San Jose Earthquakes
Following Wednesday’s disappointing knockout round exit to Houston, taking in the rest of the MLS Cup playoffs this weekend didn’t sit all the way at the top of my “want to do” list.
Being the seasoned Team Writer that I am, I decided it was a good idea to take in the four games from Friday to Sunday…
Real Salt Lake 0, Seattle Sounders 0 – Friday
With the Fire out, I have to say there are few teams in the league I would feel alright about winning MLS Cup and you know the Sounders do not fall in that category for me.
On the flip side, RSL has Fire legend C.J. Brown, defender Kwame Watson-Siriboe and even former Fire beat writer Sam Stejskal slingin’ PR in Sandy, so if someone has to win MLS Cup, I wouldn’t mind for it to be our friends from the Sawatch Front?
Playing on the Seattle Seahawks outlined pitch at CenturyLink Field Friday night, it was Nick Rimando who stood tall in net, making five big saves for RSL and even suffering a broken nose and laceration in the 67th minute after a collision with the Sounders Christian Tiffert.
The display left RSL head coach Jason Kreis to say, “I think it would have to go down as one of the best individual performances by any player that’s ever worn an RSL jersey.”
In my opinion, Rimando’s historic performance will likely go down as one of the best ever in MLS postseason play.
In the end, RSL escaped Seattle with a 0-0 draw and head back to the friendly confines of Rio Tinto Stadium for Thursday night’s second leg.
D.C. United 1, New York Red Bulls 1 – Saturday
Knowing that one point at any time during the regular season would have had the Fire playing in this series, I had the most trouble watching this game of any during the weekend. With that said, it was nice to see D.C. switch home legs with New York after Hurricane Sandy left Red Bull Arena unplayable for the weekend.
WATCH: D.C. United 1, New York Red Bulls 1
Come the 33rd minute of the tie, United looked to be in good shape when Red Bull defender Connor Lade was whistled for a handball in the box, forcing referee Jair Marrufo to point to the spot. Chris Pontius’ take however wasn’t the greatest, allowing Red Bull ‘keeper Luis Robles to make one of his five saves on the night.
Despite the save, United would get on the board just after the hour mark when Chris Korb’s dangerous cross to the six left Red Bull’s Roy Miller with an attempted clear, instead roofing into the top of his own net.
In what seemed to be a comedy of errors, Red Bull would pull level with a United own goal just four minutes later. Off a corner kick from the right, defender Heath Pearce headed the ball back across goal, catching United goalkeeper Bill Hamid wrong footed before catching the ball inside his own goal and clearly across the line.
Perhaps most comical was Hamid’s insistence that he’d been fouled on the play. A replay shows Red Bull defender Markus Holgersson ducking even as United’s Dejan Jakovic is pushing him towards Hamid.
Own goals aside, the story of the match would be DC right back Andy Najar’s sending off in the 71st minute. Shown a yellow card for his foul on Joel Lindpere in the 71st minute, the Honduran international threw the ball at Maruffo, forcing the referee to show the Honduran international a second yellow and then a red card, forcing United to play a man down the final 19+ minutes of the match.
United will definitely be without Najar as they head back to Red Bull Arena for leg two and if they advance, it’s a fair bet they could lose him throughout a potential Eastern Conference Final series.
Houston Dynamo 2, Sporting Kansas City 0 – Sunday
In the surprise of the weekend, Houston came away with a dominant 2-0 victory over Sporting KC in leg one of their Eastern Conference semifinal series at BBVA Compass Stadium.
WATCH: Houston Dynamo 2, Sporting KC 0
Having defeated the Fire 2-1 on Wednesday night, the Dynamo were charged by the partisan crowd in Houston and went ahead in the 18th minute off of Adam Moffat’s wonder-volley from outside the area.
On the other side of halftime, Will Bruin would score his third goal in two playoff matches, connecting once again with former Fire striker Calen Carr to seal the 2-0 victory in the 75th minute.
It’s interesting to note that though the two sides finished even with 13 shots each, the Dynamo held just a 2-1 advantage in shots on goal, finishing both of their attempts for the win.
Houston can now go to LiveStrong Sporting Park on Wednesday, lose 1-0 and still advance to the Eastern Conference finals, knocking out the team with the second best record in the process…
San Jose Earthquakes 1, LA Galaxy 0 – Sunday
While the Dynamo didn’t look like they’d played at midweek, the LA Galaxy certainly did, looking tired a times throughout Sunday night’s home encounter.
