MLS Cup Playoffs 2010: Breaking Down the Bracket

Tim Fontenault@Tim_FontenaultCorrespondent IOctober 25, 2010

MLS Cup Playoffs 2010: Breaking Down the Bracket

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    The Major League Soccer 2010 season has come to a close. What a seven months it has been. From Philadelphia Union's introduction, to FC Dallas' 19-game unbeaten streak, to New York Red Bulls' new stadium, new stars, and 30-point turnaround from last year, to Beckham's return to help Los Angeles to the Supporter's Shield, it has been quite a year.

    This year's MLS Cup Playoffs provide some great excitement. Six Western Conference teams and two Eastern Conference clubs will go for glory and look to become the fifteenth winners of MLS Cup. Along with this, every team will also have the goal of qualifying for the CONCACAF Champions League. Two of the eight have already accomplished this for next year. Los Angeles, the 2010 MLS Supporter's Shield winners and Seattle Sounders FC, the 2010 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup winners, have each qualified for the 2011-2012 tournament. The Galaxy immediately progress to the Group Stage while Seattle will have to play in the Preliminary Round.

    Two teams will join them. The MLS Cup winner and runner-up each earn a spot, with the winner going to the Group Stage and the runner-up going into the Preliminary Round. If either Los Angeles or Seattle gets one of those spots, one of the other teams will be granted it.

    Of course, as in most club soccer knockout tournaments, match-ups in the Quarterfinals and Semifinals will take place over two games, once at each teams' home field. The team with the most goals over the two games goes to the next round.

    The Final will be one match, set to take place on November 21st at BMO Field in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, the home of MLS side Toronto FC.

    Obviously, there is a lot on the line. With this in mind, we will now take a look at each match-up and determine who this year's MLS Cup winner will be.

Final MLS Standings 2010

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    1. Los Angeles Galaxy, 59 points (1st West)*
    2. Real Salt Lake, 56 points (2nd West)*
    3. New York Red Bulls, 51 points (1st East)*
    4. FC Dallas, 50 points (3rd West)*
    5. Columbus Crew, 50 points (2nd East)*
    6. Seattle Sounders FC, 48 points (4th West)*
    7. Colorado Rapids, 46 points (5th West)*
    8. San Jose Earthquakes, 46 points (6th West)*
    9. Kansas City Wizards, 39 points (3rd East)
    10. Chicago Fire, 36 points (4th East)
    11. Toronto FC, 35 points (5th East)
    12. Houston Dynamo, 33 points (7th West)
    13. New England Revolution, 32 points (6th East)
    14. Philadelphia Union, 31 points (7th East)
    15. Chivas USA, 28 points (8th West)
    16. D.C. United, 22 points (8th East)

    *- MLS Cup Playoffs

The Quarterfinal Match-Ups

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    Eastern Conference Semifinals

    E1) New York Red Bulls vs. E4) San Jose Earthquakes

    • October 30th- @ San Jose
    • November 4th- @ New York

    E2) Columbus Crew vs. E3) Colorado Rapids

    • October 28th- @ Colorado
    • November 6th- @ Columbus

     

    Western Conference Semifinals

    W1) Los Angeles Galaxy vs. W4) Seattle Sounders FC

    • October 31st- @ Seattle
    • November 7th- @ Los Angeles

    W2) Real Salt Lake vs. W3) FC Dallas

    • October 30th- @ Dallas
    • November 6th- @ Salt Lake

E1) New York Red Bulls vs. E4) San Jose Earthquakes

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    Records:

    New York Red Bulls- 15-9-6 (51 points), First in Eastern Conference

    San Jose Earthquakes- 13-10-7 (46 points), Sixth in Western Conference

    Key Players:

    New York- Thierry Henry, Dane Richards, Juan Pablo Angel, Rafa Marquez, Bouna Coundoul, Joel Lindpere

    San Jose- Jon Busch, Chris Wondolowski, Bobby Convey, Geovanni, Ramiro Corrales, Jason Hernandez

    Preview:

    The Earthquakes had a phenomenal season, season this season, getting great results against great teams. New York are the far better team however, from back to front, the Red Bulls are superior in every position. Their attack will easily break through the San Jose defense. Wondolowski and the Earthquakes attack will find it difficult to beat the defense with Coundoul anchoring in the net.

    Outcome:

    The New York Red Bulls should easily win this. A 4-0 scoreline on aggregate would not surprise me.

