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Fioranelli at the epicenter of Quakes' troubles

San Jose Earthquakes
 By Arch Bell

Does San Jose have anything left in the tank after sneaking into the playoffs?

By far, it was the moment of Decision Day.

In second-half stoppage time, Marco Urena scored to give the Earthquakes a 3-2 victory over Minnesota United in their MLS regular-season finale, earning San Jose the last playoff spot in the Western Conference. No doubt it is a goal that will forever live in Quakes lore.

It also provoked the most hearty of celebrations, with champagne showers on the turf at Avaya Field before spilling over into a locker room celebrations.

San Jose's reaction is understandable. For the first time since 2012, the Quakes are in the postseason. For a team that was not expected to reach the playoffs by most pundits, and then underwent such a drastic change midseason with the firing of coach Dominic Kinnear and hiring of Chris Leitch, winning their way into the postseason has those in the Bay Area on cloud nine.

Now comes the hard part. The Vancouver Whitecaps await on Wednesday at BC Place. Vancouver is loaded with weapons, led by the dynamic attacking duo of Fredy Montero and Yordy Reyna. The 'Caps have been one of the best teams in the league in the second half of the season. To boot, San Jose won just three times away from home this season.

Vancouver WhitecapsVancouver Whitecaps
San Jose EarthquakesSan Jose Earthquakes
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After expending so much energy just to get to the playoffs, does San Jose have enough to spring a couple of upsets and make a deep run?

There is something to be said about momentum and riding a hot streak into the postseason. Just ask Seattle. After bottom-feeding for a good portion of the 2016 season, the Sounders caught fire and surged into the postseason and rode that wave to a title.

While San Jose's streak is far more modest -- unbeaten in its past three with two wins and a draw -- there is no reason why they can't pull an upset in Vancouver.

It's not like anyone is expecting them to do much. With a minus-21 goal difference, the worst ever for a playoff team, and a losing record, the Quakes are the ugly ducklings of the 2017 playoffs. But Vancouver would be foolish to start making travel arrangements for Seattle.

The Quakes will be playing with zero pressure Wednesday. Unlike the 1-1 draw at Vancouver on Oct. 15 when his team absolutely had to get a result to stay in the playoff race, Leitch can take a more aggressive approach but still remain true to the 4-4-2 that the team has ridden to this stage.

Chris Wondolowski
After a last-minute winner against Minnesota saw San Jose eke into the playoffs, will Chris Wondolowski's Quakes have anything left in the tank?

Midfielder Vako has shown in his short time in MLS that he is one of the league's best creators, and Danny Hoesen can strike from anywhere on the field. And of course, where there's a Wondo, there's a way.

No doubt that there will be some tired legs following Sunday's dramatics, but it's not like San Jose is having to travel to Dallas or Kansas City and play on two days' rest. A quick two-hour flight up to British Columbia and staying in the same time zone will not hamper the Quakes' preparation.

Even if fatigue settles in some time during the second half, Leitch knows there is enough talent and fresh legs on his bench to make a difference. Tommy Thompson is a usual second-half replacement for Jahmir Hyka and is arguably a defensive upgrade, and Urena is another forward Leitch can bring on in search of a goal.

The Costa Rican has shown a knack lately for big goals, scoring both in Costa Rica's 2-0 win over the U.S. on Sept. 1 in addition to Sunday's last-gasp winner. Plus, the Tico would get to reach into his bag of tricks while battling countryman and Vancouver center-back Kendall Waston.

Most of all, one gets the sense that there is a belief growing inside the Quakes, almost like a Goonies 2.0 feel to it. Whether it's team dinners or singing tunes together, the bonds of a team that spans 15 nationalities may have strengthened enough to push their tired legs aside and create some postseason magic .

Arch Bell is based in Austin, Texas and covers CONCACAF for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @ArchBell .


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