Three for Thursday: Two goals down? No problem – here are the top MLS playoff comebacks

The Portland Timbers will no doubt need another improbable result vs. Real Salt Lake to keep their playoff run alive this Sunday in front of their home fans (9 pm ET, ESPN and ESPN Deportes).

Just how improbable is it? In 11 two-legged playoff series in which one team has taken a two-goal lead in the first leg, the other team has come back to win the series just twice, and it hasn't happened since 2004. In other words, it would require a comeback worthy of the history books.

These are the two other instances in which a team has recovered from a two-goal deficit following the first leg, plus another memorable playoff comeback.

As a reminder, this list only covers two-legged playoff series – no one-off games (such as MLS Cup or some Conference Championships) and none from prior to 2002, when MLS used a best-of-three format in its playoff series.

San Jose Earthquakes vs. LA Galaxy – 2003 Western Conference Semifinals (highlights above)

We've harkened back to this memorable piece of league history many times now on, but no list of this ilk would be complete without it.

After all, how could you forget the Earthquakes making up a four-goal aggregate deficit in the space of 69 minutes, then winning it all with a golden goal in extra time?

If you're new to all this, though, here's how it went down: After knocking off the top-seeded Quakes 2-0 in LA, the series moved back to the Bay Area, and the Galaxy jumped out to a 2-0 lead within 13 minutes, all but burying their in-state rivals.

The Earthquakes breathed some life into their cause with two goals prior to halftime and pulled within one just five minutes after the restart. Just when it looked like the Galaxy would hold on, though, Chris Roner forced extra time with a 90th-minute strike and six minutes into the extra period, Rodrigo Faria – the former Rookie of the Year who had not scored at all in 2003 – bagged one of the biggest goals in Quakes history to complete the biggest comeback in MLS playoff history. 

Kansas City Wizards vs. San Jose Earthquakes – 2004 Western Conference Semifinals

Just a year after their own memorable comeback, the Earthquakes found themselves on the wrong end of another noteworthy series.

San Jose started their quest for back-to-back MLS Cups well enough, topping the Wizards 2-0 at home, but things got dicey when they got to Arrowhead Stadium. Future Quake and then-rookie Khari Stephenson was the unlikely opening scorer, followed by an equally unlikely Brian Ching own-goal to bring the two sides level.

Just when the series looked to be headed to extras, none other than current Portland Timbers defender Jack Jewsbury came up with the decisive goal in the second period of stoppage time, stunning San Jose and setting KC on a path to MLS Cup, which they would ultimately drop in a thriller against D.C. United.

Colorado Rapids vs. FC Dallas – 2006 Western Conference Semifinals

The 2006 Conference Semifinals saw three teams win the series despite losing in the first leg, but Colorado's comeback trumped them all.

The No. 4 seed facing the No. 1 seed, the Rapids had finished 11 points behind FCD in the regular-season standings and dropped the first leg 2-1 at home in Commerce City.

When Dallas took a 1-0 lead in Frisco early in the second half despite an early red card to Chris Gbandi, they looked to be sitting pretty. However, the Rapids battled back through Nicolas Hernandez, who scored twice, including an 83rd-minute goal that brought the series level, to force extra time.

From there, Colorado once again looked like they'd be headed for heartbreak when Clarence Goodson netted just two minutes into the extra 30 (by then, golden goals had been scrapped). Clint Mathis came up big for the Rapids, as his 114th-minute goal forced a penalty shootout.

Colorado then held their nerve when they needed to most, edging out Dallas 5-4 from the spot to cap off a truly unforgettable playoff series.


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