SAN JOSE, Calif. — Facing the LA Galaxy in the Western Conference semifinals is the matchup San Jose Earthquakes fans longed for.
Turns out they weren’t alone in that wish.
“I think everyone wanted that, us included,” Quakes captain Ramiro Corrales said Friday. “They’re a good team, and it’s going to be a tough match. I think they deserved to win [on Thursday], and I’m looking forward to Sunday.”
The first leg of the Western Conference Semifinal series on Sunday at the Home Depot Center (10:30 pm ET, ESPN, live chat on MLSsoccer.com) will the first playoff game between the California rivals since 2005, when the Galaxy knocked off a Supporters’ Shield-winning Quakes side.
Not surprisingly, fans on both sides have taken to Twitter and other social media networks to trash talk and hype up the two-legged aggregate series.
“That’s what fans do,” Quakes goalkeeper Jon Busch said. “Both sets of fans, obviously, are very excited because there is that rivalry. I think for us, at the end of the day, it’s just another step in the direction that we want to go. To get to the final, you have to win two two-game series. And this is the first step of that path.”
San Jose went 2-0-1 against LA this year, coming back from a two-goal deficit in both victories and twice from one goal down in the draw.
In that last meeting, a 2-2 tie on Oct. 21, the Galaxy had arguably their best half of the year against San Jose, pinging the ball through midfield and setting players free with through balls on multiple occasions. If not for a couple of critical saves by a hard-charging Busch, the Galaxy easily could have been up 2-0 within the first half-hour.
But LA were without stars David Beckham and Landon Donovan on that day, so it’s not clear how much of that game plan coach Bruce Arena will keep in place Sunday night.
“All three of the games we’ve played have been pretty different,” Quakes defender Jason Hernandez said. “You don’t really know what to expect each time you come out [against them]. They’re going to try to create advantages in ways they see fit, and we’re going to do the same.”
The Galaxy, of course, bring a wealth of big-game experience, not just from the international resumes of Beckham, Donovan and Robbie Keane, but from their own run to capture last year’s MLS Cup.
“They’ve been there before, so I think that will be our biggest challenge,” San Jose defender Justin Morrow said. “We’ve had individuals who’ve been there before, but a lot of guys who haven’t, as well. . . . I’m not saying we’re not going to be able to handle it. I’m just saying they won last year for a reason.”
With the benefit of home-field advantage, manager Frank Yallop — who scouted LA’s Knockout match with Vancouver in person — would be perfectly satisfied to earn a draw in the away leg. But if they do go down, the Quakes will walk a fine line between pushing for an equalizer — as has been their wont in this “Goonies”-inspired season — or making sure the deficit stays at a manageable level.
That’s something the 2005 Quakes didn’t do. Trailing 2-1 in the first leg of that series, San Jose conceded a third in the 87th minute. The second leg finished 1-1, giving LA a 4-2 aggregate victory.
“You have to remember it’s two legs,” Quakes forward Chris Wondolowski said. “We kept New York at 1-0 when we lost [in the 2010 playoffs]. If we were down 2-0, that’s a whole other ballgame. Sometimes you get caught up in that competitive nature, where you push, push and leave yourself exposed at the back. If we go down 2-0, have to go to New York, I think that’s an insurmountable lead. But we kept that at 1-0 and we were able to win [the series].”
Said Morrow: “In the playoffs, I think it’ll be a little bit harder to come from behind. I mean, we’ve done it all year, so we’ll be confident no matter what situation it is, but we can’t get down to them.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
LAST MEETING: SJ 2, LA 2