MLS Cup Playoffs: Eight Became Four
What did we learn this week? Well, making predictions for the MLS playoffs is an exercise in futility.
Anything can happen in this year’s post-season tournament, and boy did it. Flying elbows, red cards, blood, an over abundance of mustaches…and that’s just the beginning! But what we do know is that eight are now four. What’s the lineup for your MLS conference finals? Newbies Seattle Sounders and oldies DC United join repeat offenders LA Galaxy and Houston Dynamo in a tasty final four that’s sure to entertain the soccerhead masses.
Scott, Stephen, and Jeff kept a keen eye on their respective screens this week. So without further adieu, here are their reflections on leg two of the conference semifinals, along with their (futile?) predictions for legs one of the conference finals. Check it out, and don’t forget to vote for who you think will win on Sunday! Onward!
HIT THE PLAYOFF SEMIFINAL MUSIC!!!
Western Conference Semifinals – Leg Two
Real Salt Lake (0) vs. Seattle Sounders (1), Thursday, 11/8: Seattle advances, 1-0 aggregate
#$%@@#!@$%#&$*%(^%#^(*^&^%!!!!!! I HAVE TO WATCH ANOTHER GAME ON TURF?! ^&%$^&%$%^#^$@#$@^%#*%!!!!! My highlight of leg two in Utah was waiting with bated breath for Jamison Olave to crush Eddie Johnson. Unfortunately, that did not happen. Olave should have realized that he surely could’ve gotten away with at least a head butt. Chris Penso would’ve paid it no mind. Credit to Mario Martinez for a far post screamer of a volley that made the difference in the end for Seattle. And props to Michael Gspurning. He may be the best goalmann in the league. Dear MLS: get more Germans. You’re welcome.
Stephen’s Real Talk…
I think this game was the perfect definition of a “cagey affair,” no? Two very good, evenly matched teams went at it, both defenses were impressive, and I think Jamison Olave was a beast. Both goalies were pretty terrific as well.
RSL did well to shut out Seattle in leg one, but ball-watching Fredy Montero in the 81st minute was the one mistake RSL made, as an unmarked Mario Martinez streaked up the left flank and cranked a nice half-volley from an angle past Nick Rimando. Gspurning put on another positive performance, as a flurry of late RSL chances were turned away, sending RSL home and Seattle to LA for their first conference finals.
San Jose Earthquakes (1) vs. LA Galaxy (3), Wednesday, 11/7: LA advances, 3-2 aggregate
San Jose’s thuggery backfired. Bad Mojo man. Save the “bash brother” schtick for baseball boys, will ya? The Beautiful Game, when played well, is about technique, skill, and space – not elbows to the head. Although to be fair, Omar Gonzalez gave back his share where it counted – right to Steven Lenhart’s grill. Otherwise, LA’s world-class play was on display, and I enjoyed it. Aside from LA’s DPs, the difference in this game was the early exit of San Jose defender Victor Bernardez.
Stephen’s Real Talk…
Wow. At the end of the game, Bruce Arena lit up a cigar and said “I love it when a plan comes together.” LA’s big money and big name players came up pretty huge. A tip of the hat goes to their quality and ability to play their best when it counts. A tough end for San Jose though. They had a shot, but a defensive change was exposed by LA’s top players.
“Paging Chris Wondolowski. Paging Mr. C. Wondolowski.” LA simply dominated the Quakes at Buck Shaw Stadium. Robbie Keane, the oldest looking 32 year-old in MLS, led the Galaxy past San Jose with relative ease. These teams will continue to disike one another, but a stellar season for San Jose means little considering they dominated an unbalanced schedule, only to get booted in the opening round of the playoffs.
Eastern Conference Semifinals – Leg Two
New York Red Bulls (o) vs. DC United (1), Thursday, 11/8: DC advances, 2-1 aggregate
This match in and of itself prompted this week’s theme music. Oh lord. In an epic fail at home, which (sort of) began Wednesday in snow and ended Thursday with Kenny Cooper drowning in his own tears and Rafa Marquez speaking English (two unprecedented events), Red Bull once again exited their MLS season without a trophy. In case you didn’t know, NY, in its 17 years of existence, has never won a piece of US soccer silverware. Zero. Ziltch. Nada. Nimic. I don’t know what hurts more: no trophies, an empty stadium, or all of that wasted DP money. You guys think Hans Backe and Rafa Marquez will spend the first leg of their respective permanent vacations together? I heard Siberia’s nice this time of year…
Stephen’s Real Talk…
I believe the technical term for this game was “goddamn barnburner.” This game had basically everything: red cards, a missed PK, players going ape-shit (looking at you Bill Hamid), back-and-forth action, controversial decisions – it was great. In fairness, NY easily could have won and definitely should have tied, but Dax McCarty wasted great chances at least twice. DC are certainly a tough bunch.
