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Earthquakes advance to Eastern Conference Final with 3-1 victory over Red Bulls

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Bobby Convey celebrates a goal

Bobby Convey, who scored two goals and added an assist on Thursday night, celebrates one of his tallies. Photo: Brett Sarsfield, isiphotos.com

The San Jose Earthquakes defeated the New York Red Bulls 3-1 at Red Bull Arena to clinch their first round playoff series by a 3-2 aggregate score. Two goals by Bobby Convey and a tally from Chris Wondolowski provided the fireworks, while a resilient defensive effort from goalkeeper Jon Busch and the back four limited the potent New York offense to a lone Juan Pablo Angel goal. For head coach Frank Yallop, the match showcased his team’s never say die attitude.

“We were great tonight,” said a pleased Yallop after the game. “I thought we played very well and were fantastic. They (New York) had their chances, but they didn’t finish them and we did. I told the guys we had to believe in it. You always have to be prepared for whatever comes your way, we went one goal up, and we responded very well for the full 90 minutes. Great result, great feeling.”

For the Earthquakes, the deck looked stacked against them entering the second leg of this playoff tie. Having lost 1-0 at home, they would need to win by two goals to win the series outright and avoid extra time and a penalty kick shootout. Only one other team in the short history of MLS — the Colorado Rapids in 2006 — has been able to overcome losing at home in the first match to advance to the next playoff round. The Earthquakes, who famously came back to beat the Los Angeles Galaxy 5-4 in 2003 after trailing 4-0 on aggregate, can now add this match to their list of legendary performances.

“Nobody was looking for us to win,” said man-of-the-match Convey during the post game celebration. “Everyone thought this series was New York’s to win and we just came in as the underdog and came in here and played well. We seem to play very well on the road, and that was the case tonight.”

The Earthquakes certainly deserve the title of Road Warriors this 2010 season, as just less than half their regular season points were earned away from Buck Shaw Stadium. Time and again on the road, San Jose has played with a defensive mindset that allows for quick counterattacks to provide the offense. The match in New York played out that script at an Oscar-worthy level.

“We kind of like having that chip on our shoulder, being the underdog,” said goal scoring hero Wondolowski when asked about the team’s style of play. “I think that helps us work harder. If we work hard, we create some chances on the break, and I think that’s a good recipe for a good run in the playoffs.”

After absorbing early pressure from the Red Bulls, the Quakes counterpunched through a series of runs up the right side of the field, most notably in the direction of New York’s weak link in defense Roy Miller. Forward Ryan Johnson, continuing his late season surge of excellent performances, found plenty of space down the right sideline before firing in a cross to a congested penalty area. The ball found Scott Sealy just outside the six-yard box, but was behind him and he could only deflect the ball back toward the penalty spot. Racing free of marker Rafael Marquez, Convey measured the ball and blasted a left footed strike past a helpless Bouna Coundoul and into the upper left corner of the net.

With the sixth minute goal, the Earthquakes leveled the aggregate score at 1-1, and set the tone for the rest of the first half. Just two minutes later, after a strong defensive takeaway from Ramiro Corrales on Dane Richards, the Quakes nearly doubled their lead. With possession carried to the center of the field, Wondolowski picked out a streaking Johnson down the left flank just ahead of the Red Bulls defense. He cut the ball into the area before unleashing a bullet right at Coundoul. Instead of palming the ball away from danger, the New York ‘keeper put the rebound right back to Johnson, and his follow-up header looped just wide of the far post.

Perhaps feeling complacent entering the match, the Red Bulls awakened after the goal and asserted themselves more in possession. San Jose, as they often do, organized themselves well defensively and remained resolute for long stretches of the first half. With Johnson and Convey tracking back to provide cover on the wings and Sam Cronin expertly tracking Marquez, the Quakes prevented the Red Bulls from creating much in the offensive third. Center defender Brandon McDonald highlighted the efforts of the back four with strong clearances from the air and on the ground.

New York had their best chance of the half in the 39th minute, as teenage striker Juan Agudelo created space in the area after a pass from Richards. He cut the ball toward the byline and fired a right-footed shot from a tight angle that beat Busch to the near post, but clanged off the woodwork and back across the field.

With the halftime whistle approaching, the Earthquakes ventured more possession toward the New York goal. In the 42nd minute, Convey and Johnson played some good give-and-go during a counterattack that nearly resulted in a doubling of the Quakes lead. With Convey providing the cross from the far left side, Johnson volleyed the ball toward the far post, but Coundoul made his best save of the night to parry the ball out of bounds.

