By ADAM SERRANO
A one-goal deficit may not seem like much, but at Red Bull Arena, the San Jose Earthquakes have a mountain to climb.
After falling at home to the New York Red Bulls, 1-0 on a Joel Lindpere goal, the Earthquakes need a two-goal victory if they are to advance to the Conference Final. But scoring does not come easy for the opposition at Red Bull Arena as the Red Bulls have conceded only nine goals at home.
The Red Bulls have not conceded multiple goals at home in MLS competition since May 20 in a 3-1 loss to the Columbus Crew. However, with MLS Golden Boot Winner Chris Wondolowski and MLS' second best road record at 6-5-4, the Earthquakes expect to come out attacking.
Down a goal after falling at home, the Earthquakes have no choice but to attack early and attempt to level the aggregate early. Throughout the first leg, San Jose struggled to link up with Wondolowski and his strike partner Ryan Johnson, but the wider field at Red Bull Arena may provide the Earthquakes the space in which to stretch the field.
Frank Yallop's men will need their midfield to use their speed to outwork a physical Red Bulls midfield, which overpowered them in the first leg. Led by Geovanni and Scott Sealy, the San Jose midfielders must be active in stretching the Red Bulls wide and sending in crosses to Johnson and Wondolowski. The Red Bulls struggled in the first leg to make clearances from the box, which may open up space for the Quakes offense. Wondolowski remains confident that his midfield can step up in the second leg.
“We just need to keep our game plan,” said Wondolowski. “I feel that if we keep getting crosses in, more than likely we’re going to find the back of the net on one of them. We’ll tie up the series and go from there.”
The story for the Red Bulls will revolve around the return of star striker Thierry Henry. After a three-game absence with a knee injury, the inclusion of the Red Bulls' Designated Player will add another wrinkle in an offense that put consistent pressure on a leaky Earthquakes defense.
With Henry (and Tony Tchani and Salou Ibrahim) returning from injury, Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe must decide how much he will tinker with the line up that dominated the Earthquakes last weekend.
The key to victory for the Red Bulls will be sustaining pressure on the Earthquakes midfield and preventing Sealy and Geovanni from delivering the final passes to the San Jose forwards. Rafa Marquez will be expected to, once again, break up Earthquakes attacks in midfield with his physical play. Although his club's defense is vital to victory, Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe has no plans to sit back at home.
"We have to win and I've had some nightmare games in Europe where we sat back," Backe said. "We're at home and we have to go for a win, don't even think about sitting back and looking for breaks because we're smart enough to have to play for the win."
Backe's plan is to continue to attack despite having the lead, and with the inclusion of Henry, the Red Bulls look set to provide additional pressure on the Earthquakes defense. The Red Bulls must absorb the early pressure that the Earthquakes will provide as they search for the early goal. With Henry in the lineup and the Earthquakes pressing for the goal, Backe's men will find space against an over-stretched San Jose defense.
For San Jose, the game plan is to pile on pressure early in search of the equalizer. For the Earthquakes to upset the Red Bulls at home, the Quakes will need options other than Wondolowski to step up. Wondolowski has scored more than half of San Jose's goals this season, but the Earthquakes need their other offense weapons like Geovanni and Bobby Convey to succeed if they are to reach the Conference final.
Do you think the Earthquakes can come back from their deficit? Do you think the Red Bulls will hold on and advance to the Conference Finals?
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