Despite that, LA threatened just as much as San Jose but as so many other teams have this season, would fall victim to a late, late Earthquakes goal.
This time the marker would come from Honduran midfielder Victor Bernardez, who hit a low free kick underneath the jumping Omar Gonzalez and past Josh Saunders in the 94th minute, allowing the Quakes to stick with their “Goonies never say die” tagline.
The star-studded Galaxy will have a tall but not impossible order to overcome the 1-0 deficit in Wednesday’s second leg at San Jose…
Second Leg Picks
New York Red Bulls 2, D.C. United 1 (NY Advances)
Sporting KC 2, Houston Dynamo 1( HOU Advances)
Real Salt Lake 2, Seattle 1 (RSL Advances)
San Jose Earthquakes 1, LA Galaxy 1 (SJ Advances)
#1 Chicago Fire vs. #4 D.C. United – Eastern Conference semi-finals (total goals)
Chicago Fire 2, D.C. United 0 (Game 1)
RFK Stadium; Washington, D.C.
November 1, 2003
Coming off a regular season in which the team finally fulfilled winning a Supporter’s Shield, the Fire traveled to D.C. to open up its first two-game aggregate playoff series with United at RFK Stadium.
From the first whistle the Fire never seemed to break much of a sweat and went ahead in the fourth minute when a headed clearance from a United defender fell for midfielder Andy Williams 25 yards from goal. The Jamaican international took the ball on the half-volley and one-timed his right-footed effort past Doug Warren and inside the left post.
WATCH: 2003 MLS Cup Playoff Run
In control throughout, the Fire frustrated United throughout the match and saw former players Hristo Stoitchkov and Dema Kovalenko pick up yellow cards for dissent and bringing the game into disrepute.
Holding a 1-0 lead late, the Fire would take a 2-0 lead back to Soldier Field when Zach Thornton’s clearance was flicked on by Nate Jaqua into the path of Ante Razov. The Fire’s all-time leading goal scorer calmly chipped the ball over the onrushing Warren in the 94th minute.
Chicago Fire 2, D.C. United 0 (Game 2)
Soldier Field; Chicago, Ill.
November 9, 2003
With D.C. needing two goals just to force extra time, the Fire again imposed their superiority in this match, putting United in the coffin with another early strike.
This time it was Willliams’ countryman and 2003 Rookie of the Year Damani Ralph, who after a quick combination with Chris Armas outside the box, unleashed another long range blast, this time to the right of Warren, to give the Fire a 1-0 lead in the 17th minute.
The Fire would finish of United just after halftime when DaMarcus Beasley’s cross from left bounced in the area before finding Razov who headed it back across goal for his second of the series, moving the team to the Eastern Conference final with a 4-0 aggregate victory.
#1 Chicago Fire 1, #2 New England Revolution 0 (asdet) - Eastern Conference Final
Soldier Field; Chicago, Ill.
November 14, 2003
Outshooting New England 20-7, the Fire clearly dominated the match from start to finish but a goal in regulation would elude the team at home.
Into extra time, it would be no one else but Chris Armas to provide the winner. Evan Whitfield worked his way up the right before pushing the ball to Justin Mapp at the endline.
The young winger centered a low cross that Ralph muffed before Armas tucked the ball in from close range, sending Soldier Field into pandemonium and the Fire back to MLS Cup for the third time in six seasons.
San Jose Earthquakes 4, Chicago Fire 2 – MLS Cup 2003
The Home Depot Center; Carson; Calif
November 14, 2009
The Fire pipped San Jose for the Supporters Shield during the regular season but it would be the Earthquakes that had the last laugh as they won their second MLS Cup in three seasons.
San Jose take the advantage as Ronnie Ekelund’s fifth minute free kick and Landon Donovan’s 39th minute finish took the Earthquakes into the break up 2-0.
After halftime, Andy Williams would feed DaMarcus Beasley into the box on the left and the young Fire winger tucked his effort inside the near post to cut the lead in half in the 49th minute.
Just as it looked like the Fire had momentum, San Jose would restore their two goal lead a minute later when Richard Mulrooney caught the backline sleeping after the goal.
