You look at San Jose on the surface and see a team that's in eighth place out of nine teams in the Western Conference. It's a disappointing mark for a franchise that returns almost every single player from last year's Supporter's Shield winning squad.
But look at the numbers closely and you'll realize the Earthquakes are only five points out of playoff position.
Just like the Eastern Conference, the West is a jumbled mess of parity...and/or cannibalism. Even with 34 points and a 9-11-7 record the Earthquakes have a legitimate shot at the postseason. Only Real Salt Lake has been able to distance itself from the pack.
The Union is 1-3-1 all-time against San Jose. This will be only the sixth matchup between the teams and the second time Philadelphia has traveled to Buck Shaw Stadium. John Hackworth's team is 0-1-1 in Santa Clara and has not played San Jose on the road in more than two years.
San Jose Attack
San Jose's 2012 success was largely predicated on scoring dramatic goals in and around stoppage time. There's a lot to be said for the "Goonies Never Say Die" attitude that won the team the shield last season, but you have to admit that there was a large amount of luck that factored into many of those late wins.
Fast forward to 2013 and you don't see the same production from Chris Wondolowski, Steven Lenhart, and Alan Gordon. Through 27 games this season they've produced just 14 goals and seven assists. In 34 games last year they combined for a ridiculous 50 goals and 16 assists. That's a huge, huge difference, even with seven games left to play.
One of Gordon or Lenhart has generally started on the bench this season with the other pairing Wondolowski up top. Due to suspensions, interim manager Mark Watson actually rolled out an interesting 4-1-4-1 shape last week that featured all three on the field at the same time.
They lost 3-0 to Los Angeles.
The team does see the return of Rafael Baca this week, so expect the Quakes to go back to their normal midfield pairing of Baca and Sam Cronin. Winger Shea Salinas has been dealing with injury issues and fellow winger Marvin Chavez is away on international duty, so you might see guys like Cordell Cato or Jaime Alas in there.
Keep an eye out for rookie striker Adam Jahn as well. The supplemental draft pick has proven to be a shrewd pickup for San Jose and scored some clutch goals early in the season.
San Jose Defense
Big center half Victor Bernardez is also missing this game because of international duty. That's one less six-foot, two inch 190 pound defender the Union will have to deal with (he also takes some nasty freekicks).
You'll likely see Jason Hernandez pairing with U.S. international Clarence Goodson, who joined from Brondby in the Summer transfer window.
Ramiro Corrales has been San Jose's starting left back for years, but the position now belongs to Justin Morrow. He's split time recently with another new signing, Jordan Stewart.
You've got 2012 all-star fullback Steven Beitashour on the right side of the backline, with solid veteran Jon Busch in goal. Busch has only allowed three goals in five games against the Union.
Possible Starting XI: Busch (GK), Beitashour, Hernandez, Goodson, Stewart, Cronin, Baca, Cato, Salinas, Wondolowski, Gordon
Contact Union writer Kevin Kinkead at email@example.com