This weekend, MLS' final four will compete again to determine which two squads advance to the MLS Cup.
Each conference championship is currently framing two highly contrasting scenarios. In the East, Sporting Kansas City and the Houston Dynamo enter the second leg on even footing after playing to a scoreless stalemate in their earlier battle.
Out in the Western Conference bracket, the Portland Timbers dug themselves a deep hole after losing by two goals to Real Salt Lake. They now must return the favor and win big to climb back in the aggregate score.
|MLS Cup Playoffs Schedule|
|Round||Date/Time (ET)||Away||Home||First Leg Result|
|Eastern Conference Championship||Nov. 9, 2:30 p.m.||Houston Dynamo||Sporting Kansas City||0-0|
|Western Conference Championship||Nov. 10, 9:00 p.m.||Real Salt Lake||Portland Timbers||Real Salt Lake 4-2|
|MLS Cup||Dec. 7, 4 p.m.||TBD||TBD||----|
Houston Dynamo at Sporting Kansas City (tied 0-0)
When these teams met earlier on Nov. 9, the games featured many bumps and some physical play but no scoring.
The Dynamo nearly entered the scoresheet in the first half, but Kofi Sarkodie's goal was waved off due to an offsides penalty. That close call was the closest either club came to breaking the draw at BBVA Compass Stadium.
Each team looked drained, especially after needing extra time to sneak through the semifinals. That led to some unexciting performances from players gashing at their loaded slates, but now two weeks have passed since the opening bout.
While Houston has knocked out Sporting KC in the past two postseasons, Sporting boasts a better track record this year. The squad's plus-17 point differential during the regular season tied the New York Red Bulls for the East's lead. On the other hand, the Dynamo finished even with 41 goals allowed and scored.
But key contributors Ricardo Clark and Will Bruin are questionable for the match after sustaining injuries during the opening leg. According to MLSSoccer.com's Darrell Lovell, head coach Dominic Kinnear is preparing for the worst.
We’re going through this as if they’re going to play. They’re not training, they’re working with the staff and we’ll see how they are closer to the game. If they’re not available to play, we’re OK with that. It’s not wonderful news, but that’s the way it goes.
Bruin notched eight goals during the season and collected four goals and four assists for the Dynamo.
Real Salt Lake at Portland Timbers (Real Salt Lake up 4-2)
Down two goals, the Timbers have a rough road ahead of them.
Not since 2004 has a club overcome a two-goal deficit to pass the second leg, and Portland has always struggled against Real Salt Lake throughout its franchise's history. The odds are certainly stacked up against the West's top seed.
After allowing 18 shots during the first leg, the Timbers must find a way to dwarf their opponent's attack. Whatever they did on Nov. 10 certainly did not work.
As for Real Salt Lake, they must avoid diverting from what got them to this point in the first place. Playing to the score will offset their offensive strengths and risk inadvertently sparking the Timbers with added life.
Instead, look for Real to approach this game as a separate match with a clean slate to fend off complacency.
If Diego Valeri and Co. can catch fire, the Timbers might at least make things interesting in Jeld-Wen Field. They haven't come this far to lay down at the sight of adversity.