The first set of playoff results are in the book, and a tight lot of games they were--three draws and a one-goal victory. No tie was blown wide open, which means that we should see another tight state of affairs next week. What we're really seeing here is the Power of Parity. It doesn't matter if you stomped the league (Columbus) or just came back from the dead in the last month (KC). It doesn't matter if you're a proven lot of hardened playoff campaigners (Houston) or a scurvy-ridden pack of foreign mercenaries that limped meekly into the postseason on the back of some miserable results (New York). So let's hit the roundup . . .
Chicago 0 : 0 New England
You had to know that the Revs would be aiming to stifle. Did they really have any choice with their three top scorers injured? Can Nicol find a way to grab a shocking result in Chicago? Doubtful. Despite New England hanging on in the first leg and creating a few chances, I can't imagine that they'll be able to stem the red tide indefinitely. I stand by my call.
Prediction: The Fire advance with a 3-1 victory. Jay Heaps will throw up his hands in disgust and vehemently protest his innocence in the wake of a near-decapitation of Blanco.
Houston 1 : 1 New York
Give the Bulls a bit of credit--they almost pulled it off. But Houston are an experienced lot, and they managed to grab a late equalizer that stands them in good stead going into the the second leg. I predicted a draw in the opener, and I still think we'll see the Dynamo roll when the Bulls visit Houston. With no Champions' League to worry about until after the playoffs, it should be business as usual for Kinnear's Orange Machine.
Prediction: Houston advance after a 2-0 that could have been much worse. At least one Bull will "see red" as things get feisty late.
Chivas 0 : 1 Real Salt Lake
RSL were all over the Goats (21 shots, 8 on frame, versus 3 shots, 1 on frame--are you kidding me?), but it's telling that it took them until the last minute and required a bit of Movsisyan Magic to unlock the Chivas defense. That bodes well for a team of Chivas' experience in the second leg, but I'm going to stick with my call of RSL advancing. I expected a pair of draws leading to penalties, but RSL's first leg victory puts them even more in the catbird seat than I had anticipated. Couple that with the fact that they've been playing well of late (even if the results haven't been the best), and are earning a reputation for dramatic late heroics.
Prediction: 1-1 in the second leg with a late Mathis toe-poke grabbing a vital draw and preventing the need for Rimando to morph into Playoff PK Messiah once again.
Columbus 1 : 1 Kansas City
Well, this was the only result that I got dead-on in my predictions last week. KC will feel hard done by that they had Gomez dismissed and surrendered the late goal, but Columbus are too good of a side not to take advantage of the gift handed to them by the ref. Onalfo will need to reshuffle the deck without Gomez to roam the right wing next week, but the more pressing concern will be: can he find a way to stop that dangerous Crew attack? I stand by my earlier call.
Prediction: The Crew run out to a 2-0 lead and completely dominate the opening 75 minutes, but KC grab one back late, and Hesmer has to save from Conrad and Lopez in the late going to preserve the win.
Well, there you have it. Who do you think will advance to the conference finals? Place your bets in the comments below.