Alright, let's get ready for the post-season with a quick walk through the first round matchups and make a few predictions, shall we . . . ?
Chicago Fire vs. New England Revolution
The playoffs kick off tonight with the Fire paying a visit to the Revs in the battle of 2 vs. 3 in the East. On the basis of table position, playoff experience (and success), and mental toughness, you would have been tempted to side with the Revs for most of the season. But you would have only done so if you ignored regular season results. Let's review: 4-0, 3-0, 2-1. So the Fire are 3-0 against the Revs with an aggregate score of 9-1. And how about the fact that the Fire have all their pieces intact while the Revs will be missing pretty much the entirety of their offensive production with their top three scorers (and leading assist man) on the shelf in the form of Ralston, Twellman, and Christman? Now let's add in suspensions to Khano Smith and Badilla. Hmmm, looking pretty grim for Nicol & Co., ain't it?
Prediction: 3-1 and 2-0 victories for the Fire as they advance easily.
Houston Dynamo vs. New York Red Bulls
Much like the Fire-Revs series, this one seems to be pretty lopsided. The Dynamo are the two-time defending champs, boast a deep and talented roster, and have a coach that seems to get the best from his players when it counts. By contrast, the Red Bulls have experienced consistent playoff failure, are missing players to suspension, and limped into the playoffs after failing to compete in a game that would have ensured their post-season place. That said, the season series was split, with Houston winning 1-0 at home before being trounced 3-0 on the road. Still, it's hard to believe Houston will fall at the first hurdle, and they've even taken the liberty of resting pretty much their entire starting lineup in the midweek Champions' League game. Kinnear wants to open strong.
Prediction: 2-2 in the Swamp, Houston advances after winning 3-1 at home.
Chivas USA vs. Real Salt Lake
This is my pick for the most exciting opening round series. Chivas have emerged from a hellish regular season to close with a strong stretch run, but much of that run came against sides below them. That makes them a bit of a mystery wrapped in an enigma when it comes to potential playoff performance. But RSL add a layer of conundrum atop that confusing pile. Kreis' men looked to be cruising to the #2 spot in the West before stumbling down the stretch, only grabbing their first ever playoff appearance with a dramatic last-gasp goal to get them into the post-season. So where do you put the money? It's a toss up, but I'm going to call upset on this one after PK's. Rimando the PK-playoff hero--again--despite Chivas owning the season series with three victories: 3-1, 1-0, 1-0.
Prediction: 1-1 at Rio Tinto, 1-1 in Carson, RSL pips it on PK's
Columbus Crew vs. Kansas City Wizards
The Wizards certainly ended the season on a hot streak. But will that surge be enough to overcome the huge amount of momentum the Crew have built up over the last couple of months? The two sides haven't met since a wild 3-3 draw in the middle of July at Crew Stadium, but the two results before that were 2-1 and 3-0 victories for the Crew. Add the extra spice of the Battle of Agéd Argentines (Lopez v. Schelotto), and this has the potential to be an interesting series, probably ranking #2 behind Chivas-RSL on my excitement-meter.
Prediction: 1-1 at the ballpark, 2-1 win for the Crew at home.
So that's the way I see it. How about you out there in internet-land? Predictions? Wild scoreline guestimates? Another round on the house for the miserable fans in DC and Colorado who have to watch at home after coming so close? Let's hear it!