Americans love their sporting events to be star-filled and with plenty on the line, whether it is the Super Bowl, NBA Finals or Final Four. The 2014 MLS Cup Playoffs certainly fit that bill.
Notable names like Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan and Thierry Henry are recognizable to even the most casual fans, and they will be leading the way for their respective teams in the conference championships.
With that in mind, here is a look at the schedules and some predictions for the Eastern and Western Conference Championships. Both series feature two legs, one in each location, and the team with the better goal differential advances to the MLS Cup.
Eastern Conference Championship
|New England Revolutions vs. New York Red Bulls|
|Leg 1||Sunday, Nov. 23||1:30 p.m.||NBC|
|Leg 2||Saturday, Nov. 29||3 p.m.||NBCSN|
A New York vs. Boston/New England clash in the postseason just feels right. This time it’s not Derek Jeter against Pedro Martinez or Tom Brady against Eli Manning, but the New England Revolution against the New York Red Bulls.
The Revolution have beaten the Red Bulls in all three MLS Cup Playoffs series in which they faced each other, but that was back in 2003, 2005 and 2007. Considering that neither team has ever won the MLS Cup, there is sure to be a level of urgency in place during both legs.
New York actually won both matchups during the 2014 regular season and was the only team in the Eastern Conference that New England did not beat. A major reason for that was the attack of Bradley Wright-Phillips, who led the Red Bulls with 27 goals, and Henry, who scored 10.
New England’s leading scorer in 2014 was Lee Nguyen with 18.
To make the historical matters even worse, the Revolution have never won at Red Bull Arena since it opened in 2010 and sport a 0-5-1 all-time record there. That may not be as important as the performance on the field, but it may be in the back of the players’ minds if things take a turn for the worse early.
Brian O’Connell of ESPNBoston.com pointed out one important thing to watch from New England’s perspective:
Andrew Farrell’s status. The sophomore defender missed the second leg of the Conference Semifinal with a right leg injury suffered during training. While reserve wingback Kevin Alston played well in place of Farrell, the Revolution will need their first-choice right back against the Red Bulls. New York’s potent attack is predicated upon its use of the wings, and the Revolution will need their best options to man the flanks.
While past results would seem to indicate that the Red Bulls are going to win this series, the Revolution are red hot and sport a 8-1-1 record in their last 10 games. Much of that can be attributed to Jermaine Jones, who was not on the field in either of the Red Bulls’ two head-to-head wins during the regular season.
New England is 10-1-1 since Jones joined the team in late August, and his presence in the midfield makes it much more formidable on both ends. With Jones leading the way, the Revolution will capitalize on their recent momentum and play their way into the MLS Cup.
Prediction: New England wins.
Western Conference Championship
|Seattle Sounders vs. Los Angeles Galaxy|
|Leg 1||Sunday, Nov. 23||5 p.m.||ESPN|
|Leg 2||Sunday, Nov. 30||9 p.m.||ESPN|
You would be hard-pressed to find better storylines for a playoff series than the ones present before the clash between the Los Angeles Galaxy and Seattle Sounders.
These were the best two teams in the regular season. Dempsey will be on one side, and Donovan will be on the other, and they are arguably the two biggest soccer stars in the history of American soccer. The Galaxy are one of the all-time historically great MLS franchises, while the Sounders clinched the Supporters’ Shield on the last day of the season this year.
Galaxy forward Alan Gordon commented on how much his team wanted to play the Sounders again after narrowly missing out on the Supporters’ Shield, via Scott French of MLSsoccer.com: “We were kind of hoping for this. It’s going to be a good series, similar to what we saw a couple weeks back, and may the better team win.”
The teams even went 1-1-1 against each other during the regular season.
Dempsey may be the most recognizable name for Seattle, but Obafemi Martins led the team with 17 goals. The same goes for Donovan and the Galaxy, considering Robbie Keane led the way with 19 goals.
One x-factor that is worth keeping an eye on is Osvaldo Alonso’s health. He is a crucially important midfielder for the Sounders and often sets up attacks with accurate and timely passes. Don Ruiz of The News Tribune provided an update:
While these teams appear evenly matched on paper, Seattle’s defense has been impressive recently.
DeAndre Yedlin has spearheaded shutout efforts on that side of the field against Los Angeles to clinch the Supporters’ Shield and Dallas to reach the Western Conference final. As long as Yedlin stays disciplined and prevents the Galaxy’s attack from capitalizing on chances, Seattle will maintain its defensive momentum.
That will be enough to advance to the MLS Cup.
Prediction: Seattle wins.
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