MLS Conference Finals: Gassed.
Why do I get the feeling that it’s not just the players who are spent?
After a wacko schedule that saw 2 of the 4 conference finalists (LA & HOU) play 4 games in 11 and 12 days, respectively, and the other two sides (DC & SEA) play 3 games in 9 and 10 days, respectively, we’re all simply beat. The MLS playoff docket, up to this point, has been borderline suicidal.
With little recovery time, players are stretched to their limit and become susceptible to injury. Their fatigue fosters sloppy and lethargic play (unless you’re LA), which leads to more fouls, more cards (unless Penso or Salazar is in charge), and what amounts to a burdensome experience for everyone except the suits at MLS HQ. Attention Don Garber: Your schedule is working against you.
Many fans (including this one) have grown weary of the MLS Playoffs. And as you’ve read, we’re not happy about their scheduling. There were 12 playoff games played during the first 12 days of the post-season tournament. By contrast, there will be 3 games played during the latter 20 days. C’est quoi?! And don’t give me that B.S. about the international break. It’s a friendly break, and players who are called up to represent their national team could easily forego their duty this time around for the sake of their respective MLS clubs. Besides, how many players are we even talking about here anyway?
But hey, in terms of pro soccer, MLS playoffs are all we’ve got in the ‘ol U.S. of A at the moment. So, I’ll hold my nose, continue to be a good (yet critical) soldier, and keep supporting my local – league in this case. I’ll have more to talk (whine) about on this subject when the Soccer Superbowl (MLS Cup) concludes on December 1st. And perhaps my diatribe will help launch a query into why NASL may soon be a better option for the North American soccer fan, and why professional soccer in the US and Canada should, dare I say, rid itself of these silly playoffs, move to a system of promotion/relegation, and get on board with the rest of the world’s schedule and modus operandi. Loco, right? Moving on…
As usual, Scott, Stephen, and Jeff were on the MLS playoff beat, and endured their 11th and 12th matches in less than two weeks (Am I beating a dead horse here?). Check out their reflections on legs one of the conference finals, along with their unsurprising predictions about which two squads will meet to do battle for the big silver enchilada known as MLS Cup. And don’t forget to vote for who you think will win next Sunday! Perhaps you, like the rest of us, will rekindle your interest by then…
HIT THE CONFERENCE FINALS MUSIC!!!
Western Conference Finals – Leg One
LA Galaxy (3) vs. Seattle Sounders (0), 11/11 at the Home Depot Center
Robbie Keane is a nut. And for some reason, he’s starting to grow on me. Perhaps it’s his world-class attacking play? Or maybe it’s his awful cartwheel-o-saults? His pasty skin? Well, aside from my tepid admiration, one thing we do know is that Donovan, despite his sadness, is certainly happy with his Irish counterpart. And aside from the Landy and Robbie show, international veteran Christian Wilhelmsson proved his worth for LA against Seattle too. The Swede was involved in two of the Galaxy’s three goals, and played a key role in LA’s lethal counter attack.
So folks, given what we saw at the Home Depot Center last Sunday night, don’t expect much in the way of attack from Houston when they travel to Carson, CA to compete for a trophy for the second time in as many years. Wait. What? Whoa. Oops. This isn’t the predictions section. Guess I jumped the gun there a bit. But hey, I can do whatever I want on this blog, like a BOSS.
And aside from a friendly reminder to make sure their defense gets off the bus next time on playoff match day, there’s nothing to say to Sounders fans except this: I can taste your tears through my Twitter machine…
Stephen’s Real Talk…
A thoroughly impressive performance from the defending champs. In particular, the second goal by ChiTown native Mike Magee was one of the best I’ve seen all season. Seattle played cautiously (which is normally a wise move), but LA were in a “kicking-ass-and-taking-names” mood and defensive caution got blown to bits.
Seriously, someone should put together a LA Galaxy version of the A-Team theme song, with Bruce Arena as Hannibal, Beckham as Face, Donovan as Murdock, and Keane as B.A. It would begin something like this…
“In April 2012 a crack soccer team was sent to the bottom of the Western Conference for the crime of not playing well. In October these men promptly escaped to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still chased by the rest of the league, they survive to advance in the playoffs. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire the LA Galaxy.”
Available now on Netflix.
A boring first half until some Landon Donovan stoppage time tenacity met with Robbie Keane’s noodle, resulting in a 1-0 LA lead through 45. That was all the Galaxy needed in the end, but they turned their one-goal lead into a steep, long, uphill battle for Seattle, netting two more 2nd half goals while dismantling Seattle’s defense. I tweeted during the match that the 2nd half was reminiscent of Seattle’s spring matchup against Santos Laguna in CCL action, when the Mexican champs completely destroyed Seattle’s back line. LA had the same result.
While it’s true that Seattle was fielding a third choice left back in Zach Scott, you still can’t take much away from LA’s potent counter attack. Moreover, the size of Home Depot Center’s pitch allowed a wide Galaxy attack that Seattle just couldn’t hang with. Eddie Johnson came on too late to make any difference, and Seattle is a less effective, listless team when Mauro Rosales isn’t on the pitch.
