Although the conference semifinal round of the MLS Cup Playoffs provided plenty of drama, there was only one upset. The New York Red Bulls ousted the East's top seed, DC United, after having already survived the knockout round.
So New York should be riding a wave of confidence into a conference final clash with the New England Revolution. On the other side of the bracket, it's a star-studded matchup between the Seattle Sounders and Los Angeles Galaxy for a spot in the title game.
Let's check out the schedule for the penultimate round of play in the 2014 MLS season. It's followed by a preview of both conference finals and predictions for which clubs will advance to play for the trophy on Dec. 7.
Conference Championship Schedule
|2014 MLS Cup Conference Finals|
|Nov. 23||Red Bulls||Revolution||1:30 p.m.||NBC|
|Nov. 29||Revolution||Red Bulls||3 p.m.||NBCSN|
|Nov. 23||Galaxy||Sounders||5 p.m.||ESPN|
|Nov. 30||Sounders||Galaxy||9 p.m.||ESPN|
East: New York Red Bulls vs. New England Revolution
The Red Bulls are a battle-tested group. They survived the knockout match thanks to a Bradley Wright-Phillips goal in the 90th minute to eliminate Sporting KC. Then they dealt with plenty of tension in the second leg against DC United before Peguy Luyindula scored to give them some breathing room.
Those two players have accounted for all five of the team's playoff goals. Yet, it's the strong play of Thierry Henry that's sparked the late surge. He provided the delivery for Luyindula's deciding tally in the last round, which prompted Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated to highlight the veteran's success:
Though New York's attack seems to be clicking, the back line will be the group in the spotlight in this round. The Revolution are coming off a series that saw them score seven goals over two matches against a Columbus Crew side with a strong defense.
Lee Nguyen has led the charge with 20 goals between the regular season and the playoffs. But it's a deep group that received another weapon in the form of Jermaine Jones. Just like he's often been for the U.S. national team, Jones is a key emotional leader for New England.
Ultimately, the key for the Red Bulls is the first leg at home. They can't let the Revolution score a 4-2 win like they did against Columbus, which is nearly insurmountable given the away-goals rule. As long as they can avoid that, they have a very good chance to advance.
Prediction: Red Bulls 4-3 on aggregate
West: Seattle Sounders vs. Los Angeles Galaxy
Having failed to score on the road, the Galaxy returned home for the second leg of their clash with Real Salt Lake under serious pressure. They alleviated it pretty quickly thanks to goals by Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, showcasing the championship form of years past.
Donovan ended up scoring a hat trick in the 5-0 win. His career will come to a close whenever Los Angeles' season ends, but he's showing he has a little magic left to provide. He explained to Mike Foss of USA Today that he's always been concerned about the game, even if it didn't show.
"I hope people know how much I cared," Donovan said. "I haven't always comes across as someone who cares publicly, but I think people see how much I care when I play."
That drive was on full display in the second leg. He'll need to put together a few more throwback performances if his side is going to get by fellow national team stalwart Clint Dempsey and the Sounders, which edged FC Dallas in the last round.
Seattle must find a way to get its attack going. It scored just one goal over two matches against Dallas. A more efficient DeAndre Yedlin moving forward along with more involvement for players other than Dempsey, who had six shots compared to eight for everybody else in the last game, is essential.
All told, these two teams had the best attacks in the league during the regular season. If that shines through during the series, this matchup should be highly entertaining. But with the back lines stepping up, the slight edge goes to the more well-rounded Galaxy squad.
Prediction: Galaxy 3-2 on aggregate