A 2-0 playoff win would be cause for celebration in most cases; in Major League Soccer it is simply a first step, providing cautious optimism. The Quakes dominated the Wizards Sunday afternoon at Spartan Stadium, not allowing a shot on goal through the first 90 minutes, and yet with the two-goal victory, they're only halfway to finishing off the Wizards.
Certainly, of the two teams, you'd rather be the Quakes. They have the two goals; the Wizards have none, as they get ready to go in Game Two of the two-game, aggregate goals series Saturday night in Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium. Could it be good news that the defense-first Wizards have to come out of their shell this week, needing at least three goals on their home field to advance to the Western Conference final? Q's defender Craig Waibel isn't so sure. "It makes them play a different way than they've been playing all year," he said. "The only problem is Kansas City has the firepower to play any way they want. They just chose to play defensive."
With young strikers Josh Wolff and Davy Arnaud held in check, the Quakes stopped the Wizards attack cold last weekend. This weekend, they'll need to at least neutralize KC's offense, which has been shutout three times now by the Quakes in five MLS games this year. (We don't include the U.S. Open Cup semifinal 1-0 Quakes loss.)
The Wizards tied with the Columbus Crew for the best record in the league this year, and Brian Ching is sure the Wizards will come out Saturday ready and explosive.
"They're a good team. They finished first for a reason. We're going in there expecting a big battle. We'll be prepared based on what we did last year. We don't want that happening to us."
And what happened to the Quakes - falling behind four goals to none to the Galaxy in Game Two of the first round series - led to the greatest comeback in MLS history, a 5-2 second game win over LA in what former coach Frank Yallop says was the "greatest game played in MLS history."
If there is a team in this league that wound not sit on a 2-0 first-game win, or what coach Dominic Kinnear calls "half-time" of the first round, it is the Earthquakes. Landon Donovan says 2-0 is nice, but right now it means nothing.
"LA had a two goal lead last year and let it slip away," he said. "It's nice, but it doesn't matter."
Not only did the Quakes witness first-hand the value of a two-goal first-game lead, they've seen plenty of evidence this year that anything can, and probably will, happen.
"It's weird," Donovan said. "We scored so many goals in the beginning of the year, and didn't play so well defensively. And now it's vice versa, playing well defensively and haven't been able to score a lot."
This is the epitome of a breakout: two goals each in back-to-back games for the Quakes, who had an eight-game run near the end of the season when they scored a TOTAL of three goals. On the other hand, over the second half of the season, the Quakes allowed fewer goals, 13, than any team in the league.
A tired, banged-up team now has to keep it together for three more weeks to win a second title in a row and a third in four years.
"We have to keep this ride, and keep it going," said Donovan, who in 13 career playoff games has 10 goals and six assists, including the game winning goal against the Wizards in overtime of last year's Western Conference final, a game in which the Wizards had a lead in the 82nd minute.
The Quakes go into Kansas City confident, yet cautious. It's only halftime of this series, and nothing's over at halftime in this league, or any other. Ask the LA Galaxy.
John Shrader has been the voice of the Earthquakes since 1996 and has worked in television and radio in the Bay Area for the past 20 years.