The Houston Dynamo and Seattle Sounders survived the knockout round to complete the eight-team field for the MLS Cup Playoffs. It should be a terrific postseason considering the playoff teams were separated by no more than eight points in the table.
While it's a wide-open battle for the title, the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Galaxy will take center stage as they seek a three-peat. The veteran attacking tandem of Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan give them a good opportunity to go the distance again.
Without further ado, let's check out the complete schedule for the conference semifinals and make predictions for which clubs will advance to the next round.
Conference Semifinal Schedule
|Eastern Conference Semifinals|
|Leg||Date||Time (ET)||Home Club||Road Club|
|Leg 1||Nov. 2||8 p.m.||New England||Sporting KC|
|Leg 1||Nov. 3||3:30 p.m.||Houston||New York|
|Leg 2||Nov. 6||8 p.m.||New York||Houston|
|Leg 2||Nov. 6||9 p.m.||Sporting KC||New England|
|Western Conference Semifinals|
|Leg||Date||Time (ET)||Home Club||Road Club|
|Leg 1||Nov. 2||10 p.m.||Seattle||Portland|
|Leg 1||Nov. 3||9 p.m.||Los Angeles||Real Salt Lake|
|Leg 2||Nov. 7||9 p.m.||Real Salt Lake||Los Angeles|
|Leg 2||Nov. 7||11 p.m.||Portland||Seattle|
New York Red Bulls vs. Houston Dynamo
The Red Bulls led the league with 58 goals during the regular season. It wasn't because they had one dominant force atop the formation, though. Instead, the team used its terrific depth to get production from numerous sources.
Tim Cahill and Thierry Henry combined for 21 goals to lead the way. They will continue to headline the attack, but having such a deep group is going to come in handy during tight playoff games. It's usually when unsung heroes emerge, and New York has no shortage of candidates.
Houston was impressive in its 3-0 knockout-round win over the Montreal Impact. The Dynamo need somebody to step up beyond Will Bruin, however, because the Red Bulls are going to focus most of their defensive effort into slowing him down. And if he can't produce, Houston faces an uphill battle.
Prediction to Advance: New York Red Bulls
Sporting Kansas City vs. New England Revolution
The key player in this matchup is Sporting KC midfielder Graham Zusi. He provided streaky production throughout the league campaign, often performing better in his stints with the United States national team than with his club.
That said, he ended the regular season on a high note with a strong showing against Philadelphia. When he's attacking with pace, it makes life much easier on players like C.J. Sapong and Claudio Bieler. The entire offensive group is more dangerous when Zusi is playing well.
New England enters the playoffs in good form. The Revolution went unbeaten over their final six matches of the regular season, thanks in large part to tremendous play from Diego Fagundez. But considering the entire body of work, Sporting KC still holds the slight edge.
Prediction to Advance: Sporting Kansas City
Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Sounders
The Timbers were able to secure the top seed in the West courtesy of a league-low five losses, four fewer than any other team. They also played a lot of close matches and led the league in draws, however. How that defensive style will translate to the postseason is a question mark.
Seattle is an intriguing side. Based purely on talent alone, the Sounders would probably be among the top two or three contenders to win the title. But they had a limited amount of time to get all the pieces working together after the arrival of Clint Dempsey.
It makes them a boom-or-bust playoff club. They will either find top form and make a deep run, or Portland will take advantage of their lack of chemistry to eliminate them right away. Given Seattle's performance in the knockout round, an upset could very well be in the cards.
Prediction to Advance: Seattle Sounders
Real Salt Lake vs. Los Angeles Galaxy
The reigning champions enter the MLS Cup Playoffs as the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference. Although the regular season had its fair share of ups and downs, the Galaxy still have a lot of things working in their advantage.
First and foremost, the championship experience. They understand what it takes to survive in these types of pressure-packed situations. They were the No. 4 seed last year and still won the title, thanks in large part to veterans like Donovan and Keane.
Los Angeles was also very strong at home with a 32-8 goal differential. The question is whether Real Salt Lake has enough firepower to overcome the Galaxy's talent and experience. Alvaro Saborio and Javier Morales give the Royals a chance, but it's tough to pick against L.A. given their recent success.
Prediction to Advance: Los Angeles Galaxy