The New York Red Bulls take on the San Jose Earthquakes Saturday in a playoff match-up that may not be as one-sided as some people might think.
The Right Coasters may have galloped their way to first place in the East, but questions persist about their midfield and prized recruit Thierry Henry hasn’t been an automatic on the team sheet for the better part of a month.
They’ll head to the Left Coast to play a San Jose Earthquakes team that’s got the look of a spoiler.
The Earthquakes beat their chests with a veteran keeper in Jon Busch, a scalding hot shark of a striker in Chris Wondolowski who’s driving home freaking laser beams, an underrated pairing of former MLS cast-offs in Khari Stephenson and Sam Cronin manning the middle, and a U.S. World Cup veteran at leftback who started for the Yanks in arguably one of their most impressive performances ever, Italy 2006.
That defender’s name is Bobby Convey and he joined us last week to discuss playing in San Jose and his incredulousness at continuing to be left off the U.S. Men’s National Team.
TSG: Heading into the playoffs–you guys have two games left–looks like you’re going to face the New York Red Bulls. What’s going to be the difference in a potential series with Henry, Inc.?
Bobby Convey: Any team we play against in the playoffs is going to be a strong team.
The main thing for us is to get a good result in Game 1 since we’ll play the first one at home, and then to try and win it on the road.
TSG: Is there any more animosity in facing the Red Bulls? In the first game this year, you received a hard foul which resulted in a red card and ten men for New York. You guys won that one, I believe it was 3-0. In the second game–role reversal–you got a questionable yellow and New York ran away with it.
More animosity in facing them?
Convey: No. They’ve obviously added a bunch of players since we beat them. The first game we played well, the second game they played well and came out on top.
I don’t think it’s more of a rivalry. I think for me, it was an awful call by the referees–you can watch the replays.
Going into the playoffs though, the games are harder, there’s more tackling, there’s more physical play and hopefully the referees can get it right this time.
TSG: Okay…how far can you guys go in the playoffs?
Convey: Well anything can happen. And then it’s about who’s on form.
Injuries come into play and who’s on form. It really depends who’s up for it on the day.
TSG: Who’s the MVP of the Earthquakes this year: you’ve got Busch who’s been a difference maker, Wondo who is on fire, and you’ve covered at leftback and still provided assists. Who’s the most integral?
Convey: For myself, I’m just happy that I played well all season and really contributed.
For me, I just try to look at myself and my objective for me is to create as many chances for others as possible. As a wide player that’s what you look to do.
It was frustrating to move to leftback…I can’t really create too much from there. It’s more defending obviously. For me, I’m just happy how the season’s gone.
And as a team I’m happy we’ve all done well. As you said, Wondo has scored some goals as of late and you know that definitely helps, but I don’t think we’re a one-man show.
Everyone has to play well for us to do well.
TSG: How do you rate your game now? As you’ve said, you moved to leftback; it’s been frustrating and doesn’t sound like it’s a role you relish. Where is your game and career at?
Convey: I feel good. I was able to workout in the offseason. It was the first offseason I really had in five years since I was in England where you don’t really get an offseason.
I was able to hang out with my family for the first time for the holiday season in a long time and really just get away and rest.
And then workout at home with my trainer a couple of times a day for a month or so, and I feel came into the seasons feeling really well.
MLS is one of those leagues where one season you can do really well and one season you maybe don’t do as well.
TSG: So talk more about the league–MLS–where do you rate the league right now quality-wise versus the Championship and Premiership in England from your experience playing in both?
Convey: I don’t think…I think…that there’s good teams and good players in England in general.
MLS is a young league so you can’t really compare it to the Championship or the Premiership.
I think a big difference is with relegation you always have players fighting for a spot because the team can go down and have their budget and players cut, whereas you really don’t have that over here.
It’s definitely going in the right direction over here, and hopefully in the next five to 10 years the league will continue to grow.
TSG: One of the things I like about your game, but it’s also kind of a double-edge sword, you play sometimes with a temper…you have a killer instinct but it also gets you in trouble sometimes. React to that.
Convey: I’m just competitive. I’ve never wanted to lose. Sometimes you get too competitive.
For me, I’d rather be too competitive than too complacent.
