The long slog of the regular season is finally over and San Jose finds themselves in the playoffs for the first time since being reborn as an expansion team in 2008. They will open at home as the fourth seed in the Eastern bracket against the star-studded New York Red Bulls in the first leg of a home and away battle.
The major headline going into tonight's game is Thierry Henry's absence due to an ongoing knee problem, but he won't be the only Red Bull out of the lineup. New York will also be missing the services of midfielder Tony Tchani and forward Salou Ibrahim, which means that depth may be limited. It will be up to Frank Yallop and the Earthquakes to take advantage. With the first leg of the aggregate contest at Buck Shaw Stadium they will undoubtedly feel pressure to come away with some kind of victory however they can earn it.
Leading that charge will be dark-horse MVP candidate Chris Wondolowski, the hottest goal scorer in MLS. Wondo surged to the top of the leaderboards to earn the golden boot in the last few games of the year, and San Jose's offense will likely rely on his habit of being in the right place at the right time. Meanwhile, it remains to be seen who will be starting around him. Frank Yallop faced a number of difficult selection decisions, particularly at forward, where he will have to choose from Ryan Johnson, Geovanni, Cornell Glen, Eduardo and Wondolowski. Geovanni and Wondolowsi will be on the pitch, but their exact positions within Yallop's 4-4-2 is always up in the air.
As it often is for San Jose, the key will be their ability to control the midfield. New York has an excellent set of midfielders including Rafa Marquez and Joel Lindpere, and if they are allowed to control the ball they will undoubtedly find ways to get the ball to Juan Pablo Angel in dangerous positions. San Jose just needs to disrupt them as much as possible and move the ball upfield and let the opportunistic Wondolowski do what he does best - pull goals from nowhere.