It's that time of year again, MLS fans. The leaves are turning, a chill wind blows from the north, DC United are watching from home (sniff!), and the playoffs are getting ready to kick into gear. So let's take a look at the matchups and consult the Nostrodameter for predictions...
Houston Dynamo v. Seattle Sounders
We'll kick things off tomorrow with the Dynamo visiting the funny man and his marching band on the plastic patch in Seattle. Houston weren't exactly on fire as they came down the stretch, but I had the feeling that they were just biding their time, waiting to crank it up when the stakes got higher. Seattle appeared to have hit a slump coming out of the summer, but were starting to work their way back into form as the season wore down. Can that run continue?
* Prediction: Seattle will need to take a lead back to Houston, and it'll probably need to be a multi-goal one if they hope to survive. I think this is a step too far for them. If it was anybody but the Crew or Dynamo, I'd give them a shot, but I call Orangemen 3, Infectedsnotmen 2, on aggregate.
Columbus Crew v. Real Salt Lake
RSL pounded the playoff door down after it looked like their inconsistency might kill them off. They've got an array of solid attacking options that will worry the Crew defense, particularly if Marshall isn't back from injury. However, the Crew will be able to ask some questions of their own when it comes to the RSL defense. The big question will probably be this: does RSL's momentum from their last-gasp qualification carry forward against a complacent Crew, or does the rested Schelotto pick apart an RSL defense given to major wobbles?
* Prediction: This is a lot harder to call than I would have anticipated on first seeing the draw. I do think that RSL will take a lead to Columbus. Sadly, I fear that their road woes will bite hard, and Columbus will roar back to advance. Hardhats 4, Fake Spaniards 3, on aggregate after extra time in Estadio del Crew.
Chicago Fire v. New England Revolution
So what's the opposite of the old immovable object vs. unstoppable force cliche? The Fire stumbled their way into the playoffs, only claiming the #2 spot in the East on the final weekend after the rest of the Conference pretty much conspired to give it to them. They've got weapons and veteran savvy, but haven't done much to take advantage of either. The Revs were limping in as well, but at least they have an excuse in the form of three starters on the long-term injury shelf. This one generally has its fair share of controversy and incident, but I expect goals to be at a premium.
* Prediction: New England play some dour defensive stuff to keep things tight and go to Chicago after a goalless draw. After the Fire repeatedly shoot wide or run up against Reis, Joseph climbs highest for a late floated free kick and the miracle Revs advance. Minutemen 1, Underachievers Anonymous 0, on aggregate.
Los Angeles Galaxy v. Chivas USA
And that brings us finally to the big LA derby. At least nobody has to worry about travel plans, right? Chivas burst out of the gates this season laying waste to all in their path. But then summer hit, and their injury list began to grow...and grow...and grow. And just when all seemed lost, Preki got the ship turned round and back they came. The Galaxy were boring by comparison. They started slow, but then built slowly and steadily, until, to the shock of pretty much everybody, they were steaming towards the Western Conference crown. So who takes the double-SuperClasico?
* Prediction: It's hard to ignore the regular season meetings (one 0-0 draw, and two LA 1-0 victories), particularly since Chivas didn't score in any of them. But larger than that, I think Donovan gives LA an edge that Chivas just can't match. Mandon 3, Stripeygoats 1, on aggregate.