Santa Clara, CA – Santa Clara, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - The San Jose Earthquakes will kick off their 2014 MLS campaign against Real Salt Lake at Buck Shaw Stadium on Saturday after both sides enjoyed some late heroics this past week.
San Jose's participation in the CONCACAF Champions League on Tuesday meant that the 'Quakes didn't play in the opening weekend of the new MLS campaign.
But that didn't prevent the club from generating excitement this week as Alan Gordon scored a last-gasp equalizer for San Jose in a 1-1 draw with Mexican side Toluca in the first leg of their quarterfinal.
Now, head coach Mark Watson begins his first full season in charge of the club after taking the reigns from Frank Yallop, who spent eight-plus seasons in charge of the Earthquakes.
Watson took over 15 games into last season and revived San Jose's playoff hopes after a slow start by guiding the team to a record of 11-5-3 to finish the season.
A big reason for the turnaround under Watson was the improved play of the San Jose defense, which yielded just 10 goals over the final 14 games of the campaign.
But the club will be attempting to replace an All-Star caliber defender in Steven Beitashour with Brandon Barklage, while Justin Morrow also moved on this offseason.
Midfielder Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi was added from French side Ajaccio and should help the attacking trio of Chris Wondolowski, Steven Lenhart and Gordon.
RSL had plenty of late-game excitement of its own in its league debut as the club held on for a 1-0 win over the Los Angeles Galaxy in a battle of Western Conference contenders.
Joao Plata scored the lone goal for RSL 10 minutes from time, while goalkeeper Nick Rimando turned in a brilliant performance with nine saves, including a stop on Robbie Keane's penalty kick in stoppage time to preserve the win.
The match marked the first game in charge for new head coach Jeff Cassar, who will be hoping his team can continue to have success against San Jose, which lost two of its three games against RSL last season.
Salt Lake opened the 2013 season with a 2-0 win at San Jose, and since that time, the Earthquakes have gone unbeaten in their last 20 home games in all competitions.