SAN JOSE -- The Earthquakes are heading to Seattle for a key Western Conference matchup Saturday, but from a manpower perspective, it's a journey into the unknown.
National team call-ups, suspensions and injuries will force the Quakes to face the first-place Sounders without at least six first-choice players at CenturyLink Field, with its fast artificial turf and rocking home crowds of 38,000-plus.
How do the Quakes (2-3-4) overcome all that?
"Dig deep and fight," said forward Mike Fucito, a former Sounder who saw his first action of the season in a 2-1 win over FC Dallas last Saturday. "Look around the locker room and trust that the guys that are here can get the job done.
"We showed great character against Dallas, so we'll look to build on that. Obviously, Seattle is a tough place to play. They have really good fans. But this is why we do it. This is why we play, for tough games like this."
Most of the team's best-known players are absent. Chris Wondolowski and Clarence Goodson are with the national team at Stanford. Victor Bernardez and Shea Salinas are serving one-game suspensions for transgressions against FC Dallas. Forwards Steven Lenhart (MCL sprain) and Alan Gordon (groin strain) are expected to be out.
That's a lot of firepower to be missing.
The Sounders (7-3-1) are also without national team call-ups Clint Dempsey, Brad Evans and DeAndre Yedlin. Seattle will probably enjoy the home cooking after an embarrassing 5-0 loss at New England on Sunday.
"We've obviously had to make some changes," Quakes coach Mark Watson said of his shrinking talent pool. "There's a bunch of scenarios. Our World Cup guys are gone, a couple of suspensions. We've got some injury issues. Right now, I think we'll struggle to get 18 players to the game."
Opportunity is knocking for a group of forwards who have been waiting their turn, such as Fucito, Billy Schuler and Adam Jahn.
"It's an opportunity for everybody," said Fucito, who sat out most of last season because of a right ankle fracture. "We'll see what works, but ultimately it's about the team. I think I bring something different. We'd love to have Wondo here, but in his absence it's a chance for guys to step up and show what they can do, too."
A muscular 5-foot-9, 165 pounds, Fucito made 23 appearances with the Sounders in 2010 and '11, before stints in Montreal and Portland. During his lengthy rehabilitation from the ankle injury, the Quakes loaned him to their Sacramento affiliate in March.
"I've been sharp and feeling really good," he said. "I'm starting to get my form back. That's played a part in seeing time on the field."
Without their stalwart center backs Goodson and Bernardez, the Quakes makeshift back line could be composed of right back Brandon Barklage, reserve Shaun Francis, Ty Harden and Jordan Stewart. Versatile rookie JJ Koval could also be in the mix. A similarly thrown-together unit showed moxie in a 1-1 draw against Mexican power Toluca, at about 9,000 feet elevation, in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, when the Quakes lost in a shootout.
Jamaican Khari Stephenson has stepped in at center midfielder and provided something his teammates have lacked in the attacking third -- the ability to hold the ball and create something.
"The games that Khari's played, and he had to be patient to get his time, he's done well," Watson said. "He gives us a strong player on the ball, a different dimension. That's something we need."
Earthquakes (2-3-4) at Seattle (7-3-1), 7 p.m. CSNCA