The Eastern Conference of Major League Soccer is not the strongest conference in the league by any stretch of the imagination. Only two teams in the entire conference made the postseason. Both of them are out.
In their place: the last two seeds in the whole field: the Colorado Rapids and the San Jose Earthquakes. Both are one victory away from booking a plane to Toronto, Ontario, Canada and BMO Field.
Thus, it is time for us to take a look at the protagonists.
San Jose Earthquakes
It's been a year of reckoning for Frank Yallop's San Jose Earthquakes, who picked up the final MLS Cup Playoff berth over the Kansas City Wizards.
San Jose crushed the MLS East regular season champions 3-1 in the second leg to win 3-2 on aggregate.
Led by Budweiser Golden Boot-winner Chris Wondolowski and a brace from a resurging Bobby Convey, the Quakes overcame a 1-0 deficit to the New York Red Bulls in the first leg.
Convey leads San Jose with 10 assists in the regular season, while Wondolowski, the Northern California product, has 19 goals this year, including the postseason.
Another key offensive player to watch for the Quakes is Ryan Johnson, who had eight assists in the regular season. Watch for Frank Yallop to utilize him in overloading the left side of the field, as was seen in their 3-1 win at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey.
Brazilian import Geovanni will look to make an impact, as will defender Brandon McDonald. McDonald leads a formidable defensive unit for the Quakes, which includes Jason Hernandez, Eduardo and Tim Ward.
Goalkeeper Jon Busch has proven that he can be a netminder in the clutch. In the 2010 regular season, Busch had a 7-6-5 record to go with 81 saves, a 1.06 goals against average and a 77.9 percent save percentage.
San Jose finished the 2010 regular season with a 13-10-7 record (46 points), good for eighth overall in the league and sixth in the MLS Western Conference.
Winning the MLS Cup would be old hat for the Quakes. They won their first MLS Cup in 2001 with a 2-1 overtime win over the Los Angeles Galaxy at Crew Stadium and defeated the Chicago Fire 4-2 in 2003 at the Home Depot Center.
Gary Smith's Rapids have been in the MLS Cup final before: 1997, when they lost to DC United 2-1 at RFK. They are one victory away from being in their first MLS Cup in over a decade.
After winning the first leg 1-0 and losing the second leg 2-1, the Rapids played to extra time at Crew Stadium against Columbus before prevailing 5-4 on penalties
No doubt about it: 13 years is a pretty long wait. But the men in burgundy have a few talismans they can rely on to end it.
Omar Cummings and Conor Casey are two of MLS's most prolific scorers this season. Cummings has 14 goals to his name while Casey has 13 to his credit this year. What also makes Casey dangerous is his role as a key playmaker.
Both Casey and Jamie Smith finished the 2010 regular season with eight assists. Look for Casey and Smith to distribute and get other players involved besides Cummings, such as Jeff Larentowicz (four goals this season) and team captain Pablo Mastroeni (two goals this season).
Wells Thompson, Drew Moor, Kosuke Kimura (three assists this season), Marvell Wynne, Anthony Wallace and Mastroeni form a defensive unit that has the know-how to contain Wondolowski's and Convey's production.
Matt Pickens (who the author of this piece likes to nickname as "Abe Lincoln" due to his trademark sideburns and beard) has done his part as the Rapids' leading goalkeeper. Pickens finished 2010 with a 11-8-10 record, a 1.10 goals against average, 88 saves and a 73.3 percent save percentage.
Colorado ended their 2010 MLS regular season with a 12-8-10 record (46 points).
Home field advantage has been key to the success of both the Quakes and the Rapids. Both teams claimed 1-0 victories at home against each other this season.
I expect that this will continue. This will be a defensive showcase, with Colorado ending their 13-year wait. Not often does a team in Major League Soccer claim the East and the West at various points in its history. The Colorado Rapids should be among the first, if not the first, to earn this honor.
Colorado Rapids 2, San Jose Earthquakes 1