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SBI MLS Playoff Preview: New York Red Bulls vs. San Jose Earthquakes

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One is a club built on star power and the other is led by an unlikely success story. Despite the differences, both the New York Red Bulls and the San Jose Earthquakes are expecting to make a run deep into the MLS playoffs. 

The Earthquakes are led by the MLS Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski, whose unlikely run to the boot catapulted the Quakes into the playoffs for the first time since the franchise's re-inception into MLS. The New York Red Bulls are led by the Designated Players: Rafa Marquez, Thierry Henry and Juan Pablo Angel, but it will be the play of players like Joel Lindpere and Bouna Coundoul that will decide the series. 

Despite earning their first playoff berth since 2008, the buzz in the Red Bulls camp this week surrounds the injury bug that has currently ruled out Thierry Henry, Tony Tchani and Salou Ibrahim from the first leg at Buck Shaw Stadium. Without Henry, the Red Bulls original DP, Angel, will be instrumental in beating an Earthquakes defense that has shown signs of wear in recent weeks.   

Led by Wondolowski and the timely goalkeeping of Jon Busch, the Earthquakes believe that they could be the latest 8-seed to advance to the MLS Cup final. Stopping Wondolowski will be the most important issue for Hans Backe's men, but the forward states that keying in on him too much is something that the Red Bulls should do at their own peril. 

"If they want to key in on me, then I'm just fine with that, because I feel that will open up the space for our other weapons," Wondolowski said. "At home though, we can't start on our back foot, and we'll need to really go after them and make the Red Bulls defend from the get go."

Here is a closer look at the series: 



Teams split season series (May 8: Earthquakes 4, Red Bulls 0; Aug. 28: Red Bulls 2, Earthquakes 0)


First Leg – Sat., 10 p.m., Telefutura

Second Leg – Thurs., Nov. 4, 8 p.m., ESPN2


Chris Wondolowski vs. Tim Ream: Wondolowski is the hottest player in MLS, scoring every goal for the Earthquakes to solidify their playoff position down the stretch. Wondolowski has made a living with his ability to be at the right place at the right time, but will face a challenge while going up against the Red Bulls rookie central defender. Ream had success against Wondolowski in their last matchup, and Wondolowski admitted that the physicality of the rookie will provide the Golden Boot winner with his biggest test.

Juan Pablo Angel vs. Jason Hernandez: Juan Pablo Angel may be on the way out, but without Henry, the Colombian holds the key to the Red Bull offense and will be expected to provide the spear in Hans Backe's 4-5-1 formation. Hernandez has flown under the radar this season, making an impressive return from injury, but he will need to put a poor performance in the Quakes finale behind him. 

Geovanni vs. Rafa Marquez: While the match up between Wondolowski and Ream will get the headlines, the outcome of the series will depend on these two DPs. Geovanni's inclusion at midseason helped the Earthquakes focus on holding possession, but against the strong midfield of the Red Bulls, Geovanni will be called upon to use his pinpoint passing to lead the Quakes' speedy counter. For the Red Bulls, Marquez is a focal point on both side of the ball. Breaking up an attack as the first line of defense for the Red Bulls is his main duty, but Marquez is also responsible for leading the counter by starting attacks for the Red Bulls.  


For New York, Dane Richards has enjoyed a renaissance this year, and he was the difference maker in the last match between the two clubs in August, scoring a goal and an assist while routinely darting behind the Quakes defense. Expect Richards to line up against Tim Ward and Ramiro Corrales, who have struggled to handle speedy wingers in the past. 

Richards foil on the Earthquakes, Bobby Convey, unhinges rival defenses by sending in passes through midfield and whipping in passes to the penalty box for Wondolowski and fellow striker Ryan Johnson. A finalist for Comeback Player of the Year, Convey has rebounded by displaying the tenacity on offense and defense that made him a fixture on the national team years ago.


Without Henry, the onus will be on the Earthquakes have a big result at home on Saturday. A win in the opening match at Buck Shaw Stadium would put immense pressure on the favored Red Bulls for the return leg. Expect Frank Yallop's men to look to use their speedy counterattack to attempt to undercut the Red Bulls' possession-based game. Backe's Red Bulls will be reliant on Marquez, who looks to be focal point for the Red Bulls regardless of their injury woes. Marquez will be instrumental in breaking up attacks and preventing the Earthquakes from getting Wondolowski involved in the attack.

