SAN JOSE, California — On the day before the club hosts Liga MX’s Toluca in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal, the San Jose Earthquakes played a spirited intra-squad scrimmage. Preseason was officially over and these Quakes were focused on the task at hand.
“It’s a huge test against a very good team,” said forward Chris Wondolowski. “We want to go out there and play to the best of our abilities and show what we have right now.”
While the Earthquakes are still finding their sharpness, Toluca is already in the thick of its season and arrives in California brimming with confidence following a big 3-0 win against Puebla over the weekend. For the Quakes to have a realistic chance of advancing in the tournament, they might need an equally impressive result over Toluca on Tuesday at Buck Shaw Stadium.
“Looking at the dynamics of the home and away series, we need a good result to take back to Toluca,” said Earthquakes head coach Mark Watson. “It’s important to win the game, and the more goals you score gives you more of a cushion to take back.”
San Jose has built its recent success on a strong defensive unit, but the team is only a season removed from scoring a club record 72 goals in 2012. Against a powerhouse like Toluca, which is very dangerous on attack, it might be prudent for the Quakes to sit back and absorb the pressure the Mexican side will bring. However, that is not the San Jose way.
“Toluca is a very good team,” said Wondolowski, “but we are going to come out there and try to impose ourselves as best as possible. I think we are capable of doing it and we have the team to do it.”
Getting off to a good start at home will certainly carry forth the hope that the Earthquakes can defeat the two-time CONCACAF champion over two legs. The team, though, can ill afford to take even a single moment off against its talented opponent.
“All over the field, they are a very good team,” said goalkeeper Jon Busch. “They’ve got quality players in every position. It’s going to be a big challenge defensively to stay organized and then take our opportunities offensively.”
When faced with the prospect of bowing out of the tournament last fall after suffering two straight defeats to open group play, San Jose found its footing and rallied for two shutout victories to advance to the quarterfinals on a tiebreaker. The key for the Quakes was utilizing a disciplined approach tactically, while making it difficult for their opponents to control possession: a recipe they will use against Toluca.
“We won’t be throwing everything forward,” said Watson, “but we are going to come out aggressive and try to get a good win.”