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MLS Preview: San Jose Earthquakes at Real Salt Lake

May 31, 2013, 2:01 PM EDT

Saborio, left, is still the man RSL look to for goals. Can he deliver this season? Getty Images

It’s so difficult to define “too late” in the Major League Soccer season. The post-season structure remains so ridiculously forgiving that clubs out of playoff positioning can wander into July or even August and still have plenty of time to finish Top Five in conference.

So we look quickly at the San Jose Earthquakes, the Supporters Shield holders, a bunch that looks intriguing in 2013 for very different reasons than it was intriguing in 2012.

Some early injuries notwithstanding, this is primarily the same team that did claim the Supporters Shield a year ago. But as the halfway mark begins creeping closer for the current campaign – this weekend is Round 14 of 34 – it seems safe to go with this: If the Earthquakes of 2013 desire any chance to retain that trophy for the league’s best regular season record, they had better start winning soon.

That winning won’t come easy this weekend as Frank Yallop’s team travels into Utah to face Real Salt Lake. Oh, and they won’t even have their best defender, one of the tops in MLS, in fact; Victor Bernardez has been suspended two matches for a dangerous challenge last weekend in Dallas.

But that’s where things are for the ‘Quakes, who are in this position because they are winless on the road (0-4-2) so far, and because they aren’t making up the points at home. Matches that San Jose won dramatically at the end in 2012, they are drawing dramatically in the closing minute this year.

Consider that Yallop’s men needed to work hard to collect seven of a possible 15 points in matches at Buck Shaw Stadium through April and May. While it remains way too early to discuss playoff positioning, it cannot sit well for ‘Quakes fans to see the team four points out of playoff position, especially having played a more games than most of the teams ahead in the standings.

Adding another dent in this season of surprising mediocrity, the Earthquakes went out Wednesday in their initial go at U.S. Open Cup action, falling to lower-tier Charleston.

Real Salt Lake, meanwhile, advanced in the Open Cup to retain a little May momentum; Jason Kreis’ team went 4-1-1 in all competitions during the month. Old hands like Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando and a revitalized Ned Grabavoy are shepherding all the promising youngsters, and have RSL reasonably well positioned heading closer to the season’s mid-pole.

San Jose was the victim as Real Salt Lake began its semi-rebuild this year with a 2-0 win at Buck Shaw on two goals from Alvaro Saborio in both teams’ season opener back in early March. Saborio is out for this one with a groin strain.

But those young reserves (Devon Sandoval, Luis Gil, Sebastian Velazquez, Olmes Garcia and Carlos Salcedo, primarily) have mostly come through this year, understandably inconsistent but delivering regularly enough to have everyone around Rio Tinto encouraged.

All things considered, Kreis’ team can like its chances in this one.

Then again, the team is young … so you never know. Kickoff at Rio Tinto in suburban Sandy, Utah, is 9:30 ET.