San Jose, New York reunited Saturday
The New York Red Bulls finished atop the Eastern Conference in the 2010 regular season, earning a playoff matchup with a San Jose club that claimed the league's final wild-card berth.
The Earthquakes hardly wound up being pushovers.
San Jose delivered a stunning upset of a New York team now struggling to find its offensive touch, leaving plenty to prove for coach Hans Backe's club Saturday night at Red Bull Arena.
The Red Bulls (1-1-2) figured to have an edge heading into their two-leg conference semifinal against the Earthquakes last fall, and a 1-0 road win in the opener gave little reason for doubt heading into the return match in Harrison, N.J.
But New York's first home playoff game in its new venue was a massive disappointment. Bobby Convey scored twice in San Jose's 3-1 win, ousting Thierry Henry and the Red Bulls from the postseason 3-2 on aggregate.
Juan Pablo Angel didn't return this season, but New York figured to be one of the league's top offensive clubs with Henry and Juan Agudelo up front. That level of expectation only increased with the stunning April 1 trade for two-time MLS Cup MVP Dwayne De Rosario.
Thus far, there's little to indicate the Red Bulls are on the verge of becoming dominant. Henry has been slowed by an Achilles' injury, and Backe's possession-control style has led to a lot of ball control but only two goals.
De Rosario made his first start Saturday at Philadelphia, but New York lost 1-0.
"It doesn't matter how much you dominate or have the ball if you're not turning it into goal," midfielder Teemu Tainio told the team's official website.
Henry's injury hasn't helped, and he sat out training Monday and Tuesday after a less-than-impactful performance against the Union. However, he should be good to go against the Earthquakes (1-1-2) after returning to practice Thursday.
He assisted on Luke Rodgers' goal in an 11-on-11 session that day, and Backe seemed interested in potentially starting Rodgers up top with Henry even though that would send the speedy Agudelo to the bench.
"It's very even between the guys," Backe said.
San Jose has been more successful offensively but has made a habit of falling behind early. The Earthquakes conceded the game's first goal for the third time in four matches Saturday against Toronto, but Simon Dawkins' 38th-minute strike helped secure a 1-1 draw.
"Stat-wise, in this league, if you go a goal down, you don't win many games," coach Frank Yallop told the team's official website. "We've come back twice to tie, and we should have tied Salt Lake (in the season opener), to be honest. So that's a good trait. But we've got to score first."
Dawkins has scored in San Jose's past two games, giving reigning Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski some offensive support. Wondolowski, who scored twice in the Earthquakes' lone win, had 19 goals last season and no one else had more than three.
Yallop seems confident his team is on the verge of delivering a complete effort.
"I think we're doing fine," Yallop said. "I think the four games we've had is the best football we've played since I've been here. ... But it's about winning, obviously."