Now tell me truthfully. What is your abiding image of the first round of the MLS Cup playoffs? Is it Schelotto steaming on the bench in Salt Lake? Maybe Onstad "chesting" Flopping Fredy? Perhaps Ching's flying finish? Not me. I'll go with Mike Magee's delayed-reaction groin-grab after taking a boot in the nether regions.
Don't tell the MLS HQ style (and thought!) police, but just between us, what could be a more appropriate image for the MLS playoffs than a flying kick to the balls? Note that I'm not saying the opening round wasn't entertaining, but high art it was not. Instead, we're firmly in groin-damaging 30 second clips on YouTube territory. Some of the defensive ineptitude on display was shocking and painful. But I suppose we should take a quick look forward and back before we cross this week's street, hmmm?
Strange how things work out, isn't it? All season long, RSL have been miserable away from home and the Fire have been indifferent in their own digs. But put an elimination game on the table and suddenly the form-book isn't just flying out the window, it's in orbit!
RSL were pretty much living up to form, down 2-0 to Schelotto after 35 minutes (ah, what might have been, Bobby, if you had the balls in Salt Lake...). But a funny thing happened on the way to the final whistle. Not only did RSL not concede another, but they grabbed three of their own, posting a shocking 3-2 victory (4-2 on aggregate) in Columbus.
Over in Chicago, New England were doing their best to prove Kevin Payne right. And they were doing a bang-up job of it until a bit of lax play on the endline let El Hunchbacko do the business and mingle with the crowd in celebration. What home jinx? Chicago 2-0 (3-2 on aggregate). So can they repeat the trick at Toyota Park?
Prognostication Engine says...yes! RSL seem to have the mojo going their way, and they'll be hugely confident after taking out the favorites. But isn't Olave scheduled for his mandatory ejection sometime soon? And what better man to roll around after a challenge than Blanco? Honestly, this one could go either way, but I'm thinking that the Fire vets will find a way, and rue the day they do every minute of next season as they keep Hamlett in his job. Fire 2, RSL 1, in extra time.
The high seeds held serve, even if they both waited until late to post the 1-0 results they needed to go through.
The Gals were pretty much in control of their affair with the Goats, but after they grabbed the lead courtesy of Mandon from the spot, there were a couple of shaky moments where you thought playing a half-cripple in central defense might come back to haunt the Bruce. I still think it might next week given the way Oduro has been buzzing around for Houston.
Still, it wasn't Oduro, but the tried and true Ching that put away the winner to see off the pesky Sounders after nobody could find net after 180 minutes of scoreless regulation time. And the Sounders created plenty of chances of their own, enough that you wouldn't have begrudged either side the victory.
Prognostication Engine asks...So who comes through in the clash at the HDC? You'd be foolish to pick against Arena, considering the blood he's drawing from of the stones on that Galaxy roster, but I think Houston finds them out, particularly through the speed of Oduro. If LA score first, things could get interesting, but if Houston do, I think it might get ugly. Houston 1, LA 0.