MLS Conference Semifinals: A Look Ahead

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 Photo by Howard C. Smith/ISIphotos.com

By THOMAS FLOYD

And then there were eight.

With the new, much-discussed wild-card round now a thing of the past, MLS fans are back to the traditional eight-team bracket they've seen in the postseason since the league's inception. The next round will kick off with a matchup perhaps deserving of a grander stage when Real Salt Lake and the Seattle Sounders — two of the league's top three teams — clash at Rio Tinto Stadium.

Come Sunday, the league is offering a triple-header of playoff action comprised of the star-studded showdown between the New York Red Bulls and Los Angeles Galaxy, the Philadelphia Union's playoff debut against the Houston Dynamo, and Sporting Kansas City's trip to take on the Colorado Rapids.

Here is a rundown of the conference semifinal first legs:

REAL SALT LAKE vs. SEATTLE SOUNDERS (Saturday, 10 p.m., FSC, TSN 2)

Recent form would suggest Seattle has the edge in this matchup, as the Sounders enter the postseason winners of five of their past six while Salt Lake is mired in an 0-4-2 stretch. But with winger Mauro Rosales hampered by an MCL sprain, Seattle is expected to be without its most influential attacker.

Salt Lake, on the other hand, will get Kyle Beckerman back from suspension to partner centrally with playmaker Javier Morales, who is nearing top form after a five-month injury layoff. But even without Rosales, the Sounders still offer plenty of attacking precision in the form of striker Fredy Montero, winger Alvaro Fernandez and holding midfielder Osvaldo Alonso.

NEW YORK RED BULLS vs. LOS ANGELES GALAXY (Sunday, 3 p.m., ESPN2)

With New York coming off a gritty wild-card win over Dallas on Wednesday and the injury status of Los Angeles stars Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane up in the air, it looks like neither team will be at 100 percent for this first leg at Red Bull Arena.

But there should still be plenty of compelling matchups to watch — New York's Thierry Henry battling the Galaxy's Omar Gonzalez, Rafael Marquez going head to head with David Beckham, Joel Lindpere running at Sean Franklin. One key player who won't be available is New York right back Jan Gunnar Solli, who received a red card for a brutal tackle Wednesday.

PHILADELPHIA UNION vs. HOUSTON DYNAMO (Sunday, 5 p.m., ESPN2)

After ending the season with a six-match unbeaten streak that launched the Dynamo from the fringe of missing the playoffs to the Eastern Conference's No. 2 seed, Houston has turned into a potential dark-horse contender for the MLS Cup behind MVP candidate Brad Davis.

But don't sleep on Philadelphia, which rode Sebastien Le Toux's late surge to a strong finish of its own and is getting striker Danny Mwanga back to full health just in time for the playoffs. And the Union has one of the few players in MLS capable of consistently holding his own Davis in Sheanon Williams, arguably the league's finest right back.

COLORADO RAPIDS vs. SPORTING KANSAS CITY (Sunday, 7:30 p.m., FSC, TSN 2)

For earning the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed, Kansas City was dealt a trip to the Rocky Mountains to face a Colorado side that won the MLS Cup last year and finished just two points behind Kansas City in the standings this season. Some advantage.

It'll be a good matchup in central midfield as Colorado's Jeff Larentowicz and Kansas City's Graham Zusi fight to control the tempo. The flanks will also be crucial, as Omar Bravo and Kei Kamara will provide plenty of pressure from the wings for Colorado fullbacks Kosuke Kimura and Miguel Comminges to deal with.

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25 Responses to MLS Conference Semifinals: A Look Ahead

  1. RK says:

    Are they do-si-do’ing in that picture?

  2. Gnarls says:

    I have sees the future, and it looks like this:
    First leg:
    RSL 2-2 Seattle
    NYRB 2-1 LAG
    Philly 2-1 Houston
    Colorado 1-2 SKC

    Second leg:
    Seattle 3-1 RSL, Seattle moves on
    LAG 2-1 NYRB, goes to PKs, LA wins, moves on
    Houston 1-1, Philly moves on
    SKC 2-0 Colorado, SKC dominates, moves on

  3. PD says:

    First leg:
    RSL 0-2 Seattle
    NYRB 2-0 LAG
    Philly 1-1 Houston
    Colorado 3-4 SKC

    Second leg:
    Seattle 3-0 RSL, Seattle moves on
    LAG 3-1 NYRB, goes to PKs, NYRB wins, moves on
    Houston 0-0, goes to PKs Philly moves on
    SKC 3-2 Colorado, SKC moves on

  4. Mark says:

    I have New York winning the West, and Colorado winning the East, because that’s just how it works. The most ridiculous scenario will always come through.

