MLS Playoffs Wrap-Up
Major League Soccer’s semifinal round of playoff action is now in the books.
Perhaps most surprising is that the No. 1 seeds in both the Eastern and Western Conferences were eliminated and are headed home.
For those teams that survived, the MLS Playoffs now head into the conference finals matchups, which will begin on Sunday.
Let's take a look at the action from the semifinal round of games.
Houston Dynamo 2, Sporting Kansas City 1 (aggregate)
Courtesy of a Will Bruin goal and an Adam Moffat wonder strike in the first leg in Houston, the Houston Dynamo came into Kansas City with a two-goal advantage.
The tables were turned on Wednesday, however, with Sporting Kansas City launching an offensive onslaught on the Dynamo as Sporting tried to work their way back into the series in front of a raucous home crowd.
Knowing they had to score at least twice, Sporting KC came ready to attack from the opening whistle and generated an 18 to three shots advantage.
However, most of those shots were easily handled, and Sporting was only able to generate one goal despite long periods of intense attacking play. Sporting’s goal came on a nice combination between Kei Kamara and Graham Zusi which was put away on a diving header by Seth Sinovic.
The regular-season Eastern Conference and U.S. Open Cup champions went down swinging, but in the end, the playoff experience of Dominic Kinnear and the Dynamo was too much as Houston won 2-1 on aggregate.
Los Angeles Galaxy 3, San Jose Earthquakes 2 (aggregate)
In the first leg in Los Angeles, the Galaxy dominated play, but came away empty handed as the Earthquakes stole a 94th-minute winner on a deflected free kick from Victor Bernardez.
Heading into the second leg in San Jose, the Galaxy faced the unenviable task of having to beat the Earthquakes—the Western Conference Champions and Supporters’ Shield winners as the best MLS team in the regular season—in their own stadium.
Despite the challenge, the Galaxy lived up to it, scoring three times in the first half.
The first goal was from an outstanding individual effort from Robbie Keane, the second came on a great combination between Donovan and Keane, and the third on a nice combination between Sean Franklin and Donovan which was centered for Mike Magee to put away.
The Earthquakes, as they have numerous times this season, launched a late-game comeback after getting one goal back from Alan Gordon, but were unable to find the second goal which would have sent the game into overtime.
The Earthquakes, who based their season on the informal motto “Goonies never say die!” lost the series 3-2 on aggregate and were eliminated from the playoffs.
DC United 2, New York Red Bulls 1 (aggregate)
This was easily the most bizarre series of the semifinal round, with a 1-1 first leg courtesy of two own goals and a second leg which had to be rescheduled because of a snowstorm that the visiting team insisted should be played.
The second leg was no different in terms of its lunacy, and should Hollywood ever want to remake the film Funny Farm, they may want to recruit some of the players from these two rosters.
The crux of the game came down to a six-minute stretch in the second half. With the second leg tied 0-0, Kenny Cooper found himself in on a breakaway in the 69th minute.
DC United keeper Bill Hamid came for the ball, but missed and took out Cooper instead. Hamid was immediately red carded, giving New York a man advantage.
On the ensuing penalty, Cooper scored, but in his odd stutter-step run-up, he inadvertently drew several of his teammates into the penalty area and the goal was called back for encroachment.
Cooper then missed the second penalty, but New York was already getting the better of the chances, and with a man advantage in a tied game, New York still had the clear advantage.
Then, just six minutes later, Rafa Marquez received his second caution and was sent off, evening up the match at 10 men apiece (Both of Marquez’s cautions were stupid, but none of this is surprising to anyone who has watched him play over the years).
With time winding down and overtime looking increasingly likely, Nick DeLeon was put in behind the New York defense and coolly finished the chance in the 88th minute to give DC United a dramatic 2-1 win on aggregate.
Seattle Sounders 1, Real Salt Lake 0 (aggregate)
The only excitement from the relatively boring 0-0 draw in the first leg in Seattle was the outstanding performance of RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
Rimando not only stood on his head with one of the best goalkeeper performances in MLS history, but also did so for much of the second half with a gash above his eye and a broken nose.
With no away-goals rule like most home-and-home series in soccer, both teams entered Thursday’s match knowing that they would have to win to advance.
Just like the first leg, the second leg was a relative snoozer. That is, of course, unless you love goalkeeper battles, as both Michael Gspurning and Nick Rimando were terrific.
In fact, the game produced more head gashes than goals, as both the Sounders' Christian Tiffert and Real’s Tony Beltran were forced off the field to get their bloody faces cleaned up.
Finally, after 170 minutes of scoreless soccer, Seattle found the breakthrough goal on a fantastic half-volleyed shot from Mario Martinez assisted by Fredy Montero.
Seattle goes through on a 1-0 aggregate.
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