The San Jose Earthquakes haven’t advanced to the MLS Cup in
seven years. The Colorado Rapids have waited nearly twice as
In an odd matchup of the two lowest-seeded Western Conference
teams playing for the Eastern Conference title, the visiting
Earthquakes and Rapids will face each other in the postseason for
the first time Saturday night.
With all four of the wild-card teams coming from the loaded
West, No. 8 seed San Jose and seventh-seeded Colorado slid to the
East bracket for the semifinal round.
After falling 1-0 at home in the first leg of their
aggregate-goal series with the East’s top seed, New York, the
Earthquakes advanced with a 3-1 road victory Nov. 4.
Midfielder Bobby Convey, named the MLS comeback player of the
year Wednesday, scored twice in the deciding match – the only
multigoal effort in the opening round – and set up Golden Boot
winner Chris Wondolowski for the series winner as San Jose advanced
to the conference final for the first time since hoisting the MLS
Cup in 2003.
“Everyone wanted New York to win this,” said Convey, whose goal
in the sixth minute was the first by an Earthquake other than
Wondolowski since Sept. 5. “We came in under the radar. But we’re
hard to beat.”
Ninety minutes from their first MLS final since losing to D.C in
1997, the Rapids head into this matchup with the same level of
confidence after eliminating Columbus, the East’s second seed, on a
penalty kick shootout.
“Honestly, (San Jose) should be more worried about us,” coach
Gary Smith told MLS’ official website after his team advanced from
its first playoff series since 2006. “We have been dominant at
Including a 1-0 victory over the Crew in the first leg of the
semifinals, Colorado has outscored opponents 27-11 at Dick’s Park
this season while going 9-2-5. Both losses were by a 1-0
The Earthquakes, though, have thrived in hostile environments
lately. The league’s second-best road team in the regular season
with 22 points, San Jose is 4-1-1 away from Buck Shaw Stadium since
the beginning of September.
“We’re going to go in there and have a good game plan and
hopefully come out on top,” said coach Frank Yallop, who led the
club to the 2001 and ’03 MLS Cup championships.
Looking to extend its unbeaten streak in this matchup to 13, San
Jose fell 1-0 in its last match at Dick’s Park on Aug. 7.
San Jose goalkeeper Jon Busch, who makes his third straight
conference finals appearance after starting for Chicago in 2008 and
’09, will have to contend with Omar Cummings and Conor Casey.
Cummings had two assists in the semifinals and Casey, who scored
the series-tying goal in the second leg last Saturday, are the
highest-scoring duo in MLS with 14 goals apiece.
They could be an even bigger factor with Earthquakes captain
Ramiro Corrales likely out with a right hamstring strain and
central defender Jason Hernandez nursing a calf strain.
“Knowing that you’ve got (Cummings and Casey) ahead of you, you
can really take confidence in the way you play,” Rapids midfielder
Jamie Smith said.
Outside of Wondolowski, who scored 18 of the team’s 34
regular-season goals, the Earthquakes have far fewer offensive
threats to throw at Rapids goalkeeper Matt Pickens.
“(Wondolowski is) in confident form and looks in a confident
mood,” Gary Smith said. “However, he’s just one player, and I would
think if, as we have done, on a number of occasions on our home
field, we can force the issue and get on the front foot, then it
negates an awful lot of what any opposing team can do coming into
San Jose is looking for its first victory at Dick’s Park since
April 19, 2008.
The winner faces Los Angeles or FC Dallas in the MLS Cup in
Toronto on Nov. 21.