The Fire would get some help back from the Earthquakes in the 54th minute when Chris Roner headed the ball into his own net.
Just two minutes later, Damani Ralph broke into the box on the left before being hauled down by Roner, forcing referee Brian Hall to point to the spot.
Despite battling sickness throughout the week, Fire leading striker Ante Razov stepped up to take the spot kick but was denied when his effort was denied by Pat Onstad’s dive to the right.
With the missed opportunity, momentum seemed to shift back in San Jose’s favor and as the Fire pushed for the equalizer, it would be Donovan who would put the game away with his second goal in the 71st minute.
A lot has changed since my last Playoff Math entry. The team had just come off a disappointing 2-0 loss to Sporting KC while almost no other result in the East had gone the Fire’s way that weekend. The team would follow the loss to KC up with a disappointing 3-1 home defeat to Philadelphia on Anniversary Night before earning a solid 2-0 win at New York three days later.
It all goes to show that Playoff Math isn’t always foolproof but a good read nonetheless. With that here’s the latest update, also recognizing the field in the East is down to six teams with Montreal’s elimination last week…
1) Sporting KC (qualified)
Current Points: 59 (40 GF)
Games Remaining: 2 (1 home, 1 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 65
Average Opponents Points: 44.5
Magic Number (for first place): 4
Remaining Schedule: at New York (10/20), vs. Philadelphia (10/24).
The Rundown: Sporting KC took a potential blow to their first place bid by leaving two points on the field late at Crew Stadium last Sunday. KC still has the inside track to finishing top of the conference for the second straight season but will have to navigate a tricky match at Red Bull this week to get there. If they can earn another win in New York, they’’ all but clinch the top spot in the East, then needing only a win the following Wednesday home to Philadelphia.
2) Chicago Fire (qualified)
Current Points: 56 (45 GF)
Games Remaining: 2 (1 home, 1 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 62
Average Opponents Points: 41. 5
Magic Number (to first place): 9
Remaining Schedule: at New England (10/20), vs. D.C. United (10/27)
The Rundown: Despite falling in two of the last three matches, the Fire are in the playoffs and still find themselves with a reasonable shot at taking first in the East with the Sporting/Red Bull match looming this weekend. If Red Bull is able to win and the Fire can come away from New England victorious as well on Saturday, they’ll be even on points with first place Kansas City and actually ahead on the first tie breaker (goals for).
That scenario would almost assuredly just require a Fire win on the final of the season vs. DC United to lock down first place (Sporting KC would have make up 6+ goals on Philadelphia in order to jump over the Fire.
More incentive to keep in mind… Should the Fire win their final two games, they’ll at least finish third overall in the MLS standings, giving them a real shot at the CONCACAF Champions League should either Sporting KC or San Jose make MLS Cup.
3) D.C. United
Current Points: 54
Games Remaining: 3 (1 home, 1 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 60
Average Opponents Points: 52.5
Magic Number (to qualify): 2
Remaining Schedule: vs. Columbus (10/20), at Chicago (10/27)
The Rundown: D.C. has the most difficult remaining schedule of the group but with them hosting sixth-place Columbus Saturday, can step into the playoffs with just a draw Saturday against the Crew. With United facing the Fire on the final day of the season, D.C. has plenty of incentive to go for wins in both games in order to possibly finish with home field advantage in the first round. Should the Fire and Sporting KC completely collapse the Capital City club even has an outside shot at first in the East.
4) New York Red Bulls
Current Points: 53
Games Remaining: 2 (1 home, 1 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 59
Average Opponents Points: 47.5
Magic Number (to qualify): 3
Remaining Schedule: vs. Sporting KC (10/20), at Philadelphia (10/27)
The Rundown: New York’s form the last four games combined with front office shake ups and chatter about head coach Hans Backe’s status for next year can’t fill a Red Bull fan full of confidence. Still, they control their own playoff destiny and can qualify as well as play spoiler this weekend with a win at home vs. Sporting KC.
With the Red Bulls going 10-0-3 through their first 13 matches this season at Red Bull Arena, both Sporting and the Fire found the chink in the armor there in recent weeks. Even still, New York remains 11-2-3 at home this year and shouldn’t be underestimated with their backs a bit against the wall on Saturday.
