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MLS Playoffs: Top 10 Players to Watch

Nathan McCarterFeatured ColumnistNovember 6, 2012

MLS Playoffs: Top 10 Players to Watch

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    The the first leg of the MLS conference semi-finals is complete, and the round will close out in just a couple of days.

    The Houston Dynamo lead 2-0 over Sporting Kansas City. D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls played to a draw, as did Real Salt Lake and Seattle Sounders FC. San Jose nabbed a 1-0 victory on the road against the LA Galaxy.

    The second leg of the conference semi-finals will take place on November 7 and 8. Three matches will be on the 7th, and Real Salt Lake and the Sounders will get underway on the 8th.

    Here are ten players to watch through the end of the playoffs, or at least until their respective teams are eliminated.

Chris Pontius, F, D.C. United

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    Chris Pontius was tied for ninth place in goals scored for the 2012 season, with 12.

    The captain of D.C. United is the man to watch for United. They will go as he goes.

    In the first leg of the conference semi-finals, he missed a penalty kick that would have given the team the 2-1 advantage, but they still managed to hang on for a draw.

    Pontius will need to create opportunities when they meet the Red Bulls on the road this week.

    D.C. United will be carried on his shoulders.

Adam Moffat, M, Houston

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    Moffat put the Dynamo out front in the 18th minute against Sporting Kansas City, and they never looked back.

    The early confidence-booster carried them the rest of the way. Now it will be important for Moffat to continue to offer his services in the second leg.

    Moffat will get his share of opportunities to create offense, as defenses keep an eye on Bruin. 

    The midfielder will be a key part of the Dynamo attack, as they seek a return trip to the MLS Cup Finals.

Victor Bernardez, D, San Jose Earthquakes

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    Victor Bernardez was definitely the Man of the Match in the first leg against the LA Galaxy.

    He helped keep them off the board defensively, was extraordinary on set pieces, and knocked in a free kick to give the Earthquakes 1-0 lead in the series.

    The LA Galaxy has firepower. Bernardez will be one of the most important players on the pitch for the Earthquakes, as they try to stymie Donovan, Beckham and company this week.

    The Earthquakes have to rely on him more and more. If he continues this kind of play throughout the playoffs, the Earthquakes have to be the odds-on favorite to take the MLS Cup.

Thierry Henry, F, New York Red Bulls

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    Thierry Henry may not have scored in the wild-and-wacky first leg, but he shot the ball five times. Throughout the 2012 campaign, he has 15 goals and 12 assists. That is how much he means to the Red Bulls.

    The second leg will be in their home stadium, and Henry will be the man to watch once again.

    If he is unable to find the back of the net himself, he is certainly capable of creating opportunities for his teammates to put the Red Bulls out in front. Henry needs to take this match over and leave no doubt as to its outcome.

    Henry can send D.C. back to the capital.

Graham Zusi, M, Sporting KC

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    Sporting Kansas City and the United States' Graham Zusi will be the player to watch for Sporting KC, as they try to overcome the 2-0 deficit against the Houston Dynamo.

    Zusi has had an excellent 2012 year all around. He has helped Sporting KC to the playoffs, and come up big in USMNT matches.

    He will need to come up big to get Kansas City to the next round of the playoffs.

    It will be a tall task, but he is capable. Possession will be just as important as creating scoring opportunities. He cannot allow the Dynamo to control the match while they hold the lead.

    No. 8's 2012 is on the brink of closing out with a loss, but we will see if he and Sporting Kansas City can overcome defeat this week.

Nick Rimando, GK, Real Salt Lake

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    Nick Rimando came up huge in the first leg against the Seattle Sounders, with five saves.

    It is likely he will need to do that once again in the second leg. The series heads back to Rio Tinto tied, due in large part to his incredible play on the road.

    Rimando was tied for the third goals-against average in the league with 1.03. He also put together 13 shutouts.

    He is coming up big when needed. Rimando will try to keep the excellent play going on November 8th.

Will Bruin, F, Houston

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    Will Bruin was joint-ninth in goals scored during the 2012 season, with 12. He also put the all-important second goal in the back of the net against Sporting Kansas City in the first leg.

    Bruin's goal could end up being very important for the second leg. As the leading scorer for the Dynamo, that is exactly what they needed from him.

    Now they will go on the road hoping to keep the lead and advance. If they play as they did in the first leg, it will be no problem.

    If they hope to return to the MLS Cup Finals the Dynamo will need Bruin to keep it up.

Robbie Keane, F, LA Galaxy

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    David Beckham gets a lot of press, and Landon Donovan remains the face of the MLS and U.S. Soccer, but it is Robbie Keane who is the man to watch for the LA Galaxy.

    Keane was fourth in goals with 16, and his nine assists placed him ninth for this season.

    The Galaxy has no shortage of offensive weapons, but because Beckham and Donovan draw so much attention and respect, it allows Keane to have more opportunities.

    After falling behind 1-0, it will be vital that they come to play in the second leg. Goals have to be scored. Keane will have to do so in a hostile environment.

    The Galaxy's season depends on it.

Chris Wondolowski, F, San Jose Earthquakes

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    Chris Wondolowski was an offensive powerhouse this season. The league's top scorer with 27 goals. That was nine more than second place.

    Those kind of numbers make you a marked man in the playoffs.

    The first-place Earthquakes may be up 1-0, but against the Galaxy, that lead is certainly not safe. Wondolowski will have to return to his goalscoring ways at home to put them away and send them packing.

    It is time for Wondolowski to show the Galaxy why he is the league's biggest offensive weapon.

Michael Gspurning, GK, Seattle Sounders FC

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    Michael Gspurning is the league's best goalkeeper this season. He has a 0.70 goals against average with nine shutouts to his credit.

    He also did not allow Real Salt Lake to score in the first leg. Gspurning had four saves in that match.

    If Seattle advances to the next round, it will be because Gspurning kept Real Salt Lake off the scoreboard. It's no small task to get a shutout, but Gspurning continues to showcase his skills between the posts.

    Now Gspurning will have to do so on the road.

    The Sounders will count on his strong hands as they seek to reach the conference finals on November 8th at Rio Tinto Stadium.

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