The twisted genius of Bruce Arena? Sure, it was embarrassing for the Gals to get dumped from the Champions' League qualifiers by a division 2 team, but who's laughing now? All three MLS sides that made it through to the group stage of the CCL and subsequently qualified for the playoffs (Seattle, Columbus, RSL) are now packing their bags for the offseason. Were tired legs a factor? Would Arena be that cynical?
New York 1:3 San Jose (2:3 on aggregate)
Metro. Playoff. Failure. The legend continues. I said in this space last week that I had this little itch the Quakes would make things interesting in this second leg. I just didn't know how interesting. The Red Bulls certainly controlled large swathes of the game, and that Agudelo kid looks a keeper, but they just couldn't find the final ball often enough. And the set pieces? Miserable stuff from DPs Angel and Marquez. Speaking of final balls, what about Bobby Convey? That lob to Wondolowski for the winner you maybe expect from him. But goals? As a United fan, I'm still shaking my head in disbelief that he managed to finish not just once, but twice, and in pressure situations to boot.
Columbus 2:1 Colorado (2:2 on aggregate, 4:5 on PKs)
I expected the result, but not in the manner it arrived. I was fairly certain that the Crew would come full-bore from the opening whistle, get pegged back on the counter and then huff and puff trying to find two goals, ultimately collapsing after all those extra Champions' League and Open Cup matches piled on their tired legs. After two straight first-round upset losses, I wonder if Warzycha's seat is starting to get hot. Something about this situation is starting to smell of Soehn's United of a couple seasons ago. Is it too early to predict that the Crew win the Open Cup but miss the playoffs next year?
RSL 1:1 FC Dallas (2:3 on aggregate)
How huge was that late goal from Avila last week? RSL probably still should have found a way to at least force this one to extra time, but a combination of poor finishing and a gimpy Kevin Hartman barred the door. Of course, saying that, Dallas could have equally tallied a few more if they were more lethal themselves, and LA will be duly worried about what they bring on the counter. Undoubtedly, we're going to see Dema dogging Ferreira to break up the springboard for such attacks, but that could easily backfire if the red mist descends. It'll be interesting to see what RSL looks like next year. They ran to a large degree on a potent mix of confidence and home form this year. Will the self-belief still be there after an early playoff exit? And MLS HQ? Why is the team that finished fourth in the league playing the team that finished second in the first round of the playoffs? For that matter, why is San Jose playing Colorado for the Eastern Conference crown? I know Americans are lousy at geography, but sheesh!
Los Angeles 2:1 Seattle (3:1 on aggregate)
Tepid bow-out from Sigi's green machine, though they had the chances to make things much more interesting. It's funny how the rest of the team struggled when Montero was hot, but then Montero completely lost his form when the team started gelling. Like Columbus, Seattle had the added burden of going the distance in the Open Cup and six Champions' League group stage matches to contend with, but in the end, it's the finishing that let them down the most in both legs. And I think Sigi will be particularly displeased with the marking on set pieces, considering that said plays are one of LA's most lethal weapons and had to be a focus of his preparations. As a coda: no blame falls on Keller for the two LA goals in this match, but I wonder about his future. True, he made some excellent saves over the course of the year, but for every one, there was at least one face-palm moment to match.
The Conference Finals
Three out of four upsets in the first round. Does the pattern continue in the MLS Cup semifinals, or, as MLS insists on maintaining geographical inanity, the Conference Finals? One thing is for certain: we'll have at least one "dark horse" in the final looking to replicate RSL's surprise bid from last year. The question is: which one? Both Colorado and San Jose are excellent on the break, but it's hard to break against a team who are looking to counter themselves. Indeed, both regular season matches ended in 1-0 wins for the home team.
Prediction? Colorado are not as wasteful of chances as New York. San Jose struggle in the chilly altitude. 2-0 Colorado.
The other half of the draw sees the Galaxy entertain FC Dallas. Both teams have injury worries and looked a bit suspect at the back, despite going unpunished, in their first round matchups. That said, both were facing teams that carried fairly potent attacking threats. Also, both goalkeepers are a bit dinged, which could make things particularly interesting, especially if we go to penalties. I think this one boils down to the Dallas counter versus LA set pieces. Which team proves most lethal in their speciality? Does Dallas show enough discipline to keep from picking up silly fouls? Can both teams keep eleven men on the field? I suspect things may get a little chippy and wonder if there may be some significant suspensions heading into the final for whichever team makes it there.
Prediction? My gut tells me Dallas will carry the day, but I can't look past the fact that LA won both regular season meetings, so I pick LA in a surprising knockout competition goal-fest, 3-2. And is it too much to ask that LA go through but both Donovan and Beckham pick up suspensions, throwing MLS HQ into a tizzy? Thanks in advance, soccer gods.