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Last night marked the end of the first ever MLS Cup playoff Knockout Round. Next up are the Conference Semifinals. In the inaugural year for this new MLS playoff structure, the Conference Semifinals will be played in two-game aggregated series, with the lower seed hosting the first leg n’ the higher seed hosting the second leg. This means that in the case that both teams win a game each in a series, the total goal count from both games will determine who advances to the Conference Championship. If the goal counts are tied, then the second game will be followed by two 15-minute periods, which will be followed by penalty kicks if needed.
Let’s preview the games in the first leg of the Conference Semifinals. There are four series this round, so this is going to be quite a busy week.
This round is kicked off by two teams who earned first round byes n’ should be well-rested. Seattle Sounders host Real Salt Lake. (Seattle must really love the letter ‘s.’ I keep wanting to call them ‘Seahawks.’) These are two teams who got off to good starts that led them to be in the running for the Supporters Shield. However, they both seemed to fizzle out by the end of the season, but still managed to snatch the #2 (RSL) & #3 (Sounders) seeds ahead of the perpetual favorites, LA Galaxy. Although RSL has had recent struggles scoring goals, their defense is as strong as always. The Sounders are plagued with injuries n’ struggling to find consistency in their healthy players. From what I’ve seen, Sounders have a very physically intense offense, but RSL has a stable defense, so this should make for an entertaining matchup.
Western Conference Semifinals Leg 1: Real Salt Lake at Seattle Sounders
Friday 11/2, 10PM ET (7PM PT) on NBCSN
Next is a matchup between the Eastern Conference #2 seed D.C. United & #3 seed New York Red Bulls (yes, like the drink). Although United had a good stretch of last seven games winning five, many thought them to have a “soft” schedule. The Red Bulls on the other hand were 2-2-2 in their last six games, but apparently have good home-field advantage. The three-game series between these two teams during the regular season is an even 1-1-1, so that’s not a very helpful stat. As I have previously stated in past articles, these playoffs are my first time watching Eastern Conference games, so I cannot accurately evaluated these teams, but it seems that we have a good matchup in this series between two equally talented teams. It’s hard to not be cheering on the Red Bulls in the wake of Sandy. Thoughts & best wishes to all the families affected by the disaster.
Eastern Conference Semifinals Leg 1: New York Red Bulls at D.C. United*
Saturday 11/3, 8PM ET (5PM PT) on NBCSN
*Due to Hurricane Sandy, MLS has asked Bulls & United to swap home games (NY stadium in good shape, but no electricity)
Now we’re getting into the interesting matchups. As a result of knocking off Chicago Fire, Houston Dynamo will be host to the #1 seed of the Eastern Conference, Sporting Kansas City. There are not enough words to praise KC’s defense. Granted I’ve only seen clips & highlights, but I think it’s fair to assume that they deserve their #1 seed. Dynamo played well Wednesday in Chicago. Maybe it was due to Halloween, but that stadium was so deserted that home-field advantage wasn’t even a factor. Many will say that both teams played an intense game, but I think Houston simply outplayed Chicago – being up 2-0 for a good amount of the game, they were able to be in control of their fate n’ concentrate on good defense while Chicago played with an air of desperation. Chicago Fire, shall I say, flamed out. Dynamo has had some perplexing losses this season, but they’re a force to be reckoned with. Sporting KC should watch its back, but it’s almost undeniable that they will emerge victoriously.
Eastern Conference Semifinals Leg 1: Sporting Kansas City at Houston Dynamo
Sunday 11/4, 3:30PM ET (12:30PM PT) on NBC
The last game of this super busy weekend is none other than LA Galaxy hosting San Jose Earthquakes. (BOO YAH!) The Earthquakes, as you probably know by now, enter as the #1 seed in the league. They’re by no means invincible, but they do have a certain flair for the dramatic, which has shown to work in their favor thus far this season. Meanwhile Galaxy earned their spot against San Jose through a comeback win against the Vancouver Whitecaps (yes, comeback). Within the first 3 minutes of the Knockout Round, ‘Caps stunned Galaxy (n’ probably the whole MLS) by scoring a goal. ‘Caps goalkeeper even jumped a bigillion feet to save a Beckham penalty kick (that must have screwed over the sorry Brit’s PK success percentage). They would continue to play extraordinary defense enabling them to enter halftime with a 1-0 lead over LA. However, apparently LA has been watching a little too much Quakes soccer n’ scored late in the game. There was then a probably soon-to-be-if-not-already controversial call that gave Landon Donovan a free kick, which he nailed for LA to take a 2-1 lead. After that fatigue appeared to overcome ‘Caps n’ their play became sluggish. Apparently they are the first Canadian team to make the playoffs, and they should be proud of how well they held up. Needless to say, Part IV of the California Clasico between Galaxy & Quakes will be intense n’ not lacking in drama. While the league sees LA as having a lot of pressure put on them, as a Bay Area local, the pressure on the Quakes has increased with every story of success. I think it’s safe to say that anything short of a berth to the MLS Cup will be a disappointment for San Jose, a team that has bounced back spectacularly from a dismal 2011 season.
Western Conference Semifinals Leg 1: San Jose Earthquakes at Los Angeles Galaxy
Sunday 11/4, 9PM ET (6PM PT) on ESPN
For those of you in the Bay, the Earthquakes are hosting a viewing party at the San Pedro Square Market in Downtown San Jose. According to the team’s Facebook event page, all fans in attendance will receive a blue rally wig & a “Never Say Die” headband! Tickets to the first home playoff game (which is sold out) will also be raffled. It should be one loud, crazy evening. GO QUAKES, BEAT LA! Hey LA, did you feel that?!