MLS Cup Playoffs 2013: Conference Finals Schedule and Predictions

Jeremy FuchsCorrespondent IIINovember 8, 2013

HOUSTON, TX - MAY 12:   Kepper Jimmy Nielsen #1 of Sporting Kansas City clears the ball against the Houston Dynamo in the second half at BBVA Compass Stadium on May 12, 2013 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

After Real Salt Lake's upset over the two-time defending champion LA Galaxy, the MLS Cup Conference Finals are set, paving the way for the final matchup next month.

The Portland Timbers knocked off their hated rivals, the Seattle Sounders, to win their first-ever MLS Cup Playoff series.

In the Eastern Conference, the Houston Dynamo knocked off the New York Red Bulls, while Sporting KC advanced on aggregate over the New England Revolution.

It's been a wild playoffs so far, with the Supporters' Shield winner—the Red Bulls—knocked out and the class of the league for so long—the Galaxy—heading home to play golf. There are upstarts in the Conference Finals, and it's made for some really exciting play.

Below is a schedule for the rest of the playoffs, and then, we will get into predicting what teams will advance to the MLS Cup.

Eastern Conference Finals
MatchupDate/Time (EST)TV
Sporting Kansas City at Houston DynamoSat., Nov. 9 at 2:30 p.m.NBC
Houston Dynamo at Sporting Kansas CitySat., Nov. 23 at 7:30 p.m.NBCSN
Western Conference Finals
MatchupDate/Time (EST)TV
Portland Timbers at Real Salt LakeSun., Nov. 10 at 9 p.m.ESPN
Real Salt Lake at Portland TimbersSun., Nov. 24 at 9 p.m.ESPN Deportes
MatchupDate/Time (EST)TV
West Champion vs. East ChampionSat., Dec. 7 at 4 p.m.ESPN


Eastern Conference

BRIDGEVIEW, IL - JULY 07: Claudio Bieler #16 of Sporting Kansas City tries to control the ball along the touchline under pressure from Mike Magee #9 of the Chicago Fire during an MLS match at Toyota Park on July 7, 2013 in Bridgeview, Illinois. Sporting K
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Kansas City had a fine regular season, finishing second in the conference and just one point behind the Red Bulls for the Supporters' Shield.

It scored 47 goals and allowed a league-low 30 goals. Keeper Jimmy Nielsen, at age 36, has been fantastic.

On offense, its led by Claudio Bieler, who has scored 11 goals and notched four assists. 

The Dynamo shocked the world with their overtime win over the Red Bulls. Led by Will Bruin (10 goals) and Giles Barnes (nine goals), Houston finished fourth in the regular season, giving up and scoring 41 goals.

To me, this is an easy matchup.

While Houston showed a lot of skill and poise in its victory over New York, it seems pretty obvious that Sporting KC is a better team. KC dominated possession in its victory over the Revolution, controlling the ball 64 percent of the time.

Meanwhile, Houston actually lost the possession battle against New York, as the Red Bulls controlled the ball 54 percent of the time in their last matchup.

Nielsen is playing too well, and the Sporting KC offense is so balanced. It's going to be an uphill climb for Houston to win.


Western Conference

ARLINGTON, TX - JULY 24:  Goalkeeper Nick Rimando of the United States celebrates a goal by Eddie Johnson against Honduras during the CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinal match at Cowboys Stadium on July 24, 2013 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Get
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

It's fitting that Portland and Real Salt Lake will meet up in the Conference Finals, as they were the two best teams in the Western Conference. Portland finished first in the conference with 57 points, while Real Salt Lake was right behind with 56 points.

Led by the four-headed monster of Diego Valeri (11 goals), Ryan Johnson (10 goals), Will Johnson (10 goals) and Darlington Nagbe (10 goals), the Timbers know how to score. They scored 54 goals on the season, letting up just 33—a nice goal differential of 21. 

Despite that balanced depth of the Timbers, it's Salt Lake that has actually scored more goals. Alvaro Saborio leads the way with 12 goals, followed by Javier Morales with eight goals and Robbie Findley with six. The team's goal differential is 16.

The key for this game is going to come down to defense and goalkeeping. These two teams can really score, so it's important for the defenses to step up. Keeper Nick Rimando of Real Salt Lake was an All-Star this year and also started five games for the U.S. in the Gold Cup.

He probably has the slight advantage over Donovan Ricketts of Portland. Rimando has more experience and is, in my opinion, a better keeper.

I do think goals will be scored, but RSL has the slightly better defense and the advantage in net, meaning it will advance to the MLS Cup.