The Western Conference final takes place on Thursday, with LA beating Seattle 1-0 at home to advance. The league disciplinary committee reviews Sosa's red and comes back with a further two game suspension, so he'll be out if we make it to the final. Which brings us to...
[Eastern Conference Final] Chicago:
I'm going to stick with the lineup from last match, with the exception of the enforced change of Jacobson for Sosa in light of Sosa's suspension. I'm sorely tempted to go with Camara up top, but I'll stick with Lopez and try Camara as an impact sub.
Both sides have half-chances early, but wily old veterans McBride and Lopez fail to connect. I start to push the attack more after we seem to be sitting too deep, inviting pressure from their staggered 4-4-2/4-2-4 hybrid that places two deep-lying d-mids in front of the back four and lines up two advanced wingers playing off the strikers. They pretty much mirror us, save for the fact that they play two up top while we tuck a central attacking mid beneath a lone striker.
Segares almost maims Tino in the 14th minute. I watch him hobble around for a bit, hoping he'll recover, but he's clearly a liability. I could play it safe with Olsen, but I want to keep the pressure on, so I bring on Camara earlier than I intended and put him on the right. I also push the holding mids forward into the gaping hole in midfield that the Fire's deep-lying central mids are leaving.
It's a tight first half, with not many chances. Ward gets yellow for holding back Rogers in the 28th. I'm considering a position swap up top, but I'll give the current arrangement a couple more minutes. Jacobson sees yellow for a sliding challenge in the 30th minute. On the ensuing free kick, Pause sees a yellow of his own for leaping unfairly with Rogers. Time for the change. Camara goes up top, Rogers on the right, Lopez on the left.
A weaving run by Rogers in the 33rd sets up Simms from the edge of the area, but his shot is a lame roller that Busch handles easily. Two minutes later, another dangerous Rogers run down the right sets up a corner. Chicago are playing some nice stuff as well. They fully merited finishing second behind us this year; they play a nice, quick passing game like we do.
On 42 minutes, Camara gets his first big chance, racing onto a Vavá flick-on header. He gets to the ball at the same time as Busch and manages to slip it under him, but Conde recovers to cut him off and clear the danger. The end of the half sees chances for both teams. Ours is the better; Simms lobs one to the left flank that Lopez volleys back across the face of goal. Vavá rushes in but directs his header right at Busch.
0-0 at the break.
At the half, I let the guys know that I have confidence they can pull this one out. Then I tell them go out and attack with all guns blazing. It backfires immediately. Rolfe turning Jakovic in the box and drilling home a near-post finish. We nearly respond immediately, but the flag is raised on Camara. Then Simms gets yellow for dragging down Rolfe. Vavá has been struggling for space with their two holding mids clogging the area in front of the center backs, so on the hour mark I push him up top next to Camara, mirroring the Fire's formation.
66 minutes and I'm going 4-4-2 to try and find a way around this block of six Chicago are sticking in defense. Olsen on for Jacobson. I put him wide right, shifting Vavá into a central midfield role to let him do a little prompting with Camara and Lopez up top. Vavá starts pulling strings, and Pause is forced to drag him down on 69 minutes. Second yellow = red. Twenty minutes to save the season, and we're up a man.
77 minutes. Final roll of the dice. I'm putting Moreno on for the disappointing Camara. Desperation time. I'm throwing everything forward in a 4-2-4...
Silence at RFK as we bow out 1-0 to the old nemesis in the Eastern Conference final. The season is over. Chicago hammer LA 3-0 in the final to win MLS Cup 2009. I destroyed the league in the regular season, but all I have to show for it is a slightly tarnished Supporters' Shield.
Our own Henri Camara won the League MVP despite being a complete and utter failure down the stretch. McBride finished second, Ljungburg third.
Angel won the Golden Boot with 22 goals. Chad Barrett finished second with 20, and Camara finished third with 18.
Omar Gonzalez was rookie of the year, with Zakuani second, and Wallace third. Wallace has been having major trouble dealing with media expectations though, so I worry about his long-term future as a top-flight professional.
LA's Ricketts took goalkeeper of the year. Cannon was second, Keller third.
Gonzalez doubled his pleasure by also claiming defender of the year, with our boy Boswell second, and Ramiro Corrales third.
Denis Hamlett won coach of the year, with me second, and Warzycha third (for missing the playoffs but winning the Open Cup? surely Soehn should have won last year, right ;-) ?)
Think I'm making a mess of this? Grab a copy of Football Manager 2010and have a go yourself. Then write it up and post it to your own blog or send me a copy and I might post it here on FBF...