Here we are. The big games start this weekend. The match ups in the West could both be an MLS Cup Final. And in the East, the Rapids look to crash the party. We'll start in the West, not with the glamour tie, but with the one that has the potential to be a classic.
Seattle Sounders vs Real Salt Lake
( 1st Leg at Rio Tinto Stadium, Salt Lake City - Saturday, Oct.29th- 10pm/ TSN2)
(2nd Leg at CenturyLink Field, Seattle- Wednesday, Nov.2nd-10pm/ TSN2)
This match up easily could have been the MLS Cup Final. Fans in Seattle and Salt Lake will be treated to what many consider to be the juiciest match up of the Quarter Finals(Next to the Red Bulls and Galaxy). Both teams have shown that they are very capable of going the distance, and are considered to be in the MLS "elite". But RSL has not looked like their usual steady selves and the Sounders are poised to win their first playoff series in franchise history.
This series will come down to who's better between the goalposts. It’s Kasey Keller’s last season, and you better believe he’s hungry to bring an MLS Cup home to the league’s best supported club. But on the other end of the field stands Nick Rimando. Rimando stole the show when RSL won the MLS Cup in Seattle against a heavily favoured LA Galaxy squad. Both these guys have the potential to single handedly win games for their teams, and with a mini two game series, one bad goal could be the difference maker.
Another thing to look for in this one is the return of Javier Morales. Morales’ return to the "Royals" could be paramount, as Beckerman and Morales team up to be one of the most lethal midfield pairing in MLS. Beckerman and Morales will need to clog up the midfield and give Alonso fits in order to be effective.
For the Sounders, they need Fredy Montero to come up huge. Montero has had a strong 2011 campaign, but the Sounders have scored only one goal in over 300 minutes of MLS Cup playoffs action. If Lamar Neagle and Alvaro Fernandez play their part and contribute offensively, Seattle will be hard to slow down.
My heart says: Seattle Sounders win this series. I like the way this team attacks, and I find myself always getting behind the teams with the best supporters groups( Portland, Seattle, Philly). I would love to see the Sounders establish themselves as the crème de la crème in MLS and quite frankly they deserve it.
My head says: Sounders. RSL are a very solid team, and have been put together by a very smart GM in Garth Lagerway. But I don’t see RSL being able to contain a giddy and amped up Sounders side. Plus, I think the Sounders will have a massive home field advantage. As well supported as RSL are, no one (other than Portland), can hang with the Sounders in terms of the 12th man.
LA Galaxy vs New York Red Bulls
(1st Leg at Red Bull Arena, Harrison- Sunday, Oct.30th- 3pm/ TSN2)
(2nd Leg at the Home Depot Center, Carson- Thursday, Nov.3rd-11pm/ TSN2)
This is the blockbuster Quarter Finals match up. Henry vs Beckham. Marquez vs Donovan. Ricketts vs Rost. Keel vs Dunivant? Not quite. The list could go on. Don Garber must be doing the happy dance right now in his office. He’s gotten the match up he’s wanted for quite some time. This is the game that could finally see Red Bull Arena sell out! That’s a big deal.
The Red Bulls showed that they can grind out a result with things going against them. They played a man down during the last 10 minutes (plus 7 minutes of added time) of the FC Dallas game. The Red Bulls confuse me. Sometimes they’re scary good, and Lindpere and Richards move seamlessly down the wings, and other times they look like they can’t string two passes together. Marquez will be influential in dictating how the New York offense runs, but if LA can play tight on the Mexican super star, than the New Jersey Metro Stars are screwed.
LA have a steady back line that will test Henry’s patience. Lindpere and Richards are really going to have to use their speed and creativity if they plan on exposing LA on the wings. LA have the advantage in net in my mind. Ricketts is a beast, and if he goes down injured Saunders has shown he’s more than capable of stepping in. Juninho could be the X Factor for the Galaxy, as he’s proven to many that he’s able to carry the LA offense.
All in all, this will be one heck of a two legged series. I can honestly say that this is one of the most exciting playoff match ups I’ve ever seen in MLS. Everyone will say this is a battle of two heavyweights, but I feel like LA are for real, and New York may rely too heavily on Henry in this series.
My heart says: LA Galaxy wins. I want to see Chad Barrett experience something positive, not as an athlete, but strictly based on his mental health. That man has earned a taste of MLS playoff glory. I also find it easier to cheer for LA because they are not a conference rival. It would be nice to see this series live up to the expectations the hype will produce. But that may be difficult, as judging on how MLSsoccer.com hypes things up, I’m expecting a 12 to 8 aggregate score in this series.
My head says: LA Galaxy wins. The Gals are way too deep in every position, and having Rodgers, Solli, and Dax McCarty out will hurt an already small Red Bulls squad. Also, despite what he may think, Rafa can’t beat the Galaxy by himself.
Sporting Kansas City vs Colorado Rapids
(1st Leg at Dick’s Sporting Good Park -Sunday, Oct.30th- 7:30pm/ TSN2)
(2nd Leg at Livestrong Sporting Park, Kansas City- Wednesday, Nov.2nd-8pm/ TSN2)
The Colorado Rapids won the second wild card game of the MLS Cup playoffs against the Columbus Crew off an Omar Cummings first half goal. Now the Rapids are set to take on Sporting Kansas City Sunday at the Frozen Tundra Palace.