Sometimes, when you’re sitting out with an injury for a while, as I was, you look back and you don’t take playing for granted anymore.
For me, once you’re on the field there are no friends. I’m trying to compete as best I can and win for our team.
TSG: That’s a trait of yours I do appreciate. It definitely comes across. You see players that are clearly not as passionate…which brings me to a prickly subject: competing for the national team.
The U.S. needs a lefty with bite. They need a leftback.
Now that there is a new campaign for 2014, do you feel it’s a fresh start for a shot at the team, for your candidacy?
Convey: To be honest, I don’t look at the national team at all. I haven’t spoken to the coach in four years.
I don’t know what I can do.
For me, I was on the national team forever. It’s obviously very difficult when you see a team that’s brought in and you have more caps than 75 to 80 percent of the guys actually on the field!
But that’s not up to me. All I can do is play and enjoy it here with Earthquakes.
I think Landon is the only American player ahead of me in assists in the league.
Best I can do it and let guys like yourself in the media talk about it.
TSG: It may be against protocol, but would you ever reach out to USSF and say, “Hey, guys, I’m what you need!”?
Convey: Well, I think the same as you. There is no reason other than personal.
If it’s about playing and it’s about people that are playing well, then I deserve to be there.
I’m the same as you. I don’t know why I haven’t been given a chance.
I kind of let it go. To me it’s not necessarily the national team anymore as motivation, I just try to enjoy being here with Earthquakes and with my family.
I can’t do anymore to show my skill.
TSG: Let me ask this question, if you got called in you would go?
Convey: Yeah, but I haven’t spoken to them.
I knew after the last World Cup that I wouldn’t be called in anymore.
TSG: Wait, did they call you or email you or something?
Convey: I just knew. Soccer’s a small world in this country.
I talked to people. People I trusted and I knew right away I wasn’t going to go in anymore and it was extremely disappointing.
TSG: I appreciate you answering those questions. I’ll move on. Some rumors were floated last year that you may be interested in going back to where you grew up in Philadelphia and playing for the Union.
Where do you see yourself two years out?
Convey: I feel great and they’re talking about bringing in even more players here.
Now I just take it year by year and as you continue to go along in your career you want to win championships.
I’d be lying if I said though that you go to LA and NY and you don’t want to play in the stadiums there.
But there’s positive momentum here.
TSG: Going to the stadium issue. I’ve been to the Buck. It’s perhaps a fun place to watch a game, but not necessarily a home field advantage. I think that probably doesn’t help the Earthquakes; it probably hurts. Your thoughts?
Convey: It’s always difficult being a professional and playing in a college stadium in a college environment.
We’re kind of the red-headed stepchild in terms of Santa Clara because they obviously want to use their facilities for their teams.
We have a great training field now though and that’s been a huge step for the team.
But once you get your own stadium you get momentum, people get more excited and fans get more excited.
It’s difficult for the team to promote a professional team at a college stadium.
I think that moving forward they have a good plan here so it’s not really an advantage or disadvantage being at the college; it’s just not as professional as some of the other stadiums.
I think they’re really pushing to get a stadium done though.
TSG: Because of that, do you miss playing at Reading or just overseas?
Convey: It would be a lying to you if you if I didn’t say to you that I missed that.
Over 70,000 people for five years. You don’t need to get yourself as excited or as up for the games because of the town and the environment.
You drive up and there’s a huge stadium full of people and you get instant energy to play.
I think hopefully coming up here, we’ll get a stadium and we’ve got really good fans and they’ve been very supporting.
Hopefully with a stadium it will just entice even more people to who we have supporting the team.
TSG: Two ways MLS can improve the league?
Convey: I think by adding the D.P. rule it obviously helps. It brings exposure and good people in. MLS can now compete with other leagues for top players.
And then of course the stadiums. They are doing 35,000 per night in Seattle. Adding in the fan bases and stadiums of Portland and Vancouver should help and add excitement.
TSG: Okay, I’ll wrap up here…best of luck in the playoffs. I appreciate your time.
Convey: Thanks and you’re welcome.
Buck Shaw Stadium in Santa Clara California plays Coliseum to Bobby Convey and the San Jose Earthquakes as they invite in the New York Red Bulls in Game one of their home-away this Saturday at 7pm PST.