— Frank Yallop, San Jose Earthquakes Coach
The New York Red Bulls beat the Earthquakes 1-0 in San Jose to take the lead in their MLS playoff tie. Can the Quakes come back on the road to beat the Red Bulls on aggregate? The answers may lie in a look back at the first match.
New York Red Bulls coach Hans Backe, in his pinstripes, debriefed the media after the match. The game went as hoped. They had come to win, they had stuck to their system, they had not had to man mark the MLS Golden Boot playing against them. Backe gave a confident polished set of sound bytes right out of Professional Coaching 101.
Quakes Coach Frank Yallop could not have been more different in his comments. The team will be disappointed at having lost, he advised, and you sensed there was no separation in that statement between coach and team. No matter what words he used and how strictly he might have quoted from the same media playbook, the difference in the two coaches was emotion. Yallop heart on his sleeve, Baake pin stripes on his.
We go back a few minutes in our heads and see 5 minutes left to play on the clock and Chris Wondolowski, the MLS Golden Boot with his face in his hands. Open in front of goal. He muffed it.
The game was on fire from the first with the Red Bulls forcing two great saves from Quakes keeper Busch in the first dozen minutes, but the Quakes looked fully up for the game, playing with zeal. The Quakes got their own chance, a Quakes style opportunity, Bobby Convey releasing Geovanni with a cross field ball which a designated player should have turned into a goal, instead of hitting into the side netting from the wrong direction.
The Red Bulls attack was wholly different from the Quakes, as instead of looking long downfield, they got numbers in scoring position and found ways to introduce chaos into the 18 yard box. Just before halftime they managed to strand Busch and only Jason Hernandez’ presence of mind to get on the goal line, and his quick feet, kept the game 0-0 at the half.
Ten minutes into the second half, Hernandez’ error in judgment allow the Red Bulls Joel Lindpere to score. Jason finds himself in the area without a man to mark, and just for a moment or two allows himself to ball watch. But a poor clearance from his teammate lands for Lindpere who has stealthily drifted in unmarked, like a French Blanco. Lindpere fires it past Busch before Jason has a chance to pick him up.
This season the Quakes self-belief at home has often seemed mere paper deep, and Hernandez embodies this within the next few minutes. Hesitant and uncertain on the ball, he gets caught in possession and goes to ground, the Red Bulls testing Busch with a strong shot on net.
The Quakes immediately counter via a Convey run up the middle of the pitch, but Geovanni can’t handle the pass and the split second opportunity is wasted. Geovanni aims to make up for it, and minutes later sends in a low hard shot from distance bouncing in front of goal which the keeper can’t handle. Wondolowski has made a run for the rebound a little late, but gets there in time to go down within a breath of the keeper, earning a yellow card for simulation, instead of a penalty kick.
But that wasn’t the chance.
The chance comes when Alvarez is substituted in for Geovanni and sends a freekick backpost to Ryan Johnson. Johnson heads it to the MLS Golden Boot who is standing on the penalty spot, unmarked. Jason Hernandez can take solace here, as the Red Bulls have made a much more blatant mess of marking on this play than he did on their goal.
Chris Wondolowski scores impeccable volleys in situations where there is but half a chance to get a foot on the ball, but in this case it’s a simple sitter of a volley. Too simple, perhaps. Chris completely muffs the shot and the ball augers into the ground bouncing wide right. Eduardo throws his body into an acrobatic scissors, the move of the match to put it on net, but finds the post instead.
Thierry Henry will likely be available to play for the Red Bulls Thursday in the rematch, which won’t make things any easier for the Quakes. Maybe just having Thierry Henry on the roster makes it easier to win games, what belief that must instill.
As proud as the Quakes should be to have earned their way into the playoffs, their self-belief is still too fragile, at least at home. High anxiety looked contagious after they went behind.
When the Quakes do believe in themselves, and play with cools heads and passion, they are a tough team to beat, a team far more talented than in recent seasons. They were equal to New York in the first match, bar a miss-kick by a player who has been the league’s best in finishing. The Quakes attacking talent is all there now with fair riches in style and specialty.
However, it has been Wondolowski doing the finishing for the Quakes for quite some time. One or more of his teammates need to step up and produce goals if the Quakes are to have a chance moving past New York. A matter of confidence for them, probably.
The game will be broadcast on ESPN2 at 5 PM San Jose time.