The old adage is: Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. And while there is little chance that the San Jose Earthquakes and the Los Angeles Galaxy have forgotten their playoff battle from 2003, the Quakes will nonetheless attempt to repeat their epic comeback Saturday when they take on the Galaxy in the second leg of the Western Conference Semifinal Series at Spartan Stadium.
As in 2003, San Jose find themselves trailing Los Angeles by two goals, meaning the Quakes will have to prevail by two scores in Saturday's contest just to force extra time. And given the tension-filled mood surrounding Friday's practice session, it appears that the enormity of the task is beginning to show itself.
But according to forward Brian Ching, any anxiousness being displayed is more an indication of the team's eagerness, rather than a lack of confidence.
"I think we're all on edge," said Ching. "But I think we're just chomping at the bit to get out there and get the game going. We're a confident team right now. We've scored three goals on the Galaxy before, so we're going to be looking to do that this weekend."
In order to achieve that objective, San Jose will need vast improvement in all areas of their game, and that means reverting to the form that served the team so well during the regular season.
"We just have to play the same way we play [at Spartan] all the time," said San Jose head coach Dominic Kinnear. "We can't go out with reckless abandon. We have to stay in our areas, keep our shape, and remember all of the [reasons] why we've been successful this year."
Specifically, the backline will need to eliminate the defensive mistakes made in last Sunday's encounter. The midfield will need a more incisive Mark Chung, and a less amped-up Dwayne De Rosario. And up top, Ching's aerial prowess will be counted on to score the kind of goals, especially from set pieces, that are often the difference in games contested at Spartan Stadium.
"[Set pieces] are a big part of our game," said Ching. "It will be important to get a goal off a set piece, and there will be lots of opportunities to do that. I'm confident we'll get one."
Another player San Jose is counting on to get goals is forward Alejandro Moreno, who has been nursing a sprained right ankle that has prevented the Venezuelan from striking the ball with his usual venom. There wasn't much discernible improvement in Moreno's condition at Friday's training session, but the ex-Galaxy forward is determined to gut it out, and appears to be first choice to line up alongside Ching.
"Hopefully, once the game starts I'll feel pretty good, just like I did last Sunday," said Moreno.
A rabid home crowd should spur on San Jose's quest for goals, but the Quakes will also need to keep their emotions in check, and fight off the temptation to attack rashly and leave themselves exposed at the back. That's what happened in 2003, when Carlos Ruiz and Peter Vagenas both tallied in the game's first 13 minutes. With the speed possessed by Galaxy forwards Landon Donovan and Herculez Gomez, the Quakes will have to be especially wary.
"[Kinnear] has been telling us the last two days, 'Don't be stupid,'" said defender Eddie Robinson. "Get goals, but don't leave it four-on-two at the back. We just have to play our game."
In addition to keeping tabs on the two Galaxy front-runners, San Jose will need to put the clamps on the Los Angeles midfield, especially veteran Cobi Jones. The former U.S. international was an immense factor in Sunday's contest, and proved that when given time and space, he can deliver pinpoint passes to the Galaxy forwards.
According to Kinnear, one key is to apply more pressure to the L.A. midfield.
"We have to make sure that when we turn the ball over, we have players around the ball," said Kinnear. "We can then rush them so we don't have them picking their spots."
As for the his attack, Kinnear added, "[Saturday] night, I expect us to play sharper, with our forwards holding the ball, and guys running off of them. I think we'll cause [L.A.] problems."
If that proves to be the case, then maybe history can repeat itself.
Jeff Carlisle is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.