In first half stoppage time, the Earthquakes were forced to make a substitution as Captain Corrales, still nursing a knock he earned ten minutes earlier, was forced from the game due to injury. Goal scorer Convey dropped back to the left back position, Johnson dropped to the left midfield position, and Eduardo entered the game alongside Geovanni at forward. Halftime couldn’t come soon enough for Yallop and the team as they needed to regroup and prepare for the last 45 minutes.

New York was the aggressor coming out of halftime, pinning the Quakes on their heels for vast stretches of the opening 20 minutes. In the 48th minute, Marquez had a chance deep in the area that he scuffed at before the defense was able to clear. A minute later the much maligned defender Miller, given more space to press forward as he is want to do, nearly pulled one back for the Red Bulls with a decisive strike after cutting into the area and slaloming through the defense. His rising left-footed blast soared above the reach of Busch and just over the crossbar.

In the 60th minute, the Earthquakes breathed a huge sigh of relief after goalkeeper Busch was forced into a beautiful save on a shot from Mehdi Ballouchy. Some industrious work from Richards and Chris Albright on the right wing lead the ball to be centered to the middle of the penalty area. Marquez was first to the ball, and he deftly directed the ball toward goal and into the path of Ballouchy. After shaking a defender, the former Rapids midfielder blasted a shot to the far post that Busch deflected with his right foot, preserving the Quakes’ one goal lead.

The Earthquakes continued to absorb the New York pressure, while limiting their forays into the offensive third. Geovanni continued to underperform, especially in light of his directions to stay forward. For much of his tenure in San Jose, the Brazilian playmaker has drifted deep into the Quakes’ half to generate touches and spark possession. On this night, he seemed to resist the urge to come back for the ball, and instead wait for ball to meet him. Playing off of the bigger target forward Eduardo, this strategy proved rather limited for much of the second half.

Against the run of play for the first 20 minutes of the second half, the Quakes finally sustained possession of the ball in the Red Bulls half and earned their seventh corner kick of the evening. Unlike most of their corner kick efforts in both legs of the playoff series with New York, where the service was either poor or the ‘keeper was able to make an easy catch save, the Quakes finally seemed to get it right on that 70th minute set piece. Geovanni sent in a perfect cross to the far post where an unmarked and wide open McDonald appeared to hesitate before making a move on the ball. That split-second indecision allowed rookie defender Tim Ream time to poke the ball away from danger, and leaving McDonald ruing the lost opportunity to double the Quakes’ lead.

The short spell of San Jose offense was quickly answered by New York as they poured forward in an attempt to find the equalizer. Agudelo was the focus on a couple of good scoring opportunities for the home side, with the 17-year old stepping up and demanding the ball for the Red Bulls. Busch and the defense remained strong and kept the talented youngster from further influence during those tense minutes.

In the 75th minute, the game really opened up with the inclusion of midfielder Arturo Alvarez for the struggling Geovanni. The substitution by Yallop provided immediate dividends as the El Salvadoran international’s astute passing lead to the game’s second goal.

After a defense stop and clearance pass from Wondolowski, Alvarez raced down an open left side of the pitch and into the Red Bulls half. Working a good back pass to Convey filling in behind him, he continued his run away from the defense. Johnson found Alvarez all along on the left with just Joel Lindpere to beat, but he could only kick his cross off the midfielder’s body. Quickly collecting the loose ball, Alvarez threaded a perfectly weighted pass that carried Convey into the penalty area and clear of the Red Bulls defender Ream. A powerful left-footed strike left Coundoul waving at air, and the ball cascading down the back netting in the 76th minute. The 2-0 lead on the night also propelled the Quakes to a 2-1 aggregate lead in the series.

The Red Bulls did not wait long to answer, pulling a goal back just 90 seconds later through the hard work of Agudelo. Taking a ball toward the byline, the young forward cut back across defender Jason Hernandez and lifted a perfect cross to the far post for Angel to nod in for New York. The Colombian assassin was not going to miss from that location, especially given he was unmarked by Convey with just Busch to beat. It was an unfortunate lapse by a Quakes defense that had been solid to that point in the match.

With momentum swinging back in the Red Bulls favor, Angel nearly broke through for a second score in as many minutes. His physical play on McDonald created space at the top of the area, but referee Mark Geiger whistled the play dead ahead of his attempt on goal. The surreal scene of Angel breaking through the clouds of smoke left from flares that had been strewn onto the pitch by the Red Bull supporters and then being brought down hard by Busch in a penalty-worthy tackle were fortunately had no more effect than a bad dream, and the Earthquakes survived a very tense moment. Busch did receive a yellow card after the sequence, but the Red Bulls lost much more with Angel being temporarily forced off the field for treatment.