DC United lost, then tied, then won, thanks to a false start by Thierry Henry on a Kenny Cooper penalty kick. So much can be said about this game, but in the end New York fulfilled my 2003 Lakers description of being a team full of stars that can’t play together. Rafa Marquez excelled at being Rafa Marquez, Henry (while looking resolute most of the match) made a rookie mistake on the PK, and Tim Cahill continued his Houdini act of being invisible on the pitch. Credit to the DC kid Nick Deleon, who has stepped up his game in the playoffs and showed why he was a close second choice to Chicago’s Austin Berry for ROY honors.
Houston Dynamo (0) vs. Sporting Kansas City (1), Sunday 11/4: Houston advances, 2-1 aggregate
Of the four semifinals, this one was the least entertaining – that is unless you get off on Kinnear-ball. Unsurprisingly, Houston’s clinical, defensive-minded performance at Dopestrong park got them through to the next round. SKC’s lack of finishing skills doomed them in the end. Kamara and Sapong couldn’t hit the side of a barn this week; even against a Houston side that was clearly gassed after the 65th minute. In the end, SKC could only manage one goal from my wife’s cousin’s former college roommate – fullback Seth Sinovic.
Stephen’s Real Talk…
Both teams executed their respective game plans quite well. Houston defended well and Sporting had their chances and all the play. Once again Kinnear made the right move in giving SKC space to send in crosses, as he had faith that the Houston defense could deal. Hainault’s size helped and Ricardo Clark is a machine.
“Now Biff, I want to make sure that we get two coats of wax this time, not just one.” Sporting KC tried to make it a match at home against Houston, pulling back a goal on aggregate thanks to an unmarked header by Seth Sinovic off a perfect Graham Zusi cross. Really though, Houston handled business, and allowed KC to make their own mistakes, as finishing would elude them at a crucial time down the stretch. Sporting was fighting an uphill battle, but thanks to their own misgivings in front of the net, they ended their season like San Jose: a conference leader making an early exit.
Leg One Predictions: Houston Dynamo vs. DC United: Sunday, 11/11 at 3pm cst on NBC Sports Network
Scott: Houston all the way. After Thursday night’s high drama in New Jersey, a sans Bill Hamid DC side gets burnt in the oven at BBVA Compass Stadium. 1-0 Dynamo.
Stephen: New rule = never bet against Houston and Dom Kinnear in the playoffs. Houston wins 2-0 at home again.
Jeff: Is this really in question? DC played dubious soccer at best against New York. Houston is playing like the better team, and it will likely show. The Dynamo are hitting on all cylinders now, have a deep bench, and plenty of playoff experience. 2-0 Houston on Sunday.
Leg One Predictions: Seattle Sounders at LA Galaxy: Sunday, 11/11 at 8pm cst on ESPN
Scott: While home field advantage doesn’t seem to mean anything in the MLS playoffs this year, I’m nonetheless going with LA. They showed flashes of brilliance this week that no other club in the league is capable of. Plus, I hate Seattle with every fiber of my being. 2-0 Galaxy.
Stephen: Either LA is peaking at the right time, or they put together one great game at SJ in their typical inconsistent style – I’m betting on the latter and a 2-1 Seattle victory.
Jeff: This is anyone’s series. Seattle did what they needed to do against RSL to get through, albeit without much input from Eddie Johnson, and a continued cold streak from Fredy Montero. LA is the momentum carrier here, as Robbie Keane seems to have a golden foot, Beckham will always have his good service, and Donovan suddenly looks like “Happy Landon” again. LA playing at home isn’t much of a difference maker, but the real question will be if David Beckham decides to play on CenturyLink’s fake grass on the return leg. That said, I’ll go 1-0 Galaxy on Sunday night.
Alrighty then. Enjoy the games on Sunday! We’ll see you back here next week with leg one reviews, leg two predictions, and of course, MORE A.I.F.!