Playoffs? You Wanna Talk MLS Playoffs? Semifinals!
Welcome to the second edition of On The Fire‘s MLS playoff talk!
Footy hits high gear this week, as the conference semi-finalists will duke it out in their respective second legs this Wednesday and Thursday. Soon, eight will become four, and we’ll move one step closer to America’s most coveted piece of soccer hardware: the MLS Cup.
Scott & Stephen are back, now joined by the Head Red Priest himself, Soccer by Ives Chicago beat writer Jeff Krause! So without further adieu, here are our thoughts on leg one of the conference semifinals, along with predictions for leg two. Check out what we have to say, and then let us know what you have to say. Leave a comment and make your voice heard! Onward!
HIT THE PLAYOFF MUSIC!!!
Western Conference Semifinals – Leg One
Seattle Sounders (0) vs. Real Salt Lake (0), Friday, 11/2
In one of the most pleasing draws you’ll ever get for your hard-earned money, Jason Kries and his Utah kings went to Seattle and took care of business on turf in front of a sparse crowd of just over 34,000 hipsters. Seattle missed forward Eddie Johnson in this one, as pouty boy Fredy Montero and whiny man Mauro Rosales had no answer for warrior Nick Rimando’s skill and experience in the Salt Lake goal. Brad Evans is a goon, Michael Gspurning is Seattle’s best player, and despite his hair, it is a pleasure to watch Kyle Beckerman work from box to box. JAH! Rastafarianism.
Stephen’s Real Talk…
I watched this with my brother who is a goalie and we both marveled at how not only is Nick Rimando a professional goalie, but that he’s also one of the best that the MLS has ever seen. He’s the main reason RSL has the upper hand. The most annoying thing is that the game was played on the fake grass. It makes the game faster and more frenetic, something hardly needed in the playoffs.
An entertaining, tactical back and forth affair. RSL kept Seattle off their game by keeping possession in the middle of the pitch, while confining the Sounders attack to the wings. Probably the most entertaining 0-0 draw you’ll watch this year. Michael Gspurning had a great game, but Nick Rimando was Man of the Match, putting in an effort for the ages and collecting a broken nose in the process.
*Predictions for Leg Two at Salt Lake on Thursday, 11/8 at 9pm cst…
Scott: Eddie Johnson’s not that good, and neither is Seattle. Real moves forward 2-1.
Stephen: RSL are battle-tested (see previous playoffs, Concacaf Champions League) and they’ll win at home 2-0.
Jeff: Look for RSL to do on their home pitch what Seattle couldn’t do at CenturyLink: score. Seattle’s fate will mirror their 2011 departure from the playoffs with a RSL win. 1-0 RSL.
LA Galaxy (0) vs. San Jose Earthquakes (1), Sunday, 11/4
LA didn’t have a shot on goal until the 66th minute, and the match was tied at zero after 90. Say what? Yes, Frank Yallup and his Goonie boys can defend too. In determined fashion, San Jose, possessing MLS’s most potent scoring attack, marched into the Home Depot Center and put the clamp down on Bruce Arena’s LA cavalcade of stars, while Robbie Keane just missed another bad cartwheel.
After sad Landy backfooted one onto Keane’s scoring platter, the Irish striker’s 86th minute far post rocket nearly gave the Galaxy the lead, but Keane’s shot ricocheted out of the corner of Jon Busch’s goal. And then the Quakes did what they do best: score in stoppage time. With about a minute to go, Defender Victor Bernardez channeled his inner Cuauhtemoc Blanco (thanks Taylor Twellman), took a long run up to a direct free kick, and blasted one through the LA wall and past ‘keeper Josh Saunders. The Beatles may have been right. Perhaps money can’t buy you love? We’ll see on Wednesday…
Stephen’s Real Talk…
Goonies never say die. The longer the game went, the more I thought San Jose would win. When LA threatened and didn’t score, it seemed inevitable that they’d get hit with a typical late sucker-punch from the Earthquakes. LA weren’t sharp enough to win and they didn’t finish the game – a terrible idea when playing San Jose.
LA looked like a team that was on a short turnaround, and San Jose looked like a team just waiting to get back to Buck Shaw. The Galaxy got bitten by the finishing bug and failed to see production from Juninho, Keane, Donovan, and even playoff wunderkid Mike Magee. Another stoppage time goal that should’ve been stopped could wind up being the difference here, but LA isn’t dead yet.
*Predictions for Leg Two at San Jose on Wednesday, 11/7 at 10:00pm cst…
Scott: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. 1-1, as San Jose advances on defense and keeps its future opponents honest.
Stephen: Three games in one week is a bit much for any team, especially if two of them are against a San Jose team that physically drains opponents. San Jose is too much and they win 2-0.