5) Houston Dynamo
Current Points: 50
Games Remaining: 2 (1 home, 1 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 56
Average Opponents Points: 33.5
Magic Number: 6
Remaining Schedule: vs. Philadelphia (10/20), at Colorado (10/27)
The Rundown: Despite having a reasonably easy schedule to close the 2012 campaign, Houston has made things sort of difficult on themselves down the stretch, going 1-1-1 in their last three matches all against sides outside of the playoff picture. Luckily, they still have the easiest schedule of all remaining playoff teams, hosting Philadelphia this weekend before visiting Colorado on the 27th.
With that high-altitude trip looming on the final day, the Dynamo would do well to take care of business Saturday against the Union where a win would necessitate just a draw on at the Rapids. A win Saturday combined with a Crew loss at DC would push Houston back into the playoffs for the second straight season.
6) Columbus Crew
Current Points: 49
Games Remaining: 2 (1 home, 1 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 55
Average Opponents Points: 38
Magic Number: 8
Remaining Schedule: at D.C. United (10/20), vs. Toronto FC (10/28)
The Rundown: Another late goal last Sunday at home vs. Sporting KC likely salvaged the Crew’s season, keeping the team within one point of fifth place Houston heading into a harrowing six-pointer Saturday at DC.
A victory keeps the team in the playoff hunt heading into the last match of the season, a very winnable home game vs. Toronto. A win plus a Houston draw or loss puts the Crew in the driver’s seat. They’ve played with nothing to lose since August, no reason they should stop now.
From a traveling fan perspective, all of Fire nation should want the Crew to sneak into the playoffs and the Fire to have a chance at them in the first round.
This Week's Predictions:
New York Red Bulls 2, Sporting KC 1
Chicago Fire 2, New England Revolution 0
D.C. United 1, Columbus Crew 1
Houston Dynamo 2, Philadelphia Union 1
If those hold true the standings coming out of the weekend would be...
1) x-Chicago - 59pts. (47 GF)
2) x-Sporting KC - 59pts. (41 GF)
3) x-New York - 56pts. (56 GF)
4) x-D.C. United - 55pts. (50 GF)
5) Houston - 53pts. (47 GF)
6) Columbus - 50pts. (41 GF)
Let's hope I'm right!
The Fire play the Supporters Shield leaders San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday night at Buck Shaw Stadium. Here are a few things to look out for from a tactical standpoint…
COACH'S TAKE: Matko on Quakes
With six more goals scored than any other team in the league this season and two in-form strikers, San Jose just can’t stop scoring. That being said, the team’s 44 goals eclipse the fact that they have given up 27. Of the teams currently in playoff positions, only New York and the Galaxy have given up more.
Last week’s loss to Vancouver exposed one of San Jose’s biggest weaknesses which also happens to be one of Fire’s greatest strengths: speed. Though Morrow had a good game on the attacking side, he was punished time after time by Dane Richards whose goal came directly from a Morrow error.
On the right hand side, San Jose will be without Beitashour for the first time all season which could pay dividends for the Men in Red. The pace of the Fire’s Ghanaian duo of Nyarko and Oduro could cause San Jose some major problems on the outside. Because the outside backs push up so much, there is plenty of room behind them for Oduro to run into. When he does go wide however, it requires the other attack-minded players Rolfe, Alex and Nyarko to get into the box in support.
Wondo and Gordon: Stay Tight
A major reason San Jose is sitting at the top of MLS this season are the goals from Wondolowski (17), Gordon (9) and Lenhart (6). The Quakes don’t set up their strikes the traditional way, with one on the shoulder off the last defender looking for flick-ons from the target man. Wondolowski and Gordon/Lenhart are constantly switching positions; dropping back into midfield and drifting wide. The interchanging of positions causes major problems for defenders and is one reason why you see Wondolowski score so many simple goals (think Fire vs. San Jose last season) - even though he is the obvious danger man, his movement makes him so difficult to pick up.
The other reason is that San Jose attack in such great numbers that it allows Wondo to go undetected. It sounds simple to say “stay with your man” or “keep your eye on the man and not the ball” but that’s exactly what the Fire need to do.
Using last week’s game as an example again, Jay DeMerit didn't let him out of his sight for almost the entire match to great effect. The Fire's defensive performances have been stellar this season we and should expect nothing less from Austin Berry and co on Saturday night.