5 Things We Learned from MLS Playoffs
The 2014 MLS Cup is now set and Major League Soccer fans couldn’t have asked for a better matchup in the championship game. After two blistering series, the final game of the 2014 MLS season will feature the LA Galaxy hosting the New England Revolution.
The Revolution advanced on a 4-3 aggregate over the New York Red Bulls after a spirited second leg in Foxborough, Massachusetts and the Galaxy advanced on away goals after tying the Seattle Sounders 2-2 over two legs.
Here are five things we learned from this weekend’s games.
If This Was Thierry Henry’s Last Season in MLS, It Was a Beauty
Back in October, two reports emerged claiming that this would be French striker Thierry Henry’s last season in MLS. The first, from Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl, cited a source saying there was “zero chance” Henry would be returning to the team next year. The other report, via MLSsoccer.com, cited Red Bulls executive Gerard Houllier saying that Henry would either retire or go to another club.
If those reports turn out to be true and Henry does not return to New York, it’s hard to imagine him going out with a better season than he had this year (save hoisting the MLS Cup, of course).
Henry finished the season with 10 goals and 14 assists and—with some better finishing from his teammates—certainly could have had a lot more.
On Saturday, Henry put in a strong effort in his final game, setting up his teammates on repeated occasions and picking up the assist on Tim Cahill’s opener.
After the game and the Red Bulls’ loss, Henry was brief with reporters, saying simply, “Well done, New England” via Mark Cannizzaro at the New York Post. Not much more was needed—Henry allowed his actions on the field to do the talking.
Well Done, Charlie Davies
In 2009, in a story told too many times, Charlie Davies looked ready to take the soccer world by storm. And then, the crash.
He missed the World Cup, struggled to return for Sochaux, went on loan to D.C. United, returned to Sochaux and then moved to Randers. But no matter where he went, Davies couldn’t recapture the form that had made him such an exciting prospect five years ago.
Even his move to New England didn’t produce striking results at first. He played only 22 minutes for the Revs in 2013 and spent the early part of 2014 mired behind two rookies on the depth chart. But then in August, Davies finally worked his way into the lineup on a consistent basis. And those starts coincided with an amazing run of form on New England’s part.
On Saturday, Davies put the cherry on top of his 2014 season, scoring twice to help lead New England to the MLS Cup final—both on headed goals assisted from Chris Tierney.
Well done, Charlie.
A Farewell to Landon Donovan
There’s no better way to imagine Landon Donovan’s MLS career ending than playing for the league championship in Los Angeles in his final game. And thanks to the Galaxy’s advancement over the Seattle Sounders on Sunday night, that’s exactly how it will end.
Donovan has been the face of MLS since he was a teenager. And in that time, he’s won five MLS Cups and become the league’s all-time goal-scoring leader and all-time assists leader.
Playing for the championship one final time in front of his home fans—that’s how it’s supposed to happen.
There were a few surprises for each team on Sunday night in the Western conference finals when the team sheets came out, but the one that received plenty of attention (even before the game kicked off) was Bruce Arena’s selection of Leonardo to pair Omar Gonzalez in LA’s defense.
Many fans thought Tommy Meyer had played well against Seattle in the first leg and, early on, their fears about Leonardo seemed to be justified as LA gave up two early goals.
Even late on, Leonardo had some shaky moments—although the Galaxy defense did stop leaking after the first half. Now, it will be interesting to see who starts at center-back in the final for LA.
Arena could stick with Leonardo, although that’s doubtful. The other choices would be going back to Meyer, or hoping that A.J. DeLaGarza is fully recovered from his hamstring pull, as he is Gonzalez’ usual partner in the back.
Take a Bow, Stefan Frei
As close as Seattle was to making the final, they wouldn’t have been in that position without goalkeeper Stefan Frei. Against LA, Frei made several outstanding saves, including a beautiful push on a curling Robbie Keane shot in the first half, stoning Landon Donovan on a breakaway early in the second half and then just getting a fingertip to a Stefan Ishizaki header 10 minutes later.
Considering that goalkeeper was considered to be Seattle’s biggest weakness this season, the play of Frei had to be heartening to Sounders’ fans—despite the fact they won’t advance to the MLS Cup.
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