On the same night, the MLS conference leaders showed precisely why they are on top.
Kansas City went into Red Bull Arena, where the home team hadn't lost all season, and thumped the Red Bulls, 2-0, which could have taken over first place in the Eastern Conference with a victory and instead fell five points behind.
After conceding two early goals, New York mustered a few moderate flurries without ever gaining control of the game. The crowd, at 10,286 well below capacity, tried to rouse its team but few players responded with anything exceptional. SKC deserves a lot of credit for that, and bumped up its league-best road mark to 8-4-2 while clearly outclassing an opponent boasting Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill, and a very poor Rafael Marquez.
SKC had arrived in New Jersey in the early morning hours of game day, their scheduled flight on Tuesday delayed for seven hours by bad weather. Yet its players started a lot more alertly than the Red Bulls, who were pushed back from the opening kickoff and conceded goals nine minutes apart by C.J. Sapong and Kei Kamara.
A few hours later, the Earthquakes fell two goals behind the Timbers at home, and unlike the rather tepid response from the Red Bulls, stormed back with a pair of goals by Chris Wondolowski -- his first goals from the run of play in more than two months -- to earn a 2-2 tie. The 9,877 fans in attendance didn't quite fill cozy Buck Shaw Stadium (capacity about 10,500) but they made a lot of noise and at the final whistle had much to celebrate.
That point gave San Jose 57 on the season and preserved a three-point lead over SKC in the race for the Supporters' Shield and, more importantly, the right to host MLS Cup if it should survive the playoffs. The rally also confirmed San Jose's incredible comeback spirit and stamina -- this season it has scored eight goals in second-half stoppage time, well beyond the previous league record of four.
The Red Bulls lacked anyone with the conviction of Wondo, who didn't start the match and arrived onto the field in the 59th minute enraged by a two-goal deficit imposed by Danny Mwanga to lead a typically inspired comeback. Playing up top with twin towers Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon, who also energized the Quakes as a second-half sub, Wondo took four shots, put all of them on frame, and got two of them home. He has 20 this season, and leads the Golden Boot race by six goals over his nearest pursuers, one of whom plays for New York.
Henry tried to infuse some emotion into the Red Bulls by gestures and barked instructions, but his play didn't exceed that of his teammates, most of whom looked shocked when they fell behind and never really woke up. Subs Kenny Cooper (second on the league ladder with 14 goals) and Sebastien Le Toux did little to liven the attack.
There's plenty more to do for both conference leaders Saturday. The Quakes head north to play Western runner-up Seattle, which on Wednesday carved out a 3-2 defeat of Honduran club Marathon to clinch a spot in the Concacaf Champions' League knockout phase. SKC goes north of the border to play Montreal, which desperately needs a victory to keep its faint playoff hopes from fizzling out completely.
There's still more than a month of season to play and the Sounders and Fire and maybe the Red Bulls and the Galaxy can still have a say in who finishes atop the conferences. Yet in midweek games played a continent apart, the two top dogs answered stiff challenges.
Listless effort by NYRB.no motivation, no execution, nada.