MLS Playoffs: Power Ranking the Teams Going for MLS Cup Glory
The Major League Soccer regular season wrapped up last night and with the end of the season, the playoff field is now set.
The fourth and fifth seeds will take each other on in a one-game knockoff round, followed by home-and-away series for each conference’s semifinal and final round. The winners of each conference will then meet for the MLS Cup on December 1.
Here is how the teams stack up.
Houston Dynamo No. 5: Eastern Conference
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After making it to the MLS Cup in 2011 and giving the LA Galaxy a serious run for their money, the Houston Dynamo snuck into the playoffs this year one point ahead of the Columbus Crew.
Still, the Dynamo do have a number of top players including Will Bruin, Calen Carr, Brian Ching, Adam Moffat, Brad Davis and Andre Hainault among others and are capable of playing with anyone in the league.
The Dynamo slumped a little late in the season going 3-3-4 in their last ten games finishing the season with a 14-9-11 record. Houston also has a stingy defense, allowing the second least number of goals in the Eastern Conference (tied with Chicago).
The downside for the Dynamo is that they are going to be playing the Chicago Fire away in a one-off playoff game and lost away to Chicago 3-1 on September 2, the last time the two teams met.
Chicago Fire No. 4: Eastern Conference
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The Fire go into the playoffs having gone 5-4-1 in their last ten games, finishing the season 17-11-6.
Their defense features Jalil Anibaba, Arne Freidrich, Austin Berry and the young, talented netminder Sean Johnson, making the Fire tough to score on.
The Fire allowed the second least number of goals in the Eastern Conference, tied with the Houston Dynamo, their first round playoff opponent.
The Fire will also have the advantage of home-field against the Dynamo and beat Houston 3-1 the last time they met on September 2 in Chicago.
However, after beating the Dynamo, the Fire will run into Eastern Conference champions Sporting KC in the next round and the Fire’s season will end.
New York Red Bulls No. 3: Eastern Conference
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The New York Red Bulls are the enigma of the Eastern Conference this season, scoring an incredible 57 goals (the best in the conference), while also giving up 46 goals against (the only other teams that defended that poorly aren’t in the playoffs).
The Red Bulls are also on a bit of a hot streak going 4-2-4 in their last ten games (16-9-9 on the season) and tied their first round playoff opponent DC United away at RFK the last time the two teams met.
The Red Bulls are full of star power, but that has also hurt them in the past.
With a roster fueled by Kenny Cooper, Thierry Henry, Joel Lindpere, Dax McCarty, Tim Cahill, Sebastian Le Toux and Rafa Marquez, New York should be able to steamroll its opponents.
However, that same star power has come back to haunt them in the past with Thierry Henry yelling at his teammates, or Rafa Marquez doing something stupid that gets him sent off.
The two-game series against DC United also favors DC in that DC gets the second-leg at home.
The Red Bulls will again be ending their season early.
DC United No. 2: Eastern Conference
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DC United is one of the hottest teams out there right now with a 5-0-2 record since September 15.
They also scored 53 goals this season, second in the Eastern Conference right behind first-round opponent New York.
DC has a cadre of top players at its disposal including Chris Pontius, Maicon Santos, Nick DeLeon, Perry Kitchen, Andy Najar and young goalkeeper Bill Hamid.
One big absence for DC will be assist-machine Dwayne De Rosario who injured his MCL while on international duty with Canada.
However, DC will have the advantage of getting hot at the right time and hosting the second-leg of its opening round series against New York.
DC will make the finals of the Eastern Conference before losing to…
Sporting Kansas City No. 1: Eastern Conference
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While Sporting Kansas City is certainly no offensive powerhouse (they only scored 42 goals, the least among any Eastern Conference playoff team), they are also the toughest team in the league to score against (27 goals allowed, first in the league by a mile).
Sporting finished the regular season 18-7-9, going 5-0-5 over their last ten games.
Their roster is power-packed with Kei Kamara, C.J. Sapong, Graham Zusi (a league-leading 15 assists), Jimmy Nielsen, Matt Besler and Roger Espinoza.
Sporting will also maintain “home-field advantage” (all series are home-and-away with the higher ranked team hosting the second leg) throughout the playoffs and have a raucous home crowd to bring them through the home stretch.
Sporting KC is the obvious favorite to be playing for the MLS Cup on December 1.