Playing a man down, New York had to regroup defensively, and San Jose took full advantage. Keeping the ball past the center line, the Quakes knocked the ball around, searching for a way past the Red Bull defenders. When a poor clearance by New York found Hernandez near the center circle, he sent in a deft ball that deflected to Eduardo. Laying the ball off to Alvarez, he received the return pass near the left edge of the area before circling the ball back out toward the touchline. Convey raced forward into the space vacated by the Red Bull midfielders and sent a teasing cross behind the New York defense. Wondolowski, starting his run from outside the area, raced onto the ball, beating Miller to the spot, leaping high into the area and directing a header past Coundoul and into the upper right corner of the goal. The MLS regular season Golden Boot winner finally tallied for the Earthquakes on his best opportunity of the night, and restored the team’s one goal lead in the aggregate scoreline.

“Our team has been great all year and has been creating chances for me,” said Wondolowski. “I feel if I get an opportunity, I can do good things with it. I pride myself on finishing, and when it’s a ball in like that (from Convey), it makes my job easy.”

New York, desperate to get back into the game and force extra time, brought in a trio of substitutes in the 84th minute — three attacking players, including Thierry Henry, for two defenders and a forward — but nearly paid the price when the Earthquakes missed scoring a fourth goal on the night by mere inches. Following some poor defensive clearance attempts by the Red Bulls after a failed Quakes corner kick, the ball bounced outside the area nicely for Wondolowski to take a rip at it. From 33 yards out, the MLS MVP candidate blasted a right footed shot that swerved away from Coundoul and banged off the left side goalpost.

For the next five minutes plus two minutes of stoppage time it was all hands on deck for the Earthquakes as they tried to preserve their 3-2 total goals lead. Henry had the best chance for the Red Bulls following a corner kick in the 88th minute. With Marquez atoning for a poor night overall, the Mexico captain delivered a fine cross to an advancing Miller. The defender flicked the ball over the Quakes defense toward the far post where Henry was lurking without a marker. With the posts guarded and Busch standing his ground in the center of the goal mouth, Henry nodded the ball high of the target. Given his stature and pedigree, it was reasonable to believe that the shot should have been on target, but given the positioning of the Quakes, he must have thought he needed to guide the ball into goal instead of just heading it forcibly.

As the tense final seconds ticked down, and the Earthquakes withstood everything the Red Bulls triumvirate of designated players could kick at them, the stadium noise reached a nervous crescendo. When the referee blew the final whistle, and the crowd fell silent, the cheers instead came from the Earthquakes players and bench, as San Jose had done what must pundits thought impossible — they felled the Red Bulls. Statistical precedent might not have been on their side, by the hunger to win propelled San Jose to a historical victory on the night and advancement to the Eastern Conference Final next Saturday.

• • •

San Jose Earthquakes (1-1-0) at New York Red Bulls (1-1-0)

Aggregate Goals: NY: 2 SJ: 3

Nov. 4, 2010 – Red Bull Arena

Attendance: 22,839

Scoring Summary: SJ – Bobby Convey (Scott Sealy, Ryan Johnson) 6; SJ – Bobby Convey (Arturo Alvarez) 76; NY – Juan Pablo Angel (Juan Agudelo) 78; SJ – Chris Wondolowski (Bobby Convey) 81.

Misconduct Summary: SJ – Ramiro Corrales (caution) 32; SJ – Jon Busch (caution) 80.

San Jose Earthquakes – Jon Busch, Tim Ward, Brandon McDonald, Jason Hernandez, Ramiro Corrales (Eduardo 48+), Chris Wondolowski, Sam Cronin, Scott Sealy, Bobby Convey, Geovanni (Arturo Alvarez 75), Ryan Johnson.

Statistics: Shots: 11; Shots on Goal: 7; Saves: 3; Fouls: 9; Offsides: 3; Corners: 9.

New York Red Bulls Bouna Coundoul, Chris Albright (Jeremy Hall 84) , Carlos Mendes (Salou Ibrahim 84), Tim Ream, Roy Miller, Dane Richards, Mehdi Ballouchy, Rafael Marquez, Joel Lindpere, Juan Agudelo (Thierry Henry 84), Juan Pablo Angel.

Statistics: Shots: 23; Shots on Goal: 5; Saves: 4; Fouls: 8; Offsides: 2; Corners: 5.