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|
|Sporting Kansas City at Houston Dynamo||Sat., Nov. 9 at 2:30 p.m.||NBC|
|Houston Dynamo at Sporting Kansas City||Sat., Nov. 23 at 7:30 p.m.||NBCSN|
|Western Conference Finals|
|Portland Timbers at Real Salt Lake||Sun., Nov. 10 at 9 p.m.||ESPN|
|Real Salt Lake at Portland Timbers||Sun., Nov. 24 at 9 p.m.||ESPN Deportes|
|West Champion vs. East Champion||Sat., Dec. 7 at 4 p.m.||ESPN|
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.
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.