SANTA CLARA -- Jason Hernandez didn't sulk when the Earthquakes upgraded their defense this year by signing international center back Clarence Goodson.

Instead, he helped make the U.S. national team player's transition in the locker room seamless despite losing his starting spot.

"We all show our true colors when things aren't going perfectly for us," Hernandez said. "It's important to embrace adversity and step up when called upon."

With Victor Bernardez representing Honduras in World Cup qualifying this week, the Quakes again will lean on Hernandez when playing host to the Colorado Rapids on Wednesday at Buck Shaw Stadium in a must-win Major League Soccer game.

Because of injuries and international call-ups, the Earthquakes have relied on the veteran defender while making a late push for the playoffs.

The Quakes (12-11-8) need another big performance against the Rapids, who are coming off a 5-1 throttling of second-place Seattle last weekend. The victory put Colorado (13-9-9) four points ahead of San Jose in the Western Conference playoff race.

The Rapids are tied with the Los Angeles Galaxy for fourth place with 48 points -- the top five teams in the conference qualify for the playoffs. Colorado, which has won three of its past four games, would clinch a spot if it wins Wednesday coupled with the Vancouver Whitecaps failing to defeat Seattle.


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The Earthquakes, on the other hand, probably would fail to reach the postseason with nothing less than a victory although they would not officially be eliminated.

Enter Hernandez, 30, into the cauldron. Once relegated to the sideline, he finds himself front and center as San Jose starts its October run as one of the league's hottest teams. The Quakes allowed one goal while going 4-0-1 in September.

"I've been able to get shutouts next to Justin (Morrow) at center back, with Vic at center back, Clarence at center back in the last three games I've played," Hernandez said.

Hernandez, however, is quick to credit the system implemented by interim coach Mark Watson that stresses team defense. Watson said the competitive spirit of his three center backs has elevated everyone's game.

"One of the worst things for a football club is people relax and know they are going to play week-in and week-out," he said. "When there is competition for spots you get more out of people."

Hernandez hasn't let up just because his minutes have decreased. It's a major reason he should pass Ronald Cerritos for No. 4 on the club's all-time minutes played list just before halftime Wednesday. The milestone speaks to Hernandez's longevity as a nine-year MLS veteran.

He and Ramiro Corrales are the only players who have been with the Earthquakes since they re-entered MLS as an expansion team six years ago. Midfielder Shea Salinas was the club's first draft pick in 2008 but left two years later before returning last season.

Hernandez had pretty much owned the center back position since the Quakes plucked him in the expansion draft in 2008.

Until this year.

"I know deep down it's tough not to be in the starting group on game day," Watson said. "He has responded really well."

The Quakes hope that doesn't change Wednesday night.

Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865 and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.