MLS Playoff Preview: The Semifinals
The first round of the MLS playoffs is in the books and many of my first round predictions were right on the money. I'll recap the first round of the playoffs and break down the next as the four remaining MLS clubs march towards the 2008 MLS Cup.
Columbus Crew v. Kansas City Wizards
Here's what I predicted: Look for a very one-sided series here. Columbus will not lose either leg.
Here's what actually happened: Kansas City managed a 1-1 draw at home, but Columbus topped them by a score of 2-0 in the second leg. The Crew didn't lose either game as I predicted and won the series by a 3-1 aggregate score.
Guillermo Barros Schelotto returned from injury in this series and helped lead Columbus to a big win of the Wizards. The Argentinian star keeps adding to his MVP credentials and with a good showing in the next round, could very well wrap up the award.
Chicago Fire v. New England Revolution
Here's what I predicted: Chicago will take this series, drawing at New England and winning big in front of the home fans.
Here's what actually happened: Chicago and New England played to a nil-nil draw in Foxboro. The Fire then returned home to Bridgeview and beat the Revolution 3-0 in primetime on Thursday night.
Chris Rolfe led the way for the Fire with a goal and an assist on Thursday as Chicago dominated every facet of the game. Their win sets up a clash of Eastern Conference heavyweights in the conference finals.
Chivas USA v. Real Salt Lake
Here's what I predicted: Chivas should be able to win this series without too much trouble from Salt Lake.
Here's what actually happened: Boy, was I wrong on this one. Chivas lost in Salt Lake and drew 2-2 in Los Angeles. Apparently the momentum that Salt Lake had after their dramatic result in the regular season finale against Colorado carried over into their playoff series with Chivas.
While Chivas was the squad with talented US international youngsters Jonathan Bornstein and Sacha Kljestan, Salt Lake surprised them thanks to some inspired play from Dema Kovalenko.
Houston Dynamo v. New York Red Bulls
Here's what I predicted: Houston should dominate the home leg, New York will struggle to score in both legs. Houston advances.
Here's what actually happened: New York pulled off the upset of the season, that's what happened. After winning exactly one game on the road all season, New York thrashed the defending MLS champs 3-0 in Houston to advance to the Western Conference Final. New York did struggle to score in the first leg, but so did Houston. The series ended 4-1 in favor of the Red Bulls.
Juan Pablo Angel scored a goal in each leg of the first round, and Dane Richards and John Wolyniec added goals to finish off Houston in the second round.
For Houston, a season that started slowly ends in disappointment. Although the Dynamo didn't look like the defending champs for the early part of the season, they had appeared to round into form before the start of the playoffs.
New York will be thrilled with the result as they barely squeaked into the playoffs in the first place. Had DC beaten Columbus in their season finale, New York would be on the outside looking in. Now they're playing for a berth in the MLS Cup Final.
Eastern Conference Final: Chicago at Columbus
Season series: Chicago won the season series 1-0-2
Playoff series overview: Columbus may be in serious trouble here despite posting the best record in MLS during the regular season.
Trouble, thy name is Brian McBride.
The Crew only faced McBride once during the three-game regular season series, and he torched them for two goals back in October. He's got a huge height advantage over the Columbus back line and Chicago's wingers will attempt to exploit that by pouring in the crosses. Blanco, Segares, and company are excellent passers and Columbus will need a great game out of their defense to advance to the MLS Cup Final.
The Crew should also have their hands full trying to put shots past Chicago's Jon Busch, the 2008 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year. Busch tied for the league lead with 10 shutouts this season and also posted a respectable 1.10 goals against average.
Columbus goalkeeper William Hesmer will be anxious to pit himself against his counterpart. Hesmer also posted ten shutouts, but likely lost the Goalkeeper of the Year Award to Busch based on a slightly higher goal against average.
This series should be a very exciting one to watch from an offensive perspective as well. It pits Columbus' talented and creative Guillermo Barros Schelotto against Chicago's equally talented and creative Cuauhtemoc Blanco. Blanco continues to make his mark as one of the best players in MLS history while Schelotto has been impressive in his own right in two short seasons with Columbus.
Prediction: Chicago wins a tight one 3-2 thanks to their trio of McBride, Blanco, and Chris Rolfe.
Western Conference Final: New York at Salt Lake
Season series: New York won the season series 1-0-1
Playoff series overview: This is a series showcasing two teams riding a considerable amount of momentum. Which team will be able to sustain that? Will Real Salt Lake finally come back down to earth after their exciting entrance to the playoffs? Will Juan Pablo Angel be able to maintain his impressive playoff form in his first ever MLS playoff appearance? Will the drug suspensions finally catch up with New York?
On paper, New York has the edge. But then again, on paper, neither one of these teams should have advanced this far. Because of this you can expect to see two teams with nothing to lose giving an all-out effort to reach the final.
Prediction: At this point in the playoffs, I don't think we can expect the upset bug to strike twice in a row. New York wins this one in extra time, 2-1.
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