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Foot Culture: The best second legs

Coming back in the second leg of a two-legged series is never easy, especially if you take those away goals into consideration. Often, teams that win by a significant margin in the first leg tend to have a more defensive mindset in leg two, opting to ride out their advantage rather than take unnecessary risks.

If you’ve been following the 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs, you’re already aware that the New York Red Bulls have dug themselves into a hole that may be impossible to climb out of, losing 3-0 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium to Atlanta United. No away goals and a three-goal deficit should be enough to sink Chris Armas’ men, prompting goalkeeper Luis Robles to call the task “near impossible”, although impossible is nothing, as adidas says.

Here are five times teams came back from a huge deficit in leg two, in MLS and around the world.

5. Kansas City Wizards v. San Jose Earthquakes – 2004 - Conference semifinals

After the San Jose Earthquakes pulled off one of the most legendary second leg comebacks in MLS history just a year prior, it was time for them to get a taste of their own medicine. After a 2-0 victory in the first leg, thanks to goals from Dwayne De Rosario and Craig Waibel, San Jose could already see themselves in the Conference Finals for a second straight year. And that’s where they got it all wrong…

After Khari Stephenson opened the scoring and former Impact captain Davy Arnaud scored to bring Kansas City level, it looked like it was heading to extra time when, in stoppage time, Jack Jewsbury scored off a through ball to knock San Jose right out of the playoff race.

The 3-2 victory in leg two marked only the second time an MLS team erased a two-goal deficit in the second leg, the first coming just the year before (see #2 for details).

4. New England Revolution vs New York MetroStars – 2005 – Eastern Conference Finals

The MetroStars, the forerunner to the New York Red Bulls, had a tall task at hand when they faced the free-scoring New England Revolution in the Eastern Conference Finals. After surprising the Revs with a 1-0 win in leg one, the MetroStars pulled ahead by two goals when they scored in the 59th minute of the second leg, just a few seconds after a young Clint Dempsey had hit the crossbar on the other end. Now 2-0 with half an hour left, it looked like the Revs were going to be sent packing.

That’s when managers with expertise can make a huge difference. Steve Nicol brought on Uruguayan Daniel Hernandez who made an immediate difference, smashing in the first goal in the 68th minute. Just five minutes later, Pat Noona would outjump Michael Bradley on the corner to pull the Revolution level. And in the 83rd minute, another substitute, Khano Smith, ran onto a through ball and gave New England the lead, completing the comeback and sending New England to the MLS Cup, where they would fall to the LA Galaxy.

3. AS Monaco FC vs Real Madrid C.F.– 2004 – Champions League Quarterfinal

Real Madrid has always been a footballing powerhouse, and 2004 was no exception, with the likes of Iker Casillas, Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo, Roberto Carlos, and Spanish captain Raúl all featuring on the team. Just two years before, Los Galacticos had lifted the prestigious European trophy, and had reached the semifinals just the year prior.

When Read Madrid took a 4-2 victory into the second leg, it seemed business as usual, especially after Raúl opened the scoring in the second leg to make it 5-2 on aggregate.

It was Ludovic Giully that got the French side going when he scored right before the half. Then Fernando Morientes would score right after the break to make it 5-4, and suddenly, the Spanish giants were against the ropes. Giully would fittingly score again, sending Monaco past Real on away goals and pushing Monaco into the top four.

They would go on to lose the Champions League Final to FC Porto, coached by a certain Portuguese manager called Jose Mourinho…

2. San Jose Earthquakes v. LA Galaxy – 2003 – Western Conference Finals

When it comes to fantastic second leg comebacks in the MLS, this game is the standard. After falling 2-0 in the first leg, the San Jose Earthquakes knew they needed a great performance in the second leg to reach the finals.

It didn’t start out that way, with the Galaxy scoring two goals more goals in the beginning of the second leg to give them a 4-0 advantage on aggregate. It looked as if the LA Galaxy were going to run away with this one.

That’s when the Quakes turned up the heat. With just over 70 minutes left to play, Jeff Agoos scored the first goal from a free-kick, and a young Landon Donovan would add another just before half-time. Then, five minutes into the second half, Jamil Walker scored to make it 4-3.

It seemed meant to be at that point, and it was. Chris Roner would head the ball into the net in the 90th minute, setting up a golden goal in extra time by Rodrigo Faria off a quality Donovan pass (see video below).


1. FC Barcelona v. Paris Saint-Germain – 2017 – Champions League round of 16

It came as a shock to the footballing world when Paris Saint-Germain hosted the Spanish giants at Parc Des Princes for leg one of the round of 16 matchup, and embarrassed them 4-0. Going back to Barcelona for leg 2, the French side was confident in their chances, as no team in Champions League history has ever come back from a four-goal first leg deficit.

Barcelona did what they had to do and scored three goals after just 50 minutes. Although impressive, Edison Cavani put all chances of a Barcelona comeback to bed when he scored in the 62nd minute to give PSG that crucial away goal. That means that Barcelona needed three goals to advance.

The score stayed like this until the 88th minute, when Neymar’s free kick from just outside the box went fizzling in. Two minutes later, Luis Suarez is taken down in the box, and again Neymar converts, this time from the spot. Then, with seconds left in stoppage time, Camp Nou rose to its feet in pure joy as Neymar’s floating ball was hammered in by a flying Sergi Roberto, giving Barcelona a 6-1 win on the night, and a 6-5 win on aggregate.

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