timbers (lower than SKC due to recent trends)

Hot. Change to PPG sees Colorado Rapids rise in MLS Power Rankings. light

Tune in to MLS’s Decision Day schedule slate on Sunday, November 8 on ESPN+ (check individual and local listings for the game(s) in your market area). All Western Conference Matches will be played at 3:30 PM Pacific (6:30 PM Eastern). Aside from Vancouver Whitecaps vs LA Galaxy, all matches have playoff seeding implications.