Vancouver Whitecaps No. 5: Western Conference
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The Vancouver Whitecaps have to be one of the worst teams to ever make the MLS playoffs.
They finished the regular season with a losing record at 11-13-10 and went a horrid 1-6-3 over their last ten games.
They also lost to their first round opponent, the LA Galaxy, 2-0 away at the Home Depot Center on September 1st and now will have to play the Galaxy again in a one-off playoff match in Los Angeles.
The Whitecaps only scored 35 goals this season which placed them 17 out of the 19 teams in the league.
Their only saving grace is their defense which is led by former USMNT star Jay Demerit. The Whitecaps defense only allowed 41 goals this season, placing them fourth out of the 10 teams that made the playoffs.
Vancouver will lose to the LA Galaxy in the first round.
Real Salt Lake No. 4: Western Conference
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Real Salt Lake has the second seed in the Western Conference, but opens up with Seattle in the first round of the playoffs.
Real was 17-11-6 this season, but struggled a bit down the stretch going 4-3-3 in their last ten games.
They have Alvaro Saborio and Fabian Espindola up top (who combined for 26 goals this season) and the third-best defense in Major League Soccer.
Real’s biggest weapon however is their keeper, Nick Rimando, who has the ability to stand on his head. Rimando had the second most shutouts in MLS this season as well as the second fewest goals against and third highest save percentage among goalkeepers who started at least 25 games.
Real tied Seattle two weeks ago in Seattle, but the Sounders played short for 60 minutes in that game and were also missing Eddie Johnson due to his duties with the USMNT.
Real will be out in the conference semi-finals losing to a very good Sounders squad.
San Jose Earthquakes No. 3: Western Conference
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Trying to pick a winner of the Western Conference is a bit of a fool’s errand because of the immense amount of talent.
The San Jose Earthquakes were terrific this season finishing 19-6-9.
They scored a ridiculous 72 goals this season, more than doubling the goal total of several other MLS clubs.
At the heart of that production is Chris Wondolowski who tied MLS all-time goal-scoring record with 27 goals this season and Alan Gordon who chipped in 13 goals for the Earthquakes.
The Earthquakes also finished the season 5-1-4 over their last ten games. At first glance, that appears to be a very solid record, but on closer inspection, it reveals they did not have a shutout in their last six games and gave up multiple goals in three of those six.
In the battle of the titans among the Western Conference elite, someone has to lose.
An inspired LA Galaxy will rise to the challenge in the conference semifinals and knock off the Earthquakes.
Seattle Sounders No. 2: Western Conference
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The Seattle Sounders have one of the most deadly combinations in Major League Soccer.
With a defense that only allowed 33 goals all season (second best in the league, first best in the Western Conference) and a strike force of Eddie Johnson and Fredy Montero (who combined for 27 goals this year), the Sounders are tough to beat.
They finished the season 15-8-11, but stumbled a bit down the stretch.
While they went 4-2-4 in their last ten games, that included a loss to San Jose in Seattle, a tie to Real Salt Lake (their first round playoff opponent) in Seattle and a loss Sunday to the LA Galaxy in Los Angeles.
However, as discussed in the Real Salt Lake slide, the tie to Real was a fluke and the Sounders will get it together in time to play in the conference finals.
LA Galaxy No. 1: Western Conference
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The LA Galaxy, despite being a four seed, are still one of the most dangerous teams in the league.
Although LA was 16-12-6 during the regular season, they closed the last ten games 6-1-3 beating the higher-seeded Seattle Sounders and tying the top-seeded San Jose Earthquakes in San Jose.
The Galaxy scored 59 goals this season making them the second most prolific offense in Major League Soccer. However, their defense gave up 47 goals against, the worst of any playoff team in either conference.
The Galaxy were bolstered mid-season by the return of Omar Gonzalez from knee surgery and instantly became better, but now they are likely to be without A.J. DeLaGarza for most, if not all, of the playoffs due to a knee injury.
Landon Donovan returned from a knee bruise he suffered shortly before the USMNT’s October World Cup qualifiers and played 90 minutes against last night against Seattle which is great news for Galaxy fans.
With Robbie Keane, David Beckham, Sean Franklin, Juninho, Todd Dunivant and Mike Magee also ready to go, LA is ready to make as much noise as they did last year when they took home the MLS Cup.
LA will face Sporting KC for the MLS Cup.
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