Livestrong Sporting Park will be a rocking on Sunday night, as it hosts the first of two conference finals. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
We are one day away from knowing who will represent the Eastern and Western Conferences at the MLS Cup Finals at the Home Depot Center. On one side, we have Sporting Kansas City and Houston Dynamo, which is sure to be a close but entertaining kick about, and on the West side we have everyone's favourite favourites the LA Galaxy hoping to advance past a injury-riddled Real Salt Lake. Sunday night should produce some amazing games. Our previews are below the jump.
Eastern Conference Finals
Houston Dynamo @ Sporting Kansas City (Sunday, November 6th- 5:30 PM)
Finally we have two Eastern Conference teams in the Eastern Conference Final. None of this San Jose vs Colorado in the East crap this year. But I should probably stop myself there. Houston was originally a Western Conference team, but made the switch to the dark side (Eastern Conference) at the start of this season. Either way, it’s a one game playoff, and one of these teams will be going to LA for the MLS Cup Final.
If I were to tell you that these two teams would be representing the East this year, many of you would have asked for the Quaaludes in my back pocket. Sporting had a horrible start on the road, and Houston was coming off a very disappointing 33 point, playoff less 2010 season. But a team’s fortunes can change pretty quickly in the MLS. SKC and the Dynamo will surely bring an entertaining game on Sunday night. Here are a couple things to look out for.
Sporting Kanas City plays a very entertaining 4-3-3, and has 3 forwards that compliment each other’s game beautifully. The most important part to any 4-3-3 is the 3 men in the midfield. Davy Arnaud, Graham Zusi, and Jefferson will be looked at to distribute balls and set up the SKC attack. Zusi is SKC’s own version of Brad Davis, he's in charge of most important free kicks, and his set pieces have led to some clutch goals this season.
On the other side of the field, the Dynamo will hope that Brian Ching can continue to be captain clutch for them. Calen Carr bring some much-needed speed to the front, but a Carr- Ching strike force doesn’t scare me as much as it used to. Everyone will talk about Davis on the wing, but I’m a little more interested in how the Dynamo uses Danny Cruz on the other side of Davis. Cruz will be given a lot more room to work than his bro Bradley, and little Danny packs a lot of speed. I’m looking to Cruz to create some magic at Livestrong.
Chance Myers vs Brad Davis:
Myers has had a breakout season in the back, but he’ll have his biggest assignment of the season on Sunday. As good as Myers has played, I believe Davis will tear up the midfield in this game. The only question mark is if Davis’ teammates will be able to effectively get on the right end of his gorgeous, perfectly placed crosses.
I’m a big fan of Boswell, Hainault and Cameron, but they will have to be in constant communication all game against SKC’s bunch of forwards. I don’t think the Dynamo will be able to contain Bravo and the boys, but maybe Kinnear has some crazy strategy. Speaking of Dom...
Peter Vermes vs Dominic Kinnear:
Kinnear has won a couple MLS Cups, so I’m very confident that he’s got a great understanding of what his team needs to do to win. My only question is if Kinnear has the players to pull off the kind of football he wants.
Kinnear’s back line is solid, but his two central midfielders are not the strongest. Having said that, Moffat can absolutely crush long distance strikes. So Vermes will look to take control of the middle of the park. I personally think Vermes has done a fantastic job getting his team to buy into this somewhat tricky formation. Kinnear is a better coach, but Vermes has the boys to take him to the MLS Cup.
My heart says: Sporting Kansas City. They are extremely entertaining going forward. They have a dynamic keeper in Nielson. And they have a tendency to give up and also score late goals. Oh, and Livestrong Park is amazing.
My head says: Sporting Kansas City. A lot can be made about home field advantage in any sport during the playoffs. But in the MLS Cup playoffs, home field advantage doesn’t mean a whole lot. Many road teams have gone into intimidating venues and come out with "upset victories".
I think Sporting’s fans will play a big part in the match, but this one comes down to who can score first. My money is on Tally Hall to concede before Nielson.
Western Conference Finals
Real Salt Lake @ Los Angeles Galaxy (Sunday, November 6th- 9:00PM) *TSN2
Once again we have a Western Conference playoff match up, that could easily be an MLS Cup Final. In my opinion, all 4 teams involved in the Western Conference Quarters this year were worthy of a Finals berth.
This game is a rematch of the 2009 MLS Cup Final in Seattle, but both squads look a tad different now. LA now has Keane, Dunivant, Juninho, and Barrett. While RSL don’t have Findley, but filled the void with Alvaro Saborio.
The Sandy boys are dealing with some injuries at the moment, and look a little weak at the back. Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers are both out with Quad injuries, forcing the Royals to create the makeshift pairing of Chris Schuler and Chris Wingert. Wingert is normally a winger, so Keane, Barrett and Donovan will be all over RSL’s back line.
Clearly LA has the advantage at the back. A.J. DeLaGarza, Omar Gonzalez, Sean Franklin and Todd Dunivant. I need not say a lot about these 4 men, because they are the strongest defensive team in MLS. I really don’t know why TFC let Dunivant go for freaking allocation money. Many believe Dunivant is one of the best left backs in the league, and RSL will have real trouble trying to accomplish anything in LA’s end.
RSL’s strength is their midfield. Morales, Beckerman and Johnson are all skilled players, and Johnson and Beckerman make some hard nosed plays. LA tends to hate when things get rough, and they aren’t a very big team either, so look for RSL to "bully" the Gal’s in the midfield.
Will Johnson vs David Beckham: Will Johnson knows how to get under player’s skin. He had some pretty harsh challenges on a couple Sounders, and it really pissed them off. I could see Jason Kreis telling Johnson to go at Beckham. Becks tends to get very rattled when he’s roughed about. Remember Adrian Serioux’s welcome to MLS tackle on Beckham? I’m sensing a couple iffy tackles from Johnson on Sunday, Posh will not be pleased, but screw it. I love Canadians who play soccer like hockey players.
Saunders came on for Rohan’s cousin Donovan Ricketts in the 2009 MLS Cup Final, but ended up losing to RSL on penalty kicks. Saunders was given the Bruce Arena nod (or neck movement, I’m not too sure how he does it these days), ahead of Ricketts in the game against New York, so I expect Saunders will be starting again on Sunday night.
I’ve already talked about how awesome Nick Rimando is, so I won’t repeat myself. The edge goes to Rimando because he’s one of the best in the league and is known to make the odd penalty save or two.
If Tony can even come close to the miraculous save he pulled off in Seattle, RSL will be in a position to beat LA. Unfortunately, I see that save as a once in every 133 games kind of thing. Plus if Beltran gets another head shot, Taylor Twellman will go Godzilla 2000 on all of us.
My heart says: LA Galaxy. I secretly want LA to lift the Cup. David Beckham was not what we expected him to be, but he’s been great this year. I also know that if LA wins, then MLS will get loads of media attention, and I cannot explain to you how much I love when this league gets talked about on mainstream media. Plus I also have a thing for league’s that have established powerhouses. Think NHL pre lock out, i.e. Detroit, Colorado, New Jersey. Weird I know.
My head says: LA Galaxy. RSL can't hang with the Galaxy because they’re missing two important defenders, and LA is way too deep.