Three for Thursday: Greatest conf. semifinal comebacks
The Conference Semifinals have produced some of the most memorable comebacks in MLS Cup Playoffs history, thanks in large part to the two-leg, aggregate-goals format.
On Wednesday night, the Seattle Sounders came agonizingly close to joining that list of great comebacks, winning 2-0, but falling just short of overturning the 3-0 deficit from their first-leg defeat to RSL.
Thursday nght, the New York Red Bulls and Philadelphia Union will be hoping they can go one better than Seattle and turn their respective series against the LA Galaxy and Houston Dynamo on their heads and produce one of the most sensational comebacks in playoff history in the process.
All this playoff drama prompted us here at MLSsoccer.com to come up with three of the biggest comebacks after first-leg defeats in Conference Semi history:
1. San Jose Earthquakes vs. LA Galaxy, Western Conference Semifinals, 2003
This game will probably go down as the greatest in MLS history, let alone the greatest comeback ever in the MLS Cup Playoffs. Trailing 2-0 after the first leg, San Jose traveled south to play LA with nobody giving them a chance. The doubters increased rightfully so when LA took a 2-0 lead on the night – and 4-0 on aggregate – after just 13 minutes. Cue the comeback of all comebacks.
Jeff Agoos and Landon Donovan scored before halftime to make it 2-2 on the day, and all of a sudden, the Earthquakes were right back in it. Jamil Walker added a third for San Jose in the 50th minute to make it 4-3 on aggregate, and then, with virtually the last kick of the game, Chris Roner pounced on the ball in the 90th minute to tie the series and send it into overtime.
Once there, Rodrigo Faria clinch the golden-goal winner six minutes into overtime to complete the stunning comeback for San Jose to win 5-4 on aggregate.
The victory sparked the Quakes all the way to an MLS Cup championship that year, as they beat the Chicago Fire in the final to take home the crown.
2. New England Revolution vs. MetroStars, Eastern Conference Semifinals, 2005
The MetroStars felt supremely confident of advancing after winning the first leg away at Gillette Stadium 1-0 courtesy of an Amado Guevara goal. The second match seemed to go according to plan, too, as French soccer star Youri Djorkaeff made it 2-0 on aggregate with just 30 minutes left.
Instead of the second goal burying New England’s hopes, it ignited them. José Cancela scored with 20 minutes to go to give the Revolution a glimmer of hope, and five minutes later, Pat Noonan grabbed a second to tie the scores up 2-2 on aggregate.
With seven minutes left, the unthinkable happened. Khano Smith punctuated New England's quick-fire 15-minute turnaround in the 83rd minute to make it 3-1 to New England on the night, destroying the Metros' playoff dreams and sending the Revs through to the conference finals 3-2 on aggregate.
3. New York Red Bulls vs. San Jose Earthquakes, Eastern Conference Semifinals, 2010
After winning 1-0 in San Jose, everything was once again looking rosy for the Red Bulls in the playoffs as they returned home to New York to host the second leg of the series. Enter Bobby Convey.
The Quakes left winger scored in the eighth minute of the return leg to level the aggregate scores and provide San Jose with a shock foothold in the matchup.
Many expected New York to push on in front of their home crowd after their victory at San Jose, yet they faltered and Convey made them pay again at a pivotal point in the match. In the 76th minute, Convey picked up the ball at the back post and hammered home to make it 2-0 on the night and San Jose looked to be heading through.
But Juan Pablo Ángel pounced to give the Red Bulls a lifeline just two minutes later, making the aggregate score 2-2. And just when everyone expected New York to find the winner in front of their home crowd, up popped 2010 Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski to head home a Convey cross in the 81st minute to make it 3-1 on the night – and 3-2 on aggregate – in favor of San Jose.