The atmosphere was great with a sizable, pumped up crowd, but it was not meant to be. The Earthquakes were starting behind the eightball with a two-goal deficit from the first leg in L.A. The team worked hard, but L.A. already had a lead and just needed to defend. Without needing to attack, they could keep eight or nine players on their half of the field and it was tough to get through. I thought San Jose would use the high-pressure techniques they’ve done in the past, but they were a little flat and trying too hard to keep their no-doubt wild emotions under control. The result was an addreneline rush that meant many passes and crosses were overhit, and too calm play when attempting to dribble through the Galaxy defense. The first half was uneasy, but the Quakes calmed when they scored on an L.A. mistake. Galaxy keeper Kevin Hartman cleared the ball right to Quake Brian Mullan, who accepted the gift by crossing to teammate Brian Ching who headed the ball into the far corner. Great goal. Unfortunately, it was in the 42 minute, late in the first half. We were now only one goal down, but I figured the Galaxy would score — they have the talent to do so. The Quakes played with more passion in the second half, looking for that tying goal, but mid-way through their offensive drive caught them out and a great through-ball from Donovan led Ned Grabavoy and he carefully touched it around Quakes’ keeper Pat Onstad to tie the game 1-1 and restore the Galaxy’s two-goal lead. After that, the Galaxy simply wasted time. They did little ticky-tack fouls and took their time on restarts (Hartman even put on his groundskeeper hat at one point and tried to clear the field of paper streamers that had fallen from the stands). Unfortunately, the lame referee did nothing to prevent this, and in the last twenty minutes, when the Quakes needed two goals to advance, they struggled to find a rythmn and break down the Galaxy defense. They almost succeeded on a couple occasions, but bad luck or a good save from Hartman prevented a goal. If the Quakes had scored, I think that would have driven them all out for that tying goal, but they couldn’t get that one and as the clock ticked on, the knowlege that they needed two goals to tie loomed heavier and heavier. The fans fell quiet and with the refs’ final whistle, the best season ever for the Earthquakes (second best all-time in MLS), ended with a whimper. The final 1-1 score meant that LA advance and the Quakes’ season is over. It was a disappointing end to a glorious season. I’m not sure what happened, exactly; we certainly lost it early in the first leg and couldn’t regain it. To their credit the Galaxy played very well, far better than at any time during the regular season. They concentrated for 90 minutes in both games and worked hard for the result. It’s tough to come back against a determined team like that, especially one that continues to counter with offense instead of collapsing into a shell (like the Galaxy team of 2003 infamously did in the Earthquakes’ amazing five-goal comeback). After the game I was bummed, and I wished the game could have been a little more even and competitive. I also felt some bitterness about the MLS playoff format that essentially negates the whole regular season. All the Quakes got out of beating LA by a whopping 19 points in the regular season was home field advantage in the second leg of the playoffs. The playoffs are basically a whole new season and positioning doesn’t matter at all. In fact, I think the format helped LA: by playing first at home they had confidence to go away and get a result, and being the underdog they were prepared to work harder than the Quakes to get the goals they knew they needed (they knew they needed a large lead going into tonight’s game). The Quakes, on the other hand, seemed overconfident about their ability to score on their home field. They really needed four goals tonight, and even for the Quakes, that was a tall order. Goals are rare in soccer and it’s one thing to score them one-by-one as you need them, but scoring a set number is very tough. Still, the Quakes had a fabulous season, and I can’t complain too much. They won the respect of a lot of teams around the league and even the Galaxy admits the Quakes are a better team.