Bruce knows. - Stephen Dunn
Looks like it's going to be a repeat of last year's final as La Galaxy and Houston Dynamo both took commanding leads form the first leg matches.
Houston vs DC
This was always going to be a tough one for DC as Houston hadn't lost at home in forever, though Ben Olsen's men gave it a good go before capitulating after a number of things went against them. First up was injuries. Playing Chris Pontius was a gamble and it backfired as he had to be subbed off early, and they had to use a second first half sub to replace Marcelo Saragosa.
Despite that, they took a 1-0 lead into the break, through a Nick de Leon goal, though it may more correctly be called an Andre Hainault own goal, as it took a deflection off the Canadian and may well have missed otherwise. Hainault was a crucial figure in this one, earlier in the half he'd just missed with a header as DC fell asleep on a quick free kick, a harbinger of things to come.
Just before half time, he was involved in the games big moment of controversy as he pulled down DC's Augusto just outside the box. Free kick in a dangerous position, and probably a red card? Nope, neither of the above as Ricardo Salazar waved play on. Pat Onstad got himself sent off for protesting while Ben Olsen chose not to address it in a very pointed fashion in his half time interview. In the second half, who would pop up to score? That's right, Andre Hainault, another quick free kick was Oscar Boniek Garcia sent free and his cross was knocked in by Hainault.
DC had to use a 3rd substitution for injury as Brandon Macdonald went off early in the second half, taking all of Olsen's options away and meaning Branko Boskovic had to play the full 90 which was presumably not part of the plan.
The next big turning point again went against DC, as they created a great chance to retake the lead only for Bobby Boswell to make a fine headed stop on the line, and a minute later Will Bruin made it 2-1, his 4th of the playoffs. From there there was only one team in it, Houston taking advantage of an increasingly tired and ragged looking DC, and it ended 3-1. Not totally over by any means, Houston are no great shakes away from home, but they've got to be feeling confident about their chances of making it back to the final.
LA vs Seattle
More than likely that will be played at the exact same ground against the exact same opponents, as LA totally had their way with Seattle in the Western final. Eddie Johnson was left on the bench, leaving Fredy Montero up front on his own as Sigi Schmid conservatively packed the midfield. It wasn't a terrible tactic as a fairly dull first half looked to be ending 0-0, a result Seattle would have been happy with for sure. The quality on both sides was evident, but there were few chances as both sides found it hard to break the other down.
That changed in first half stoppage time as Landon Donovan was played in down the right hand side, just kept the ball in and got a cross over to Robbie Keane on the back post who made no mistake to head in the opener.
The second half was all LA as their counter attack and particularly Keane and Donovan up front repeatedly shredded Seattle. They scored two more, the ubiquitous and oh so predictable Mike Magee goal followed by Robbie Keane who stole a goal from Christian Wilhelmsson. The ball was going in from the Swede's shot, before Keane caught up to it a foot or so away from the line to knock it in and boost his personal numbers. Oh well, a striker hungry for goals, it's a good thing I guess.
As for Seattle, well after a tough display against Real Salt Lake, getting the win at Rio Tinto Stadium for their first ever playoff series win at the 4th time of asking, well this is the playoff Sounders we all know and love showing up again. The decision to go with just the one striker didn't work out, even when Johnson came on, it was to replace Montero, not join him up front so there'll be questions aplenty about that decision, though the way LA tore them apart on the counter when they chased the game a bit towards the end shows there was certainly some wisdom to playing it tight.
They'll go back to Seattle, hoping for something spectacular in front of 60,000+, but I really can't see this happening. This isn't the L.A of early season without Omar Gonzales, the bus works just fine now, and we all just saw what happens when you focus too much on attack, you get killed on the counter. It'll be an interesting game, Seattle may well win it, but they won't make up those 3 goals so LA will make it through.
Will they host the Dynamo again? More than likely, but at least DC have a chance to break that up, make the final and force LA to come to them. It's only a small chance though, in all likelihood, it'll be same again 3 weeks from now. Wild card-tastic.