Despite being a bitter neutral, I'm still watching as much of the MLS playoffs as I can. And I'm sure the imps over at MLS HQ are getting hot and bothered right about now dreaming of a NY v. LA final. Me? Not so much. But it wouldn't be a hard case to make after the professional away wins both managed to post this weekend.
Colorado 1:0 Columbus
Colorado hold serve at home in a match that will probably look quite similar to what we'll see in the return leg next week (save for the stands being more full). The Crew are patient, like to get the ball down, and run things through their playmaker. Colorado have no use for such niceties. They get the ball wide and forward quickly, playing a direct, counterattacking style. You've got to hand it to Gary Smith. He may not be the most tactically progressive coach, but he's set a style and crafted his roster to suit, trading away pieces that didn't fit in order to build the beast he wanted. You've got to figure that the Crew will be able to sustain more pressure at home, but if Colorado nick one on the break, a feat they're admirably built to achieve, do the Crew have enough firepower and enough legs (remember their Champions League participation) to recover the tie? No away goals in the MLS playoffs, so they wouldn't need three. Still...
FC Dallas 2:1 RSL
RSL would have probably been my tip to repeat before the playoffs began, but they're in a tough spot now, down a goal and with Morales suspended for the second leg. And it's that late Avila goal that changes the complexion of this tie completely. RSL have been dominant at Rio Tinto, so it looked like 1-1 going home, even with Morales out, would prove clear sailing into the conference final, particularly with Dallas so banged up. Now? Not so sure. Rodriguez's injury opens the door for Cunningham, and you wouldn't put it past him to exploit his speed on the counter to up that goal tally. Still, RSL have a relatively deep bench. Will that be enough to overcome both a goal deficit and the drain of the extra Champions League fixtures?
San Jose 0:1 New York
Big win for New York in a game that they might have won by a more comfortable margin. Soccer being a game of inches, they equally could have gone home with a draw, but they always looked the more likely to score. Makes you wonder where the recently prolific Wondolowski was hiding. If I was San Jose, I'd be looking to heavily exploit the flanks in the second leg, because that was where the Red Bulls looked most fragile. Should be an interesting second leg, and all signs seem to favor New York, but I have this little itch that says the Quakes will make things interesting before the final whistle blows.
Seattle 0:1 Los Angeles
LA had their predictable little wobble, but they look to have righted the ship in time. With a hot Buddle, the best player in the league (Donovan), and the bonus of Beckham's quick recovery providing added danger from set pieces, I wouldn't be surprised to see them make another run to the cup final. On the other side, Montero's dip has come at the worst time for Sigi's men, rendering them far less fearsome in attack. And I'd be shocked, media blowhards' opinions notwithstanding, if Seattle doesn't bring in some real competition for Keller. He's turned in some shaky, if not downright laughable outings this year, and that inevitable ride into the sunset shouldn't be long in coming.
Second Leg Predictions?
Colorado counter KO's Crew.
RSL dominate, but need Rimando PK heroics to advance.
Red Bulls advance, but only narrowly.
LA push on, Seattle go down swinging (literally — at least one red card).