5 Things We Learned from MLS Conference Semifinals
In Major League Soccer’s 19 years of existence, it’s hard to remember a year in which the MLS playoffs offered this much excitement.
Of course, there were the big scorelines, particularly in the LA Galaxy-Real Salt Lake and New England Revolution-Columbus Crew matchups, but the comparatively cagey series between the New York Red Bulls and D.C. United in the East and the Seattle Sounders and FC Dallas in the West were thrillers as well.
Check out all the highlights and get a preview of what’s to come in the MLS conference finals in this week’s edition of “5 Things We Learned from MLS.”
In the East
In five previous attempts, the New York Red Bulls had never gotten past D.C. United in the MLS playoffs, including a fairly high-profile collapse back in 2012.
But every streak must come to an end, and New York capitalized on its 2-0 win in the home leg to hold off D.C. 3-2 on aggregate. Nick Deleon kept things interesting by finding an early goal for United to get them back into the series, but Peguy Luyindula eventually killed off D.C.’s season with a nice finish in the second half.
In the other series, the New England Revolution were cruising heading into their home leg against the Columbus Crew after winning the road leg 4-2. MVP candidate Lee Nguyen kept things going for New England when he opened up the scoring for the Revolution, who finished off the series winning 7-3 on aggregate.
In the West
The premier matchup in the West was supposed to be Real Salt Lake’s defense—buoyed by goalkeeper Nick Rimando, defenders Chris Wingert, Chris Schuler, Nat Borchers and Tony Beltran and holding midfielder Kyle Beckerman—against an LA Galaxy attack led by Robbie Keane, Gyasi Zardes and Landon Donovan.
However, despite a 0-0 scoreline in the opening leg in Salt Lake, that matchup turned into more of a massacre than the cagey battle most expected. The Galaxy opened the scoring on a fantastic sequence early in the first half and didn’t look back, going on to win the game, and the series, 5-0.
In the other Western Conference final, FC Dallas and the Seattle Sounders—tied 1-1 after the opening leg in Dallas—played to a thrilling 0-0 draw in Seattle. Clint Dempsey missed two gilt-edged chances to put the game away for the Sounders. Those misses meant the Sounders relied on their defense to dig in and come away with the shutout to advance.
Those Old Guys Are Still Pretty Darn Good
Despite the fact that Donovan will be retiring at the end of this season. It is also widely speculated by Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated that Thierry Henry will be leaving MLS at the end of the season. But the two veterans each put on a show this weekend.
Donovan scored a hat-trick in LA’s win over RSL, on three perfectly taken finishes.
Henry, for his part, didn’t find himself among the goalscorers, but he continued a great run of playmaking form by picking up the assist on New York’s vital road goal.
Now, the International Break
Now it's time for the downside. After four fantastic games this past weekend in the conference semifinals, MLS fans will have to wait two weeks to see the conference finals because of the upcoming international break.
The November friendlies could also impact the MLS playoffs if any key players were to get injured.
While there are a number of players being called up among the four remaining MLS teams, it won’t impact everyone equally. In the East, the Revolution will have Lee Nguyen and Jermaine Jones with the United States men’s national team but all of the Red Bulls’ impact players will have time for extra rest.
In the West, the LA Galaxy will lose Robbie Keane to Ireland but keep Omar Gonzalez at home and Seattle will lose DeAndre Yedlin but keep Clint Dempsey at home.
At this point in the season, everyone who is still alive is on a hot streak, so form can be thrown out the window. The Revolution seem to have the advantage in the East on both sides of the ball but with New York’s attack boasting leading scorer Bradley Wright-Phillips and Henry, either side could easily come out on top. One interesting issue with the series, however, will be whether Henry plays in New England. He’s never been a fan playing on turf and, in fact, has never played a game on Gillette Stadium’s turf in his four years in the MLS.
In the West, MLS neutrals have to love the Clint Dempsey-Landon Donovan angle. The two USMNT stalwarts will face off for the last time, not as teammates but as club opponents.
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