Eastern Conference Finals – Leg One
Houston Dynamo (3) vs. DC United (1), 11/11 at BBVA Compass Stadium
The Dirty Birds got screwed by referee Ricardo Salazar after Andre Hainault successfully executed a Québécois single-arm lockdown takedown on DC sub Raphael Augusto. If Hainault had gotten what he deserved (a red card), United would have had an opportunity to (likely) go up 2-0 on Houston in the first half. But instead, Salazar’s no-call left the door wide open for a Dynamo-riffic comeback in the form of three unanswered goals – two of which were a treat to watch.
And while we’re talking officiating, here’s my favorite tweet from Sunday:
Nice. And I’ll add the league front office for good measure. But don’t simply take my and John’s word for it, check out what Goal.com’s Avi Credior has to say on the subject.
In the end though, Houston’s superior depth – paired with DC’s injuries and suspensions – proved the difference in a scene reminiscent of the Western Front: ravaged, weary soldiers, a torn-up battlefield, and temporary victors who pushed their line one step closer to glory…
Stephen’s Real Talk…
The injuries were the first half story, and I’m not sure who should get the blame: Olsen and his staff for playing barely fit players, or the players for not being honest. I feel the responsibility lies with the coaches on this one and Olsen got his selections wrong. Houston looked great in the second half – in particular Oscar Boniek Garcia. Will Bruin is the new Brian Ching, and Mac Kandji would be one of the league’s best if he wasn’t a spaz in front of goal.
The 2012 playoff Houston team facing a return trip to the MLS Cup isn’t all that different than the 2011 team that eventually lost to LA in anti-climatic fashion. Brad Davis has all his limbs intact, and Houston has handled teams fairly comfortably up to this point. Unfortunately, questionable calls and manager rants are what people will take away from Houston’s 3-1 scalding of DC in the Oven at BBVA Compass.
Both teams showed why the MLS Playoff schedule deserves criticism, as Ben Olsen used two of his three subs in the first 40 minutes, and both sides saw key players exit the game prematurely – unquestionably due to a crammed playoff schedule. The talk of the match will surround Ricardo Salazar, which is a shame, albeit warranted. Lost in the mix is the fact that Houston, playing their last game at home in 2012, closed it out in authoritative style – botched no-calls or not.
Western Conference Finals, Leg Two Predictions
Seattle Sounders vs. LA Galaxy: Sunday, 11/18 at 8pm cst on ESPN
Scott: I’m going to stand at the edge of a sarcastic proverbial cliff and say the Galaxy go home to host MLS Cup for the second year in a row. Seattle will get theirs however, with a 3-1 victory. But alas, 30 to 40 some-odd thousand hipsters will release a collective groan in the end. And once more, all will be right in the world.
Stephen: With a packed house, Seattle are going to come out guns blazing. Unfortunately, it won’t be enough and a 2-1 Seattle victory will see LA through.
Jeff: CenturyLink Field is going to fill up with fans who think their rave green soccer gods are going to shine down on the pitch, blinding the Galaxy as Seattle comes back in amazing fashion to stun LA into defeat. But while Seattle may think they can replicate their August 4-0 thrashing of the Galaxy, LA will have nothing of it. Robbie Keane is perhaps the MVP of the 2012 playoffs, and his connection with Landon Donovan – who either sprung up like Superman out of his depression or sandbagged the whole country into thinking he was done – is a thing to behold. Seattle wins on the night, but it won’t be enough to see their first MLS Cup appearance in team history. Seattle 2:1 LA for the match.
Eastern Conference Finals, Leg Two Predictions
DC United vs. Houston Dynamo: Sunday, 11/18 at 3pm cst on NBC Sports Network
Scott: I’m going to go out on another faux limb and say Houston advances to MLS Cup. DC will cut the aggregate margin to one, but fall short in the end. 2-1 DC.
Stephen: Houston is in a perfect position and the return of Ricardo Clark will be key. This ends 1-1 and Houston goes to the Cup final again.
Jeff: United will need a stroke of brilliance to overcome the mental brick wall they must smash through in leg 2. Ben Olsen – justifiably irate over the non-call foul at the arm-hook of Hainault – will have a week to get his guys mentally prepared for the task at hand. DC will have Bill Hamid back, but it remains to be seen what next weekend will bring for Chris Pontius, Brandon MacDonald, and Marcelo Saragosa – all of whom exited with knocks from leg 1. In the end, Houston will hold on and win out on the day (and aggregate), but not as authoritatively as in leg 1. Houston 1:0 DC for the match.
Well folks, that’ll do it for this week. Thanks to Stephen (@smangat12) and Jeff (@DFBJeff) for adding their voices to the mix! Maybe you’ll do the same in the comments section below?
Enjoy your week off from MLS. Perhaps you’ll catch the USMNT friendly vs. Russia this Wednesday? Let’s hope our boys come back with all their limbs and digits. That said, I guess I’ll take solace in the fact that it’s a friendly match. USA! USA! USA!