MLS Playoffs: Western Bracket Quarterfinal Previews

Ned Harwood@@RBStampedeContributor IIIOctober 30, 2011

MLS Playoffs: Western Bracket Quarterfinal Previews

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    It's that time of year again, folks! November Madness is back and better than ever with a redesigned playoff format that has many Americans scratching their heads while New Yorkers breathe a sigh of relief.

    After a mid-week pair of Wild Card games, the MLS Playoff Quarterfinals have arrived and there are certainly some appetizing matchups. If you are interested in a Western Conference bracket preview, you have come to the right place!

    Enjoy!

Real Salt Lake vs. Seattle Sounders

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    Seeding: Seattle No. 2 (second in West) vs. Real Salt Lake No. 3 (third in West)

    Schedule: 10/29 at (RSL) Rio Tinto Stadium, 11/2 at (Seattle) Century Link Field

    Head to Head: Sea at RSL 2-1, RSL at Sea 2-1

    The Word

    Seattle looks for its first playoff victory while RSL hopes to rediscover that playoff magic from two years ago.

    What Seattle Needs to Do to Win

    Handle the Pressure. Seattle has been one of the best MLS franchises ever since arriving back in 2008, yet the team is still looking for its first playoff victory after back-to-back disappointing departures the last two seasons. In fact, the Sounders have just one playoff goal to show for and that came during the dying seconds of an already finished Galaxy series. Seattle must forget about the past, relax and play its game that has been so effective all season long.

    What RSL Needs to Do to Win

    Get a Big Home Result. It is simple, RSL needs to win the first leg if it wants to keep its season alive. Century Link field is just too intense an environment for RSL to salvage the series after failing to capitalize at the RioT. However, that may be easier said than done considering RSL has not won at home since mid-September.

    X-Factor

    Lamar Neagle. With Rosales likely resting in Leg 1, Lamar Neagle will be expected to step up and fill that playmaker role for the Sounders. If the wonderkid version of Lamar Neagle shows up, Seattle will coast to victory. If not, it might be another depressing quarterfinal for Sounders fans.

    The Verdict

    No surprises here. Seattle has been the best team in the league for the latter half of the season and is simply unstoppable at home. Even without Zakuani or Rosales, Seattle still has the firepower to blast in a few goals past Rimando and the RSL defense before the series is over. RSL’s failure to take advantage of its home leg will result in an easy quarterfinal win for Sigi Schmid and company.

    Seattle 4-2 on Aggregate.

New York Red Bulls vs. Los Angeles Galaxy

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    Seeding: LA No. 1 Seed (Supporters Shield Winner) vs. NY No. 10 Seed (Wild Card No. 4)

    Schedule: 10/30 at (NY) Red Bull Arena, 11/3 at (LA) Home Depot Center

    Head to Head: NY at LA 1-1, LA at NY 0-2

    The Word It is an absolute hell quarterfinal matchup for No. 1 seed Los Angeles, as the Red Bulls’ regular season struggles have forced these two Goliaths to meet head-to-head in a Western Conference Quarterfinal.

    What NY Needs to do to Win

    Avoid Costly Blunders. Silly defensive mistakes nearly prevented NY from even getting to the playoffs, and the Red Bulls cannot afford to concede these blunders against an experienced and disciplined LA squad. One faulty back pass by Tim Ream or lack of marking by Stephen Keel could lead to a costly goal that would most likely end the wild NY season a few weeks too early.

    NY must also get on the scoreboard first, as the team is surprisingly undefeated when breaking the nil-nil deadlock this season.

    What LA Needs to do to Win

    Attack the Left Wing. New York might have pulled off the win last week, but it wasn’t without massive consequences. Starting right-back Jan Gunnar Solli will be suspended for Leg 1 due to a red card and right mid Dax McCarty is questionable to play after suffering an ankle injury on Wednesday.

    That being said, any LA strategy that doesn’t include heavily attacking down the left wing should be thrown in the garbage immediately.

    X-Factor

    Health? We all know about LA’s current collection of lame stars (Donovan, Beckham and Keane all questionable), but New York now also has some knocks of its own, as Luke Rodgers and Dax McCarty are expected to sit for some of the series. Whichever team gets the most production from its wounded men will likely end up on top at the end of the two legs.

    The Verdict

    These teams were projected to be the top seeds in the MLS playoffs, yet NY has spoiled that scenario and created what will surely be an entertaining quarterfinal. While LA would have been heavily favored a few months ago, the Galaxy are nursing several incredibly impactful injuries and are not playing the same level of ball they were over the summer. While New York may be without Rodgers and Solli this weekend, the team has proven lately that it can still produce positive results without top players.

    It is a whole new season for New York, so it must be judged like the phenomenal team we all expected it to be—s phenomenal team that will stay undefeated against the Galaxy this season and advance to the semifinals.

    New York 3-2 on Aggregate.


What's Your Call?

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    What do you think? Can Henry and the Red Bulls pull of the "upset" against a weakened LA team? Will Seattle's poor playoff form continue?

    Comment below!