MLS Playoffs: Semifinal Previews and Predictions
After two raucous first-legs in each conference’s respective finals on Sunday night, the MLS Playoffs now take a seven day breather before the second-legs kick off this weekend.
In the Eastern Conference Final, the Houston Dynamo jumped out to a controversial 3-1 lead over DC United.
In the Western Conference Final, the LA Galaxy put on an impressive offensive display dismantling the Seattle Sounders 3-0.
Let’s take a look at each series’ first-leg and a look at what’s in store for the second-legs.
How We Got Here – in the Eastern Conference
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The scoreline for the Dynamo-DC United first-leg reveals little about the excitement from Sunday’s game.
DC opened the game brightly in the 27th minute when Lionard Pajoy’s deflected shot bounced out to an unmarked Nick DeLeon who put the rebound in.
However, right before the halftime whistle came the most important moment of the match.
United midfielder Raphael Augusto was about to push past Dynamo defender Andre Hainault and go in on goal unopposed when Hainault pulled Augusto down.
As the last defender, it initially seemed certain that Hainault would be called for the foul and most likely sent off, but the center official Ricardo Salazar ruled that no foul had been committed. This was despite the fact that Hainault both pulled down Augusto and, for good measure, scissor tackled him at the same time.
If that wasn’t bad enough, early in the second half, Hainault was the one who equalized the game for Houston, putting away a Boneik Garcia pass in the 51st minute.
DC almost worked their way back into the lead in the 66th minute when Robbie Russell found Pajoy for an open chance. Pajoy hit the ball well, but Bobby Boswell fell in behind Dynamo keeper Tally Hall to fantastically head away Pajoy’s chance.
Will Bruin scored Houston’s second goal only a minute later on a nice tap-in which resulted from a fantastic endline run from Giles Barnes.
A demoralized, fatigued and beaten up DC United then began to fall apart, giving up one more goal to Houston before the match was over.
Kofi Sarkodie finished off the scoring for Houston burying a chance in the 81st minute on a slick give-and-go with Luiz Camargo.
How We Got Here – in the Western Conference
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The LA Galaxy, playing in front of their home fans at the Home Depot Center, pulled the Seattle Sounders defense apart in their Sunday night first-leg and kept Seattle’s offense largely uninvolved most of the night.
Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane connected to put LA up just before the half as Keane headed home a nicely textured Donovan service.
In the 64th minute, Robbie Keane put Sean Franklin in behind the Seattle defense. Franklin smartly played the ball early across the face of the net and a streaking Mike Magee notched his third goal of this year’s playoffs.
In the 67th minute, a deflected shot from Landon Donovan fell to Christian Wilhelmsson who touched the ball past Seattle keeper Michael Gspurning. Robbie Keane followed up the play, making sure the ball went over the line by touching it in.
What’s Next – in the Eastern Conference
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The good news for DC United, if any can be taken from a 3-1 loss, is that DC tends to play very well at home while Houston tends to struggle on the road.
The bad news for DC is that a good portion of their lineup is suffering from injuries.
During the Houston game, DC used all three of its substitutes replacing injured players. Chris Pontius, Marcelo Saragosa and Brandon McDonald were all taken off in the game with various injuries. Both Pontius and Saragosa did not even make it to halftime.
With a full week to rest and heal, DC’s injury woes may not be as bad as they looked on Sunday, but Pontius’ injury, in particular, is troubling. He injured his groin and that is an injury unlikely to fully heal before the second leg.
DC United may, however, get a boost from a returning Dwayne De Rossario, who has missed the last two months with a strained MCL.
Houston is not without injuries concerns either as Adam Moffat left Sunday’s game in the 25th minute with a chest injury and Calen Carr and Ricardo Clark did not even play on Sunday.
Andy Najar will also not be available for DC United as he is serving a suspension, earned in the conference semifinals when he stupidly threw a ball at the center official.
In this war of attrition, the final leg of the conference finals could come down to a game of last man standing.
DC, who at many times this year has been too stubborn to know when they are beaten, will be able to work its way back into this series scoring a couple of goals at home, but Houston will find one goal as well to sneak by 4-3 on aggregate.
What’s Next – in the Western Conference
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The Seattle Sounders are in big trouble.
While they will have the advantage of playing in front of their home crowd in one of the best venues in Major League Soccer, they are carrying a three-goal deficit against the defending champions.
Worse, Seattle will be forced to attack to make up the deficit which will open them up to the Galaxy’s attacking prowess fueled by Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and Mike Magee.
It’s going to take a near miracle for Seattle to pull out the win.
They’ll be able to get one goal back to tighten up the series, but the Galaxy will also find one on the counterattack to even up the game at 1-1 and advance 4-1 on aggregate.
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