E2) Columbus Crew vs. E3) Colorado Rapids

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    Records:

    Columbus- 14-8-8 (50 points), Second in Eastern Conference

    Colorado- 12-8-10 (46 points), Fifth in Western Conference

    Key Players:

    Columbus- Guillermo Barrios Schelotto, Chad Marshall, Eddie Gaven, Frankie Hejduk, Robbie Rogers, Steven Lenhart

    Colorado- Connor Casey, Pablo Mastroeni, Jeff Larentowicz, Omar Cummings, Marvell Wynne, Matt Pickens

    Preview:

    This is a difficult one. Both teams have been very successful this season. Counter-attack could be the key. Columbus are very good if they can get one or two, but they are easily as bad when they give up a goal or two to a good team. The two split, with each side winning its home match this season. If Colorado can hold at home as they did this season in a 1-0 win, they will have a huge advantage heading to Columbus. If they get one at home, they can go into Crew Stadium and even if they put up one, it will spell doom for Columbus. I also worry about maybe some tired legs for Columbus after a challenging Group Stage in the Champions League.

    Outcome:

    I have to go against the Crew and say that the Colorado Rapids pull off the upset and head to the Semifinals. It will be a nail-biter, probably 2-1 on aggregate.

E1) New York Red Bulls vs. E3) Colorado Rapids

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    Records:

    New York- 15-9-6 (51 points), First in Eastern Conference

    Colorado- 12-8-10 (46 points), Fifth in Western Conference

    Key Players:

    New York- Thierry Henry, Dane Richards, Juan Pablo Angel, Rafa Marquez, Bouna Coundoul, Joel Lindpere

    Colorado- Connor Casey, Pablo Mastroeni, Jeff Larentowicz, Omar Cummings, Marvell Wynne, Matt Pickens

    Preview:

    Colorado may have been able to get by Columbus in a close match-up, but New York is still the more dominant team in this match-up. The two sides drew in Colorado on the Fourth of July, ten days before Thierry Henry joined New York and a month before Marquez.

    Once the two stars joined from Barcelona, it was no problem for New York, who won the rematch on September 11th with a 3-1 domination at Red Bull Arena.

    It will be interesting to see the return of two players to their old clubs. On September 14th, the Red Bulls traded Senegalese star Macoumba Khandji to the Rapids for Moroccan midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy.

    Outcome:

    What a turnaround it has been for New York this year. They defined the phrase "from worst to first," going from 21 points and a last place finish in the East and overall to a 51 point, Eastern Conference first place finish this year. Attendance has risen by about 7,000. It has been a good year, that will continue into the MLS Cup Final. The  New York Red Bull beat Colorado to win the Eastern Conference and advance to the MLS Cup Final for the first time since 2008. 


Eastern Conference Champions 2010

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    New York Red Bulls

W1) Los Angeles Galaxy vs. W4) Seattle Sounders FC

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    Records:

    Los Angeles- 18-7-5 (59 points), First in Western Conference, MLS Supporter's Shield (most points)

    Seattle- 14-10-6 (48 points), Fourth in Western Conference

    Key Players:

    Los Angeles- Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Edson Buddle, Donovan Ricketts, Omar Gonzalez, A.J. DeLaGarza

    Seattle- Fredy Montero, Kasey Keller, Blaise Nkufo, Sanna Nyassi, James Riley, Miguel Montano

    Preview:

    This is arguably the best match-up of the Quarterfinals. Two fantastic clubs take the field in a West Coast battle that unfortunately has to be played in the Quarterfinals and not later in the tournament. Both teams are loaded from front to back and have incredible talent at their disposal. Two of MLS' best coaches, Bruce Arena and Sigi Schmid are on display in this match-up. We will also see two of the best fan bases in the country.

    Outcome:

    This will be a tough tie from start to finish. It will be 180 minutes of non-stop excitement between two great teams. However, there can be no doubting the advantage of the Los Angeles Galaxy, who have been the best team in the league this year. They advance to the next round after a tough fight.

W2) Real Salt Lake vs. W3) FC Dallas

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    Records:

    Real Salt Lake- 15-4-11 (56 points), Second in Western Conference

    FC Dallas- 12-4-14 (50 points)*, Third in Western Conference

    *Of note: FC Dallas tied a Major League Soccer all time record, going 19 successive games without a loss this season.

    Key Players:

    Real Salt Lake- Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando, Robbie Findley, Javier Morales, Fabian Espindola, Alvaro Saborio

    FC Dallas- Jeff Cunningham, Kevin Hartman, David Ferreira, Heath Pearce, Brek Shea, Milton Rodriguez

    Preview:

    This is an interesting match-up. The 2009 MLS Cup champions Real Salt Lake taking on FC Dallas, a team who came out of nowhere to go unbeaten for nineteen matches. The teams are very close. They split their ties this year. Each side won 2-0 at home. With scorers like Saborio and Cunningham, this could be tight.

