We are down to the final four in the 2013 MLS Cup Playoffs, and the conference championship matchups are set to kick off Saturday and Sunday.
The Eastern Conference Championship will pit No. 2 seed Sporting Kansas City up against No. 4 seed Houston Dynamo, while the Western Conference Championship matches the top two seeds, No. 1 Portland Timbers and No. 2 Real Salt Lake. The Dynamo emerged all the way from the early Knockout Round.
Leg 1 of the Sporting Kansas City and Houston showdown is Nov. 9 at 2:30 p.m. ET, and Leg 2 is Nov. 23 at 7:30 p.m. ET. Leg 1 of the Western Conference Championship takes place Nov. 10 at 9 p.m. ET, with Leg 2 set to kick off on Nov. 24 at 9 p.m. ET.
The MLS Cup final is scheduled for Dec. 7 at 4 p.m. ET.
This is the third consecutive year that the Houston Dynamo and Sporting Kansas City will meet up in the MLS Cup Playoffs. This budding rivalry will certainly provide soccer fans with an intense two games, even if the top-seeded New York Red Bulls have been eliminated on the Eastern side of the bracket.
It is worth noting that the Dynamo will have to make do without left back Corey Ashe in Leg 1 following an accumulation suspension. Ashe picked up his second yellow card of the playoffs in extra time of the team’s last match. This will make life difficult on Houston because Ashe’s replacement will be saddled with checking Sporting Kansas City’s Graham Zusi, which is much easier said than done.
Houston’s offense will also be critical in this matchup. The Dynamo found themselves mired in goal-scoring slumps at times during the regular season, but the scoring has picked up in the playoffs.
Despite Houston’s newfound offense, the higher-seeded Sporting Kansas City will find a way to reach the MLS Cup final. They are well-rested compared to the Dynamo and will take advantage of Ashe’s absence.
As for the Western Conference clash, look for the Timbers to remove the Real Salt Lake monkey from their collective backs with a victory. Portland did not beat Real Salt Lake this year, but if there was ever a time for the No. 1 seed to get a head-to-head victory, the playoffs are it.
Real Salt Lake had to play an extra 30 minutes just to get here, which could have an impact down the stretch of the first game against Portland. Furthermore, the Timbers just advanced past rival Seattle, who plays a similar diamond formation to what Real Salt Lake utilizes. That familiarity with such a quick turnaround will also be critical.
Look for Portland to ride the momentum from its win over Seattle and establish itself early in this matchup and show the MLS world why it is the No. 1 seed in the West.