"What, me worry?" That seemed to sum up the attitude of the San Jose Earthquakes, as they returned to training this week following their 3-1 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy in the first leg of their Western Conference Semifinal Series. Sessions have been loose and spirited, showing little indication that the Quakes' championship hopes hang by a thread.
"You've got to enjoy the game," said San Jose midfielder Dwayne De Rosario. "You can't go out there worrying that we're 2-0 down. We're concerned, but it's nothing to worry about."
And why should they? The Quakes have found themselves in this situation before against their archrivals. That was back in 2003, when a 2-0 first-leg deficit ballooned to 4-0 just 13 minutes into the return encounter.
But in a game that has been touted as perhaps the most exciting ever played in the league's existence, San Jose fought back to score four goals in regulation, including Chris Roner's second-half tally in stoppage time. Rodrigo Faria then rifled home the game-winner in extra time and the rest, as they say, is history.
But so are many of the participants, including all five of the Earthquakes goal-scorers that night. Of the players that started the match for the Quakes that evening, only Pat Onstad, Eddie Robinson, and Brian Mullan will be in the lineup on Saturday.
San Jose even has two players, in Danny Califf and Alejandro Moreno, who were on the receiving end of the Quakes' stellar comeback. For Moreno, the fact that he now plies his trade for San Jose hasn't made the memory of that night any more pleasant.
"It was pretty painful, and everyone felt pretty miserable after that game," said Moreno. "But [Spartan] Stadium lends itself to that kind of action. One pass and you're in the other team's box. You can't come in here and try to take the air out of the ball because it just doesn't work."
While the Quakes will be hoping to follow a similar script, they are mindful of the fact that what happened two years ago won't help them on Saturday.
"I'm not relying on the past," said De Rosario. "All I know is that we're a good team and we're better than [Los Angeles]. I know we can score two goals with the guys we've got. There is no reason why we can't."
For head coach Dominic Kinnear, the more apt comparison is last year's playoffs against Kansas City. That time it was San Jose who enjoyed a two-goal lead heading into the away leg, but the Wizards chipped away at the Quakes' advantage, and Jack Jewsbury's stoppage-time goal ultimately condemned San Jose to a 3-2 aggregate defeat.
"You try not to get caught up in [two years ago], because that was a glorious day," said Kinnear. "It's one that will probably never happen again. I think back more to Kansas City. But we know [coming back] has been done before and we know it's been done at Spartan."
For that to happen, not only will the Quakes have to score, but they will need to eliminate the defensive mistakes that plagued them in Sunday's game. The tight environs of Spartan Stadium should help blunt the speed advantage enjoyed by Landon Donovan and Herculez Gomez, but San Jose will also need to keep their emotions in check, especially with a home crowd spurring them on to get goals.
"We can't just rush [L.A] and leave our backs exposed," said De Rosario. "We have to be conscious that we can't let them score and dig a deeper hole for ourselves."
In the meantime, San Jose will continue to look forward to Saturday's contest, and that means keeping a positive attitude through the rest of the week.
"We're not ready for the season to end," said captain Wade Barrett. "We've got another game. It's no time to hang our heads."
Jeff Carlisle is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.