Who do you think will advance from this series? Cast your vote here:

How did you vote? Do you think New York can overcome its injury woes? Can you see Wondolowski continuing his hot streak and igniting an uspet?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. Adam, is it really fair to say that one club is built on star power and the other on an unlikely success story? RB New York has three players who are excluded from the cap, one who’s injured, and another who’s on his last legs. San Jose has one DP. The rest of both teams is all under the cap. There’s a obviously a difference in each team’s offseason, but it’s not a monumental gap. You need at least 15 or so solid players to make a team and a difference of 2 isn’t incredible.

  2. Does anybody know what channel — if any — is MSG2 on Time Warner cable in NYC? I don’t see it on any of the channels…which really could suck.

  3. I agree. Marquez has to set the terms of the series early on. He’s got lots of responsibility resting on his shoulders. Here, hoping that he scores tomorrow.


  4. In my mind, from a NY supporter’s view, if I’m going to single out three players whose performances will dictate how the series goes: Marquez and if he has a good game dictating the play, Henry if he can play in the second leg and draw attention away from other players like Dane Richards, and Bouna having two on games. Ballouchy’s impact depends on Backe’s formation. Agudelo is an x-factor. That’s not taking anything away from players like Lindpere, Ream, Mendes, or Albright; at this point, I just expect them to have solid games.

  5. 57′ Convey sees Bob Bradley in the stands. Taunted by his indomitable stare, Convey is unable to contain his rage, built up by perceived slights, and charges into the stands; as he nears Bradley, Convey leaps and kicks while screaming “Ignore this!,” but OUT OF NOWHERE, Michael Bradley arrives and makes a timely interception of Convey, once again saving his father. Bradley, invisible for the entire game, possibly due to his presence in Germany, has left Convey piled in a heap crying “so, close, so close!” And a riot has erupted!

  6. Advantage to NY

    The Quakes could win either game, but they stand to lose out on aggregate goals unless…

    — Wondolowski is off the hook both games (very possible)
    — The other Quakes attackers finally put some goals in the back of the net (they are well overdue)

    NY is good and the Quakes will go hard. Should be a good tie

  7. “If they want to key in on me, then I’m just fine with that, because I feel that will open up the space for our other weapons”

    Other weapons? Hahahahahaha

  8. Is Ream having the best rookie season ever? One never knows how careers will pan out, but when more US centerbacks start playing with his ball skill and composure on the ball, I will be a very happy fan.

  9. Paul-

    RBNY are being a bit shifty here yes, they were also “shifty” when it came to Brian Nielsen as well. Thats just the Red Bull way.

  10. Hey Ives (or Adam, or whoever reads this) — what’s the real story on Henry’s injuries? He’s been getting “strains” and “knocks” and various species of “discomfort” since he got off the plane. Will he ever play again this year? Is RBNY being a bit shifty here?

  11. I dont think that New York will have an excellent game but can pull a tie today. on the 2nd leg though, new york should own.It is too bad Opara is injured.

  12. I feel your pain !! I have tried very hard to get my friends interested in soccer. They finally tuned into see USA vs Columbia. That was a big mistake. I could barely watch that one. Now it’s back to “no thanks” when I invite someone to watch with me. There was also a time when I wasn’t much interested in MLS but I watched a few games while going through World Cup withdrawal and was pleasantly surprised. MLS has become much more competitive and intense. I am expecting some very exciting playoff games!

  13. I know how you feel man. For the first time ever I actually had a friend here last night to watch it with me who actually cared about the MLS playoffs. It was fun!

  14. Gotta say, pace the Eurosnobs, I am pumped about these MLS playoffs. Last night’s game wasn’t the most technical nor did it have the best atmosphere, but it was still pretty tense. And that’s a small potatoes game compared to LA-SFC, and other great match-ups.

    If only I had friends who cared about soccer to watch the games with……lame

  15. no henry, tchani, or ibrahim in the first leg? i think that gives the J midfield a little bit of an edge on the smaller buck shaw field, but will need a big game from Geovanni and Stephenson. Convey may be too wrapped up marking richards. Oh yeah, we’re better on the road this season anyway!


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