Jeff: San Jose will be heavy favorites going into the 2nd leg. But LA conjures up some 2011 magic and moves ahead, leaving San Jose’s amazing season unfulfilled. LA wins 2-0.
Eastern Conference Semifinals – Leg One
DC United (1) vs. New York Red Bulls (1), Saturday 11/3
Honestly, I feel bad for DC manager Ben Olson. After DeRo went down a couple months ago, Olson re-tooled his side into a disciplined, grinding soccer machine, and took four-time MLS Cup champions United back to the playoffs after a five-year absence. And then he lost his home field advantage to a natural disaster. And then Bill Hamid caught a case of the butterfingers. And then his star fullback Andy Najar lost his mind when he threw the ball at Referee Jair Maruffo while being issued a yellow card.
So on Wednesday, a Najar-less DC side will visit the enigma that is Red Bull New York. Anything can happen in this one. Oh, and did I mention the impending arrival of a nor’easter mid-week? All fans get into Red Bull Arena free with a generator. Wait, is gas even available in Jersey? Oy.
Stephen’s Real Talk…
I didn’t see this game so I don’t have anything of intelligence to offer here. But that’s not stopped me before. Based on the highlights and match reports, it seems like DC just spazzed out. The failures of Pontius, Najar, and Hamid were the game’s key moments and mental lapses always get punished more harshly in the playoffs.
If RSL/Seattle was the most entertaining tactical game, DC/NY was the most entertaining train-wreck of a game. Chris Pontius’s missed penalty kick, a silly and needless Andy Najar red card, and two own-goals made for some riveting soccer for all the wrong reasons. The game was the soccer equivalent of watching the Washington Generals play each other in basketball. Hopefully fans can blink really hard and forget. Or, maybe there’ll be a full moon out Wednesday night and both teams will come to play instead of making themselves look silly like they did last Saturday night.
Leg two can go either way. New York is at home again after the desolation laid down by Hurricane Sandy, but they’re a team not unlike the 2003-04 LA Lakers. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got Kobe, Shaq, Malone, and Payton. If you can’t play together cohesively, you’ll only get so far.
*Predictions for Leg Two in New Jersey on Wednesday, 11/7 at 7pm cst…
Scott: Ben Olson’s hard luck continues as Kenny Cooper makes the difference for Red Bull. 2-1 New York.
Stephen: No Najar is bad news and Joel Lindpere will have a big game. NY wins 3-1.
Jeff: Ben Olsen has done far more than Hans Backe to create a unit instead of a team full of stars. That will get United through to the Conference Finals. DC wins 2-1.
Houston Dynamo (2) vs. Sporting Kansas City (0), Sunday 11/4
A few weeks back on episode one of Red Priests Podcast (when we foolishly assumed the Fire would get a bye into the semifinals) Jeff and I agreed that the one team we didn’t want Chicago to face in the playoffs was Houston. Boy, were we right. My feelings on yesterday’s Dom Kinnear coaching clinic are best summed up in one tweet:
Stephen’s Real Talk…
Looking at all the games this weekend, I think we really saw the teams that were the best prepared to come out with positive results. I’ll put much of this down to the coaches. In particular, I think Kinnear, Yallop, and Kreis are the league’s three best. Houston have a plan and they execute it very well. Kinnear’s players know their roles and they function together as a unit. The same can be said of RSL and SJ. Tactics, preparation, and communication (which start with the head coach) really matter when there aren’t large disparities of talent. Beware of Houston.
Houston did what Houston does. When the playoffs come around, they go into another gear few teams have. Kinnear and company proved it against Chicago, and did it again Sunday afternoon against the best team in the East. A beautiful Adam Moffat golazo in the 1st half set the tone, as the Dynamo kept their opponent off their game and matched Sporting blow for blow in the physicality department.
In the end, Sporting KC ended up looking like Biff Tannen after he got clocked by George McFly. And in case you’re wondering, it is indeed not a coincidence that both Biff and Peter Vermes sport crew-cuts. If Houston keeps their form (which they should), KC will be waxing Marty’s new truck in no time.
*Predictions for Leg Two in Kansas City on Wednesday, 11/8 at 8pm cst…
Scott: KCPD will be on alert, as Peter Vermes gets another DUI after Dom Kinnear foils him once again in the playoffs. 2-1 SKC, and Dynamo advances 3-2 on aggregate goals.
Stephen: Houston will have a plan and they will execute it well. This ends 1-1 and Houston advance.
Jeff: A 2-0 lead – even at Livestrong Sporting Park – will be tough to overcome. KC will win the match, but it won’t be enough to get through to the conference final. SKC wins 2-1, and loses.
Well dear reader, what are your predictions for leg two of the semifinals? Show us some love and chime in below!
P.S. – Somebody file a complaint with MLS about the scheduling of the semifinal second legs. Are you kidding me?