After three inspired performances to open the season, the Earthquakes will look for an elusive victory to go with the valor at Sporting Kansas City on Saturday.

With several starters battling injuries, the Quakes' supporting cast has taken on greater roles to great effect.

Newcomers Shaun Francis, a left back from Jamaica, and forward Billy Schuler played all 120 minutes against Mexican power Toluca FC on Wednesday in the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.

The Quakes lost 5-4 in a shootout after a 1-1 draw at 8,700-feet elevation, four days after rallying for a 3-3 draw against Real Salt Lake in their MLS opener. On March 11, the Quakes tied Toluca 1-1 on Alan Gordon's 95th-minute goal.

No matter who suits up, San Jose is craving a victory after three straight draws.

"We're not coming here to lose," said Francis, playing with his third MLS team since 2010. "We definitely respect Kansas City. They're the defending champion, but that doesn't mean we're going to come in here and lay back."

On the injury front, center back Clarence Goodson (calf strain) and right back Brandon Barklage (hip tightness) are questionable. Left back Jordan Stewart (hamstring strain) is out. Jason Hernandez (quadriceps strain) will miss at least two more weeks.

Center back Victor Bernardez, who scored twice against Real Salt Lake, will return after sitting out the Toluca match because of yellow-card accumulation.

Francis and a makeshift back line have acquitted themselves well. Other unlikely defensive starters against Toluca were Ty Harden, in his first action in 11 months after hip surgery, rookie JJ Koval, a normal midfielder out of Stanford, and regular wing Cordell Cato.

Like Francis, Schuler, a former North Carolina All-American who played with Hammarby IF-Sweden the past two years, seemed maximize his opportunity. Starting in place of Chris Wondolowski, who has an apparent groin strain, Schuler teamed up front with Steven Lenhart and was effective linking the back line with the attack, doing a lot of running.

"Both Billy and Shaun were great," coach Mark Watson said. "They're maybe not the first choice, but they were called upon and did really well. From a playing and fitness standpoint, they were great. Those are the kinds of guys you need to be a part of the squad."

Predictably, Schuler said he felt a little sore and tired Friday after his first game in more than six months. The Quakes' fill-in players don't view themselves as backups but more as starters-in-waiting.

"You have to always have that attitude," Schuler said. "If you don't, you lose motivation and you kind of lose confidence. .... If we didn't already have that attitude that we could step in, we definitely have that now after the last game."

Francis echoed those sentiments.

"We get a chance to prove to the coaches that we deserve to play," he said. "We're just going to battle, no matter what it takes. We're going to fight for each other."

Reeling a bit, Sporting Kansas City was also eliminated from the Champions League quarterfinals after being routed 5-1 by Cruz Azul in Mexico on Wednesday. Sporting K.C. also blew a lead in a 1-1 draw against FC Dallas in its home opener.

Watson marveled at the Quakes' makeshift back line and the team's courage against Toluca. The Toluca fans gave the Quakes a standing ovation as they walked off the field.

"It was a fantastic night for that, just a group of guys coming together with seemingly insurmountable odds to try and get the job done," Watson said. "We were really close. It's disappointing to lose it being so close, but we'll take a lot away from the night."

Saturday's game
Earthquakes (0-0-1) at Sporting K.C. (0-1-1), 5:30 p.m. CSNPlus