SAN JOSE -- The Earthquakes didn't need Al Gore to remind them about the effects of altitude in the Rocky Mountain region.
They talked about playing more conservatively Saturday against the Colorado Rapids before the former vice president floated the idea that President Barack Obama's debate performance suffered because of the thin air in the Mile High city.
Major League Soccer's premier team is wary of playing at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in the Denver suburb of Commerce City, Colo., because it lies at 5,200 feet and has a large field -- 120 yards by 80 yards. By comparison, San Jose's home turf at Buck Shaw Stadium is 115 by 74. And that's at sea level.
"We can't be the high-flying team that we usually are," defender Steven Beitashour said. "We have to be smart with the way we attack."
But don't expect the Quakes (18-6-7) to hunker down for a defensive struggle. Coach Frank Yallop might start three prolific goal scorers who have become a nightmare for opponents this season.
With left-side midfielder Simon Dawkins nursing an ankle sprain, it's possible Alan Gordon (13 goals), Steven Lenhart (10) and Chris Wondolowski (22) could line up together. They have scored 10 times in 239 minutes when on the field at the same time.
With a 15-day break after Saturday's game, it is doubtful Yallop would risk using Dawkins (eight goals) when the Quakes will need him for the MLS playoffs next month.
Despite the intimidating presence of the goal-scoring troika, the Earthquakes hope to re-emphasize defense Saturday after allowing six goals in the previous three games. The players understand the importance of defending, particularly in the playoffs where games usually are low scoring.
"Defensive teams win championships in all sports," goalkeeper Jon Busch said. "It's a good reminder of what you need to be successful in the playoffs."
Although Colorado (9-18-4) was eliminated from the playoff race this week, the Earthquakes don't plan to ease up on the road.
They need one point to clinch the Western Conference title. With three games left in the regular season, they lead Sporting Kansas City by three points in the Supporters' Shield race.
"We want to go forward and score," Yallop said. "We just got to tighten up and not give good chances away.
"For us to change our game right now: no chance."
San Jose, which is on a six-game unbeaten streak, won't have powerful center back Victor Bernardez, who is ineligible after receiving his fifth yellow card last weekend.
Center back Ike Opara also is not expected to play because of concussion-like symptoms.
The Earthquakes will count on Jason Hernandez and Justin Morrow to patrol the back line, a combination that accentuates the team's deep roster. Both are fast and experienced in handling pressure from strikers.
Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.