The Full 90

Sporting’s goal deficit is daunting, but not insurmountable

Sporting must overcome a 2-0 goal deficit, but there’s a history of teams doing it.

Updated: 2012-11-20T17:57:32Z

By TOD PALMER

The Kansas City Star

It can be done.

Known at the time as the Wizards, Sporting Kansas City got roasted Oct. 24, 2004, in the opening leg of the Western Conference finals against the San Jose Earthquakes 2-0 at Spartan Stadium.

It seemed that all hope for the regular-season conference champion Wizards was abandoned.

Sound familiar?

Of course, those who know their club history will remember that coach Bob Gansler’s team wound up in the MLS Cup championship game that season, so something had to give.

And it was San Jose’s defense.

Playing at Arrowhead Stadium six days later, seldom-used rookie Khari Stephenson — a Jamaican international who now plays for the Earthquakes — ignited a stunning rally with a goal in the 26th minute.

Brian Ching’s own goal three minutes into the second half leveled the series, setting up Jack Jewsbury to be the hero when his stoppage-time goal in the 92nd minute delivered an improbable 3-2 aggregate win.

Of course, Ching now plays for the Houston Dynamo, which holds a seemingly insurmountable 2-0 edge after Sunday’s first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals, which wrap up at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Livestrong Sporting Park.

Since the MLS adopted a two-game aggregate playoff format in 2003, there have only been two seasons — 2008 and 2011 — when at least one team didn’t overcome a first-leg deficit to march through to the next round.

In 2003, three teams dug 2-0 holes during the conference semifinal round, which proved too deep for D.C. United against the Chicago Fire and for the MetroStars against the New England Revolution.

Of course, in both cases that was a home team losing 2-0 and then hitting the road.

However, en route to the MLS Cup championship, the San Jose Earthquakes stormed back from its own two-goal hole with a 5-2 win at home against the LA Galaxy at Spartan Stadium to prevail 5-4 on aggregate.

A year later, the Wizards turned the tables on San Jose, while LA again fell behind in the opening leg, losing 1-0 against the Colorado Rapids in Invesco Field before rallying with a 2-0 win for an aggregate victory eight days later at the Home Depot Center.

During the 2005 playoffs, the regular-season Eastern Conference champion New England Revolution spotted the MetroStars a 1-0 lead in the first leg then delivered a crushing 3-1 beating back home at Gillette Stadium on the way to the MLS Cup final.

The Revolution, Rapids and Dynamo all trailed by a goal after the first leg in the 2006 conference semifinals round but all rallied to advance to the next round.

On the way to winning the MLS Cup a year later, Houston again overcame a first-leg deficit in the conference semifinals by beating FC Dallas 4-1 in the return leg.

During the 2009 MLS playoffs, the Chicago Fire fell behind 2-1 versus New England in the first round, but rallied to reach the Eastern Conference final with a 2-0 victory.

Again in 2010, San Jose posted a 3-1 win in the second leg to rally past a one-goal deficit entering the game against the top-seeded New York Red Bulls.

In other words, there’s always hope — especially if Sporting KC can net a first-half goal and continue to press the game.

To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to tpalmer@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.

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