SAN JOSE, Calif. – It's become a cliché, but the San Jose Earthquakes have likened their playoff predicament to trailing at halftime.
The Quakes dropped the first leg of their Eastern Conference Semifinal to the New York Red Bulls, 1-0, on Saturday. They wrap up the series needing a win at Red Bull Arena on Thursday night (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2).
WATCH: Highlights from first leg
But when a team is behind at intermission of a single, 90-minute game, the typical response is to come out with their ears pinned back, all eyes focused on attacking the goal.
The Quakes, however, have a full 90 minutes to erase their one goal deficit. So they’re being a little more cagey about how and when they plan to put Red Bulls goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul under pressure.
“We’re definitely going to get forward,” said 2010 Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski. “But ... the longer that we’re down by only a goal, we have a chance [to come back]. If we go down by 2-0, that makes things 10 times more difficult.
"Keeping the zero back there is going to be first and foremost. If we do that and we play our game, we’ll still get chances. We just need to finish the chances.”
San Jose certainly had their scoring opportunities in the first match, but they were mostly half-chances rather than full cracks at scoring. Geovanni got a look at goal, but it was from an acute angle and he pushed his shot wide. Wondolowski got a free header, but the cross dragged behind him just enough to make it impossible to get the ball on net.
The Quakes could easily collect another half-dozen near misses Thursday and come home gnashing their teeth over what could have been – all while New York hosts the Eastern Conference final.
“It’s the playoffs," attacker Scott Sealy told MLSsoccer.com. “There’s not going to be a ton of chances like there are in the regular season. I don’t think we’re going to get four or five excellent chances in a game. … It’s up to us to turn a half-chance into a full chance, to make a play that, in the regular season, you don’t necessarily need to make.”
[inline_node:322253]Sitting on a 1-0 lead in a home stadium where they allowed just nine goals in 15 matches – the second-best total in the league, trailing only Real Salt Lake – the Red Bulls could be expected to hunker down and dare the Earthquakes to equalize. San Jose coach Frank Yallop, however, feels Hans Backe’s team isn’t built for that kind of mission.
“I think they’re going to come and play their game — and New York attack,” Yallop said. “They don’t have the players to sit back. … Dane Richards is not a defensive right-side midfielder. [Juan Pablo] Ángel’s a goalscorer. If [Thierry] Henry plays, he wants to go forward. They’re not going to sit in and pack it in. … They’re going to come at us, and that should open them up hopefully for us to counter them and do our thing.”
Yallop didn’t rule out making any changes to the lineup, but he was pleased with the work from the two players he inserted into the starting XI on Saturday – Ramiro Corrales at left back and Sealy in central midfield.
“I think that unit was solid and we got through the game pretty well with a few chances to score and didn’t,” Yallop said. “I might change, positionally, maybe a couple guys. But as of right now I’m learning towards keeping it. We’ll see.”
A positional shift could mean Wondolowski and Geovanni flipping again, with the Designated Player heading back to the front line and the 18-goal scorer to right wing.
Another option could be to shift Ryan Johnson to the left wing, where his best work has been done this season. Geovanni could step into Johnson’s spot alongside Wondolowski up top. But Bobby Convey would have to move permanently to the right wing in that scenario, and while he’s played there some during the course of matches as a change of pace, it’s never been a full-time gig this year.
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . On Twitter: @sjquakes