Photo by ISIPhotos.com
BY KAYLA KNAPP
No team who has faced the San Jose Earthquakes at Buck Shaw Stadium this season has come away with a win. Let that sink in for a minute. The Earthquakes have made the small venue – with a capacity just over 10,000 – a fortress during the 2012 MLS season.
On Wednesday night, the Los Angeles Galaxy must do what hasn’t been done yet at Buck Shaw this season: win.
Not only do the reigning MLS Cup champions need to win in order to continue their title defense, they must do it by a margin of two goals or more – a rarity at the stadium this season. San Jose has given up just 18 goals at home this year, and in only four games did they concede two or more goals.
After the Earthquakes stunned the Galaxy at the Home Depot Center 1-0 on Sunday night, thanks to a late free kick goal from top-notch defender Victor Bernardez, one thing was clear: Los Angeles would have a very steep mountain to climb in the second leg of the Western Conference semifinal if they are to move on to the next round of playoffs.
It’s not an impossible task. The Galaxy scored 59 goals in the regular season, two of them at Buck Shaw on Oct. 21, with an explosive offensive line that boasts Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan and Juninho. Add in the now healthy Edson Buddle, and set piece expert David Beckham, and the Los Angeles attack is a daunting opponent.
However, Bernardez and his backline held the Galaxy scoreless at home just three days ago. In theory, this should be easier at home, surrounded by a raucous crowd in an intimate venue. But this is MLS, and these are the playoffs – past successes and failures go out the door when the whistle blows.
But don’t forget San Jose’s lethal front line of Chris Wondolowski, Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon. The Earthquakes have scored an impressive 72 goals this season, and the Galaxy must keep them off the scoreboard if they have any hope of advancing. With a backline that has struggled many times this year, this could prove difficult.
It’s do-or-die for the Galaxy on Wednesday night at Buck Shaw Stadium, and the Supporters’ Shield winning Earthquakes would be more than happy to finish them off. It will be a battle, and it will be one you don’t want to miss.
Here is a breakdown of tonight’s decisive second leg:
SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES vs. LOS ANGELES GALAXY
WHEN: at Buck Shaw Stadium, 11 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
FIRST LEG: Victor Bernardez scored a late goal to give San Jose a 1-0 win
SEASON SERIES: San Jose won the first two matches against the Galaxy, and in their last meeting, the two sides drew 2-2 at Buck Shaw.
KEY PLAYERS – EARTHQUAKES: D Victor Bernardez, F Chris Wondolowski, F Steven Lenhart, F Alan Gordon, GK Jon Busch GALAXY: F Robbie Keane, F Landon Donovan, M Juninho, M, David Beckham, GK Josh Saunders
WHAT WE LEARNED IN THE FIRST LEG: San Jose defense figured out how to weather the storm when the Galaxy attack put the pressure on. LA Galaxy players need to communicate when setting up a wall on free kicks — even if they are 30 yards from goal. Victor Bernardez is dominant in the air, so the Galaxy need to keep the ball on the ground and look to take their defenders on. Robbie Keane was active in the first leg, but needs to test San Jose goalkeeper Jon Busch every chance he ges.
MATCH-UP TO WATCH: Jason Hernandez vs. Robbie Keane. Whether it is Keane, or Donovan, the Galaxy will look to go at Hernandez as the weaker of San Jose’s centerbacks. Hernandez isn’t a bad defender, but when Bernardez is the other alternative, an attack is going to have to get the better of him to really have success.
OUTLOOK: The chances will be created by both teams, so finishing will once again be the key to this match-up. The Galaxy defense did a good job of dealing with San Jose’s attack in the first leg, but the Earthquakes will look to attack more at home. The smaller field will make it tougher for Landon Donovan, Mike Magee and Sean Franklin to find space to operate, while also putting the onus on the Galaxy defense to deal with San Jose’s service from the flanks.
PREDICTION: History tends to be a good predictor of the present (even in a league with playoffs as unpredictable as this). This is the end of the road for the defending champions. San Jose Earthquakes 3, Los Angeles Galaxy 2.