The images from the moments following San Jose’s stunning 3-1 win and Eastern Conference semifinal series triumph over New York were as jarring for the general viewing public as they were indelible for fans of the Earthquakes.
Here was Quakes midfielder Bobby Convey, being fitted with headphones for his ESPN postgame interview while New York Designated Player Thierry Henry exited the Red Bull Arena pitch.
READ: CONVEY DOMINATES NYRB
There was injured San Jose captain Ramiro Corrales, crutches in one hand, offering congratulations to everybody within reach with the other.
And over in the far corner of the field, shirtless, despite the 48-degree cold and thumping his chest in appreciation of 50-plus hardcore traveling fans, was Jason Hernandez. As the final strains of Green Day’s elegiac Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life) faded from the PA system, the New Jersey-born former MetroStar celebrated his triumph in front of friends and family.
[inline_node:322611]“Best feeling in the world,” Hernandez whooped to MLSsoccer.com. “Best feeling in the world!”
Things may only get better for the Quakes, who triumphed 3-2 on aggregate behind a pair of Bobby Convey scores and a 10th game-winning goal this year for Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski.
After getting into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed, in their third season since being reborn as an expansion team, San Jose are one win away from the MLS Cup final, and a chance of adding a third star to go along with titles from 2001 and ’03.
“I’m not saying it [will definitely happen], but we can go all the way, sure,” said Quakes coach Frank Yallop, who guided the first San Jose MLS franchise – now known as the Houston Dynamo – to those earlier championships. “Why not? To come here and score three goals against a very good team, that’s pretty good.”
It was better than “pretty good.” Against a Red Bulls defense that had allowed only nine goals all season in their new home, the Quakes scored early – a seventh-minute shocker from Convey to tie the aggregate score – and often, taking advantage of one bad mistake by rookie stalwart Tim Ream and consistently making Designated Player Rafa Márquez look nothing like a World Cup-caliber international.
“They way we played today, the way we came out, our attitude from everyone – you couldn’t ask for more,” Corrales told MLSsoccer.com. “We’re not [shocked], because we believe in each other. The way we came out today, if we play that way in our next game, I think we’ll have a good chance of playing in the final.”
That hardly seemed likely during the final two weeks of the season, when a full-strength Quakes side was beaten 1-0 at home by Houston, then demolished 4-1 in the regular-season finale at Kansas City.
But maybe, in retrospect, it gave the Quakes the perfect camouflage to use in the postseason.
“We’ve been under the radar,” Convey said. “It was kind of, ‘San Jose was lucky to get in the playoffs, and New York will just beat them easily.’ It’s an unbelievable feeling, obviously, to be the underdog, come in and do well, and beat the league’s team.”
You could even say it was the best feeling in the world.
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @sjquakes
Ready to launch: MLS Matchday 2010, The new official MLS iPhone app. It's FREE! Download it here!