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San Jose coach shrugs off RSL comparison

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In 2009, Real Salt Lake stunned the North American soccer scene when it rose from the No. 8 seed and went on an inspiring playoff run that culminated in an MLS Cup triumph.

This year, the San Jose Earthquakes finished as the No. 8 seed. Like Real Salt Lake in ’09, the Quakes crossed over to the Eastern Conference for the playoffs. Like RSL, the Quakes upset the No. 1 seed in the first round. Thanks to a heroic performance from winger Bobby Convey, who scored twice in Red Bull Arena, the Quakes took out the DP-laden Red Bulls 3-1 in Game Two of their series, and 3-2 on aggregate.

Convey, whose chance at a long career in England with Reading was sabotaged by a series of knee surgeries, is the leading candidate to be named MLS Comeback Player of the Year on Wednesday.

But, is San Jose, heading into the Eastern Conference Final this weekend in the Denver suburbs, drawing inspiration from RSL of 2009?

No.

They are like apples and oranges, according to Quakes’ coach Frank Yallop.

Frank Yallop

“We are looking at what we have to do this year,” said Yallop.

As Yallop pointed out during a conference call Tuesday, Real Salt Lake came through in a season that was the league’s high point for parity. RSL’s 40 points left it tied with Colorado and D.C. United, who both missed the playoffs. This season, there was a massive separation between the top eight in the league and the non-playoff teams. Unlike RSL in ’09, San Jose qualified for the playoffs well before the final weekend. The Quakes finished seven points ahead of ninth-place Kansas City.

But this weekend’s game in Colorado could be an even tougher ask for the Quakes than the win in Jersey. The Rapids lost just twice at home this season in the rarified air of Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. With the thunder-and-lightning pair of Conor Casey (13 goals from the centre-forward channel) and Omar Cummings (14 goals from the speedy Jamaican), the Rapids know that they have plenty of offence to offset MLS scoring leader Chris Wondolowski. And, if San Jose comes out with an all-out attack like it did against New York, Cummings could lead some deadly counters.

“San Jose will come to us with a clean slate,” said Colorado coach Gary Smith. “If they have too many forwards on the pitch and they don’t get it quite right, they’ll be vulnerable to a team that’s almost dominated at home all season.”

And Smith had plenty of things to say about Cummings — a player that this website voted as the second choice for MVP behind FC Dallas’ David Ferreira in North American Soccer polling.

“The player has learned a lot about himself in the past two seasons,” said Smith.

“More and more, we are discovering something really exciting, something at the end of the play, rather than something out of pure fortune.”

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