MLS Playoff Prattle - The Magic is Back

Wow! I'm pretty sure the East went about as everybody expected, and I was part of the sizable camp that favored RSL over Chivas, but who saw the Dynamo not only getting ousted in the first round, but getting clotheslined by a low Red Bulls hurdle--at home to boot? MLS Cup 2008 is going to feature either RSL or the Red Bulls. It still feels weird to type that sentence. Let's run through the series first and then take a look at some predictions for the conference finals.

Chicago advances past New England 3-0 (3-0 agg.)
Well, duh. Missing most of their offensive weaponry and saddled with a recent run of terrible results, the Revs were always going to struggle. I called 3-1 for Chicago, but the Revs couldn't even muster the one I was willing to spot them. As it is, the only surprises here were that defenders accounted for two of the Fire goals and that it was Albright who got tossed for abusing El Hunchbacko (I called Heaps with the elbow-jitsu, for the record).

Columbus advances past Kansas City 2-0 (3-1 agg.)
Man, I should've opened up the wallet on this one. I called the 1-1 in the first, and just about nailed the second result, predicting that the Crew would go up 2-0 and suffer a late consolation goal from the Wiz. Sadly, the Wiz couldn't pull through with that late goal to lend my predictions more weight. Any DC fans watching Carroll's performance and wondering about the wisdom of an FO that would lose him to one expansion draft and trade a first round pick to get Dyachencko back from another?

Real Salt Lake advances past Chivas 2-2 (3-2 agg.)
I thought this would turn out to be the best of the opening round series, and it certainly proved so. RSL grabbed a late winner in the first and stormed back to take a definitive lead after Chivas had pulled level early in the second match, only to have to survive a late Chivas rally. I called 1-1 in this leg, but the 2-2 was more a more fitting roller-coaster end to Chivas' season (and a continuation of RSL's). It's way too late for MVP consideration, but Morales has been magic for RSL lately.

New York advances past Houston 3-0 (4-1 agg.)
Speed kills. Are you watching, DC FO? In what had to be one of the most shocking of possible results, the Red Bulls not only beat Houston, but did so by an astounding 3-0 margin. True, Cepero was terrific in the Red Bull net to deny the Dynamo, and Richards was at the heart of everything for New York, but if anybody needed evidence of the Osorio black magic, here it was. I'm not suggesting Houston did enough to win the game, but the fact that they didn't find the net at least once has got to be down to some kind of mystical hoodoo on the Red Bulls' part. But can the magic bury the curse of Metro Playoff Failure? We'll have our answer next week at Rio Tinto.

Conference Final Predictions

East: Chicago travel to Columbus to renew an old rivalry. With Houston out of the picture, the winner of this match has to be considered the favorite to lift the cup. But who exactly is the favorite here? Columbus have been outstanding all season, but they're a young team without much in the way of playoff experience. Chicago, on the other hand, have a veteran core and have arguably been playing the better of the two sides over the last couple of weeks. On that point alone, I'm leaning towards the Fire. How about the regular season series? No help there. In MLS play, the teams played two 2-2 draws. Chicago did win an Open Cup match 3-2 at home, but, well . . . that's the Open (read as: Reserve) Cup.
Prediction: 2-1 Chicago as a late McBride winner sends the Crew fans home cursing their old hero. It's hard to pick against the Crew, but Chicago have just been too strong of late to be denied. They'll have good traveling support as well. Of course, weather could throw the whole thing out the window, and Blanco is a total x-factor--he could go missing or could turn up with a wonder-goal (or, more likely, his influence will be felt in the cards--both for and against).

West: The black magic Red Bulls try to put the Hex on RSL at Rio Tinto, but will they have anything left in the tank after their demolition of the Dynamo? Is Cepero the next Howard or a flash in the pan? Can RSL shut down Richards? Can the Red Bulls creaky "D" pull off another clean sheet? Will the Morales-Movsisyan connection prove vital for RSL once again? The Red Bulls hold the regular season edge, with a 2-1 home win and a 1-1 draw on the road, but there isn't much to suggest a winner in this one.
Prediction: 3-2 RSL. Metro Playoff Failure strikes again after Angel and Richards overcome an early Movsisyan strike to go up 2-1, but then surrender two goals in the last ten minutes after going down a man.

So, let's hear it FBF readers. What do you think of the playoffs so far? Who do you think is going to win it all? Have your say in the comments and the poll.

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