The Rapids suffered a huge blow when Jamie Smith left the game on Thursday with a torn right ACL. The Rapids are missing some massive pieces to their MLS Cup winning side from last year. Pablo Mastroeni is out, so are Conor Casey and Anthony Wallace. That means the Commerce City River Men will rely heavily on Jeff Larentowicz, Sanna Nyassi, and Omar to keep up with a scary SKC attack.
I hope Matt Pickens is prepared to play, because I’m expecting the Rapids to be pummelled with shots from Bravo, Bunbury and Co. I think the Rapids' only shot at winning this series, is if they can pull of a victory at home in game one. Dick’s Sporting Goods Park is horrible to play in at the best of times, but now that winter is upon us in North America, that place can be a frozen hell. The ball hangs in the air for days, and there’s already snow. So the Rapids will need to pounce on SKC while they’re adjusting to the climate.
The key for Sporting Kansas City is to maintain possession in this series. They will need to limit Big Red Rocket Jeff L ‘s time with the ball, because he’s deadly when given space. Chance Myers will need to lock onto Nyassi on the wing. Myers has played great all season for the recently rebranded club, and SKC will benefit if he can frustrate Nyassi early on.
Jimmy Nielson is becoming quite a cult hero for Sporting KC. He made some crazy highlight reel saves and single handedly won SKC some vital points this season. If Nielson can have one stellar game in Colorado, then SKC will finish the job in Kansas City. I may sound like a broken record, but it’s true, the position with the closest battle in this series is in net (Welcome to MLS). Both Pickens and Nielson are vitally important to their team, so expect this one to come down to the battle in the middle of the park.
Graham Zusi and Jeferson will look to take advantage of the space in the Rapids midfield at the moment. I’m sorry, but Joseph Nane is not the guy you want to be relying on in October to hold the centre of the park intact. I believe that this series will possess a very boring first leg in Colorado (see the Wild Card game against the Crew for details), but SKC will blow it wide open in the final match.
My heart says: Sporting Kansas City. I want to see SKC do well because they have a nice new stadium and it would be great to see a jam packed playoff game at Livestrong sporting park. I don’t really enjoy either team too much, but SKC plays a 4-3-3 and from what I’m told, that’s an attacking formation, and that sounds entertaining.
My head says: Sporting Kansas City. Without a doubt. Colorado has played a lot more games, and they are losing way too many role players to keep up with Sporting KC. Sporting KC are well rested and look poised to represent the Eastern Conference in LA.
Houston Dynamo vs Philadelphia Union
(1st Leg at PPL Park, Chester- Sunday, Oct.30th-5pm/ TSN2)
(2nd Leg at Robertson Stadium, Houston- Thursday, Nov.3rd- 8:30pm/ TSN2)
The Houston Dynamo squeaked into the Quarter Final round with a win in the final game in the regular season against the LA Galaxy. In my opinion, the Dynamo are okay, but they are not what I would call a sure bet for the Eastern Conference Finals. The highlight of the Dynamo’s season has been Brad Davis. He led the league in assists with 16( 1 more than Beckham and 3 more than Rosales), and has been pivotal in turning a somewhat mediocre Dynamo team into a 2nd place team in the East (might I add that the East is extremely weak and generally mediocre all around).
The Dynamo have the edge by hosting the 2nd leg of the series, but that’s where it ends. Tally Hall has had a great year, but he’s no Pat Onstad. Tally’s first real taste of MLS Cup playoff action will come against a fierce and blood hungry Union squad. Peter Nowak has taken the Union from usually crappy first year MLS expansion side, to a legitimate MLS Cup finalist (it won’t take much to win the East, just a team that knows how to grind out results).
The Union are led by Sebastien Le Toux, and possess a rock solid defense led by Danny Califf. There isn’t anyone who really stands out on the squad, but that’s the way Nowak loves it. Freddy Adu will surely get some attention in the broadcasts leading up to games, but we’ve yet to see Freddy used frequently and effectively with the Union. Brian Carroll, and Justin Mapp however have been great for the Union, if they can link up properly with Danny Mwanga and Le Toux, Philly could be off to the races.
Ultimately, the only position in which the Union hold a major edge is in net. Faryd Mondragon has played in many more important games than Hall, and I think we will see that on full display on Sunday. Although, Mondragon has had his injury problems this year, he’ll more than likely be good to go for the MLS Cup Playoffs.
My heart says: Union. I would love to see a second year team go deep into the MLS Cup playoffs. The Union are a group of hard working blue collar guys, and the Sons of Ben have earnt a playoff #DOOP or two. Philly loves their sports and it would be cool to see the Union become a big thing in the city of Brotherly love.
My head says: Dynamo. Kinnear is crafty, and he’s won back to back MLS Cups. Not all of these guys were around when the Dynamo last won it, but I think they’ll have enough to get past the Union. Boswell and Cameron will most likely shut down Philly’s one dimensional scoring threat.