    Outcome:

    Indeed, it will be a tough match-up, but it is hard to go against the defending champs in this one. Real Salt Lake steps up in the big moments and so long as they can get a goal at Pizza Hut Park, their progression should be made much easier. Otherwise, they will have to grind out a result in a very open tie. Look for the champs to escape narrowly and advance to the Semifinals.

W1) Los Angeles Galaxy vs. W2) Real Salt Lake

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    Records:

    Los Angeles- 18-7-5 (59 points), First in Western Conference, MLS Supporter's Shield (most points) 

    Real Salt Lake- 15-4-11 (56 points), Second in Western Conference

    Key Players:

    Los Angeles- Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Edson Buddle, Donovan Ricketts, Omar Gonzalez, A.J. DeLaGarza

    Real Salt Lake- Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando, Robbie Findley, Javier Morales, Fabian Espindola, Alvaro Saborio

    Preview:

    A rematch of the 2009 MLS Cup, this time in the Western Conference Finals. What a match-up this will be. This is the tie of stars: Buddle, Beckerman, Donovan, Saborio, Beckham, Morales, Gonzalez, Rimando, Ricketts. This is the big one. The two sides split in the regular season, both winning at home. Of course, in the big match-up last November, Real Salt Lake won in penalties to win their first MLS Cup in just their fifth season of existence. A year older, they will try to get by one of the two teams they fought day in and day out with all season for the Supporter's Shield, having at this point gotten by FC Dallas, who was in the hunt until losing to Salt Lake and Los Angeles in the last week of the season.

    Outcome:

    With the two best teams in MLS going head to head, it will be a dandy, but the outcome will be different than last year's Final. The Los Angeles Galaxy won the Supporter's Shield for a reason: they are the best. Landon Donovan should be worn out. After ten weeks in Liverpool playing for Everton FC, he came back to play for the Galaxy at the start of the year, left for two months to play in the World Cup, came back to play the rest of the season with Los Angeles, including time in the CONCACAF Champions League (though they were eliminated in the Preliminary Round), and now he has to continue into the Playoffs. Not an easy task. David Beckham has recovered faster than expected from the injury he picked up with AC Milan and has come back to play some of the best soccer he has had since arriving in Los Angeles. Edson Buddle continues to prove he is the best scorer in MLS. Donovan Ricketts on the other hand continues to prove he is the best at stopping the scorers from adding to their totals. The Galaxy handle Salt Lake in a thriller and head to BMO Field for the Final.

Western Conference Champions 2010

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    Los Angeles Galaxy

2010 MLS Cup Final: New York Red Bulls vs. Los Angeles Galaxy

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    Records:

    New York- 15-9-6 (51 points), First in Eastern Conference

    Los Angeles- 18-7-5 (59 points), First in Western Conference, MLS Supporter's Shield (most points)

    Key Players:

    New York- Thierry Henry, Dane Richards, Juan Pablo Angel, Rafa Marquez, Bouna Coundoul, Joel Lindpere

    Los Angeles- Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Edson Buddle, Donovan Ricketts, Omar Gonzalez, A.J. DeLaGarza

    Preview:

    Alas, the MLS Cup Final from BMO Field in beautiful Toronto, Ontario, Canada. This game will surely feature the best team on either side of the bracket. Fittingly it is a battle of the biggest cities on opposite sides of the country, Los Angeles and New York. It would be a game of the biggest stars in MLS, especially its most famous players worldwide: Beckham, Henry, Marquez, Donovan, and Angel. This is the stuff of dreams for soccer fans. Any other match-up would never be able to provide the excitement, build-up, and stories that this game will lead to.

    Outcome:

    It is very possible these two teams could take each other to penalties. We all know that they are loaded from top to bottom, front to back. Their benches are deep and without a doubt, they are the two teams that deserve to play in this game, the two best teams in Major League Soccer. In the end, the Los Angeles Galaxy will be refusing to allow a second straight loss in the Final. David Beckham will be driven, as will all the Galaxy by that game last year in Seattle. With Becks, Donovan, and Buddle pushing forward and unleashing on Coundoul without mercy, the Galaxy will be the champions of Major League Soccer.

MLS Cup Champions 2010

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    Los Angles Galaxy

Bracket

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    E1) New York

                                  E1) New York

    E4) San Jose

                                                              E1) New York

    E2) Columbus

                                  E3) Colorado

    E3) Colorado

     

                                                                                                        Champions: Los Angeles

     

    W1) Los Angeles

                                  W1) Los Angeles

    W4) Seattle

                                                                W1) Los Angeles

    W2) Salt Lake

                                  W2) Salt Lake

    W3) Dallas