    The only team to lose a playoff game/series in the past 3 years while playing in the wrong conference’s bracket is San Jose, when they lost to Colorado for the Eastern Conference crown last year.

    You can’t script the hilarity of MLS’s playoffs. No one could ever take this format seriously.

  5. soccer lee salt lake says:

    square dancing dp’s

  6. PMP says:

    The playoffs have lost their cache with me. Only speaking from personal experience, but i take no value in playoffs. I used to be interested but this year i find myself not caring one bit. The winner is usually a fluke.

    For me, the champion is LA this year. By far the best team.

    As far as the playoffs go, meh. Could care less what’s happening. Stopped following.

  7. Big Chil says:

    I think the Rapids will once again prove they’re better than any team in the Eastern Conference.

  8. My inner 12 year old says:

    Your mom takes it seriously…

  9. hoh says:

    Weeeeell, Seattle might have a differing opinion on that.

  10. manny rivademar says:

    Don’t count out the Dynamo. They are on a roll. Costly got his first goal and he looks hungry. Ching is back at full strength. Cameron playing back on defense with Boswell is where he belongs and the team has responded. Camarro looks like he is settling in as the MF. The Orange have good wing play from Cruz and Ashe and with Davis deadly crosses and Moffat’s bombs, they look like a power to contend with. Have not seen them play this good all year.

  11. Gnarls says:

    We’ll see. Seattle & SKC should definitely move on. Philly and LA are a bit more iffy, but not for lack of talent.

  12. Gnarls says:

    The point totals don’t lie, nor do the head to head results between Seattle & LA. LA was the better team this year.

  13. Charles says:

    Why are you following here then….please quit.

    GOOOOO SOUNDERS !

  14. Tony in Quakeland says:

    The winner for this round: Seattle, LA, Kansas City, Union.

  15. Pepe says:

    Yes.

    Oh yeah, and Kinnear knows something about winning the Cup!

  16. jfc says:

    need some aloe vera for that BURN!

  17. Rory says:

    Can we put an end to this “Dynamo are on a roll” meme?

    In their last ten games…

    They beat LA’s reserves (when LA had everything locked up and even LA’s owners were rooting against LA), they beat non-playoff team Portland, they TIED non-playoff team Chicago, the beat the horribly slumping FCD, they beat non playoff team San Jose, they tied Columbus, they lost 3-0 to Kansas City, lost to non-playoff team Vancouver, beat horribly slumpling RSL, tied to non-playoff team New England.

    I’m just not convinced that’s a roll.

  18. NF says:

    I followed MLS all season (watched multiple games every week), but I just can’t get into the playoffs this year. The system is so absurd when a team that finished in the bottom half of the Western Conference is trying to repeat as Eastern Conference champions.

    The regular season in NFL narrows the field from 30 to 8, the NFL from 32 to 12. MLS narrows the field from 18 to 10. You should not be able to finish the season with as many losses as wins and then win a few playoff games and be called champions. In the NBA, the regular season is just as meaningless, but at least you play 4 7-game series so the best team usually wins.

    MLS seriously needs to get it together.

  19. Brent McD says:

    Sounders
    Galaxy
    Dynamo
    Kansas City

    (higher seeds all advance)

  20. Camjam says:

    Ok, you REALLY think Seattle will outscore RSL 5-0 over two games? Really?

    I’m a homer like anybody else, but come one.

  21. Gnarls says:

    Seattle will not outscore RSL 5-0. See MY prediction for a more accurate analysis. ;) Both legs will be high scoring affairs, but I’m fairly confident Seattle will win handily on aggregate. Seattle is consistently good, while RSL has lost a lot of steam over the couple months. For the record, I’m a Galaxy fan.

  22. Tyler says:

    You guys do know that the only (MLS) teams all year to go to DSGP and beat the Rapids were the Galaxy and the Sounders, right? No way KC wins the first leg – they need to hope for a tie, as that would be a good result for them.

    Sporks are simply NOT putting 4 on the board in Denver.

  23. Joamiq says:

    This is probably what’s actually going to happen…

  24. Joamiq says:

    I think that would be a first…

  25. Paul Thomas says:

    Best analogy is hockey. 82 games to cut the field from 30 to 16. Then you play a bunch of playoff series, but 7-game hockey series are a total crapshoot, so the winner in the playoffs is very rarely the best regular-season team.

    The net result is that there’s essentially no reason to watch regular season NHL games. Every team that doesn’t suck makes the playoffs, and once you get there, any team can beat any other team, so seeding is basically irrelevant.

    At least MLS’s wild card system makes the regular season SLIGHTLY meaningful, though not very much so.