By Ridge Mahoney, Senior Editor
Soccer America Magazine
SKY IS FALLING.It's appropriate that an advertising blitz for the feature film ''Chicken Little'' is underway as postseason doomsayers descend on higher-seeded teams that lost their first game. No. 1 seeds New England (0-1) and San Jose (1-3) are in arrears, goes the reasoning, and thus, all but kaput.
Yet every top-seeded team, save one, that failed to win the first game rallied to win the series under the current playoff format.
The 2003 Quakes lost the first game in Los Angeles, 2-0, and fell behind in the second game by the same score before storming back to win 5-4 on aggregate; the 2004 Quakes won the first conference semifinal leg last season as the lower-seeded team, 2-0, thus consigning Kansas City -- in the eyes of many observers -- to the dead and buried.
Kansas City won the second game, 3-0. Do the math. Only the Crew, which lost the first leg to New England in last year's first round, 1-0, couldn't turn it around at home (1-1) and only attained that feat by failing to convert two penalties.
QUAKES CONCERN.More worrying Quakes coach Dominic Kinnear than a two-goal deficit are the defensive errors that plagued his team last week. Although many of the Quakes have playoff experience, only Pat Onstad and Dwayne DeRosario and Brian Mullan went through the last two seasons together.
Kelly Gray hadn't played with Danny Califf in the playoffs, and Califf hadn't played with Eddie Robinson, who hadn't played with Ricardo Clark and Mark Chung, etc. With those baptisms done, the Quakes can turn their attention to routing their fiercest rival in the second game at Spartan Stadium.
''I don't know what it is, the tight space, the crowd right on top of you, or what,'' says Kinnear, ''but games here are always fast-paced with a lot of energy.''
Of his 12 postseason goals, Landon Donovan has scored five of them at Spartan Stadium as a member of the Quakes. He knows how to work those tight spaces and scored a spectacular goal at Spartan in a 2-1 Quakes win Aug. 27.
METRO EDGE.The Metros took a 1-0 lead over the Revs on Amado Guevara's goal and with Youri Djorkaeff working his magic and Eddie Gaven back on his game, they'll have the offensive punch to keep New England somewhat honest at Gillette Stadium. That, and Tony Meola's track record of big saves, will be enough to scrape past the No. 1 seed.
That's the theory anyway.
''With the amount of players they put in the midfield they rely on those three backs and [Matt] Reis to get them out of a lot of situations,'' says Metros defender Jeff Agoos. ''That does create opportunities at the other end.''
EVEN-STEVEN.The other two series are tied 0-0, and the homefield advantage enjoyed by FC Dallas (against Colorado) and D.C. United (vs. the Fire) might be mitigated by the away teams exploiting the space left by those home teams pushing into attack.
Colorado outshot Dallas, 14-6, and several potent efforts were turned away by Scott Garlick. Rapids coach Fernando Clavijo has yet to unleash Diego Serna in the playoffs. The key attackers, though, might be Colorado's Dedi Ben-Dayan, who scored four goals in just eight regular season games, and Dallas' Carlos Ruiz, who was kept on the bench until the second half of the first leg but is out of the doghouse and will start. There will be goals this time around.
''I think we have the players to score on anybody,'' says Clavijo. ''We have made a lot of changes during the season with the playoffs in mind.''
Both coaches turned to little-used defensive veterans in the first game. Leo Cullen started and played 70 minutes for the Rapids, Steve Jolley went the full 90 for Dallas. Nat Borchers will return for Colorado, which might push Pablo Mastroeni into midfield and trigger further moves.
D.C. DANCE.In the first game, both teams were incensed at referee Brian Hall, who didn't give a penalty kick when Jaime Moreno was tripped in the penalty area by Jim Curtin and disallowed a stoppage-time header by Chad Barrett on a mysterious pushing foul. OK, all square.
Blanking Moreno and Christian Gomez at RFK is probably beyond the capabilities of the Fire, yet D.C.'s back line is still incorporating Argentine defender Facundo Erpen and couldn't subdue Chris Rolfe. It will welcome back the covering and tackling offered by midfielder Ben Olsen, assuming he recovers from the calf strain that kept him out of game one. And for a late spark, if needed, there's always Freddy.
''We're confident we can get the job done with the weapons that we have going forward,'' says United's Santino Quaranta. ''We need to get Christian Gomez more involved Sunday, because he's a huge part of the team. We'll be fine.''