Major League Soccer playoffs begin tomorrow when Chicago takes on Houston at 9 pm EST for the right to play Sporting KC. That is followed by Vancouver and Los Angeles playing on Thursday to face the number one team in all of MLS, the San Jose Earthquakes. The playoffs are sure to provide intrigue in a league that has seen attendance grow five percent during the season. Let’s take a look at the match ups and get some predictions from some special guests.
4 Chicago Fire Vs 5 Houston Dynamo
The Chicago Fire will be hosting Houston in the year the Dynamo opened their new stadium. Houston surely wanted a home playoff game after loading the end of their schedule with matches in BBVA Compass Stadium. Houston has moved to a 4-3-3 with Brian Ching and Brad Davis as the table setters. Boniek Garcia shows flashes of brilliance while Will Bruin notched 12 goals. The Dynamo are back pedaling into the playoffs thankful that the Columbus Crew came up just short.
Marco Pappa left and Chris Rolfe returned. Rolfe was a jolt to the Fire over the summer, but recent games saw the team clawing to get back into them. They have a track record of beating the other playoff teams this year, but need to capitalize on speedy attack moves getting Rolfe open near the box. Austin Berry has proven his worth as a rookie defender, but will be put to the test as long as the Fire survive.
4 Los Angeles Galaxy Vs 5 Vancouver Whitecaps
The defending MLS Cup winners gained momentum with the return of Omar Gonzalez. The early season was not good for the star-studded Galaxy but now they come into the knockout as favorite. They may even challenge for the cup again with the talent they have, but that could come down to the fitness level of Landon Donovan. He has stated he may look for the next opportunity soon, but he seems to be committed to the Galaxy through these playoffs.
Vancouver seems to be overlooked in this competition. It could be that they rarely trouble the Galaxy or that they have to travel to LA. Jay DeMerit will be tested, but if the Whitecaps can get to the second half with a chance, perhaps a substitution of Darren Mattocks will make the difference.
2 DC United Vs 3 New York Red Bulls
Ben Olsen has done a masterful coaching job that was illustrated in last weekend’s come from behind draw that moved DC into the second seed. United is only 3-8-4 against this year’s playoff teams during the regular season. However, they have a rallying cry that they were counted on when Dwayne DeRosario went down. Keeper Bill Hamid could have a coming out party in the playoffs.
Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper seemed to be able to oppose their will at times this season that gave New York is best overall points total. Henry is the dish master and the offense runs through him. Dax McCarty could be the true story for this team as his emergence has steadied the midfield. Still, coach Hans Backe is supposedly gone and organizational shake up might not be the best at this time.
1 Sporting KC Vs 4Chicago/5Houston
KC wants to get beyond the loss in the Eastern Conference Final next year and the U.S. Open Cup victory may have been a stepping stone to the next championship. We have seen what Graham Zusi can do orchestrating an offense and he led Sporting with 15 assists on the year. Kansas City won 50% of its matches against this years playoff teams and won the Eastern Conference for a reason.
2 Real Salt Lake Vs. 3 Seattle Sounders
Momentum is not on the side of Real Salt Lake bowing out of the CONCACAF Champions League and constant talk of a roster shake up. Coach Jason Kreis knows how to handle his current personnel, but also knows what a 5-0 defeat at the hands of San Jose feels like. Alvaro Saborio had 17 goals on the year, but keeper Nick Rimando will be called upon a lot if Salt Lake wants to make a run.
Seattle hopes that Eddie Johnson is fit enough and feels no ill effect from a hamstring injury. They will use their distinct home field advantage in hopes to turn the tides on Real Salt Lake. The keystone to the attack could be Steve Zakuani. After losing the Open Cup for the first time in four years, the Sounders may have a renewed mission and getting past Salt Lake will just boost their confidence.
1 San Jose Earthquakes Vs 4LA Galaxy/5Vancouver
The Earthquakes won the Supporters’ Shield and won 59% of their matches against this year’s playoff teams during the regular season. Chris Wondolowski tied a record by scoring 27 goals. Alan Gordon had a career year. Marvin Chavez had 13 assists. The Goonies are the favorites.
The Conference Championships will begin on November 10 with the MLS Cup final scheduled for December 1.
We asked some great soccer/football people on twitter for their picks. We thank them for the following responses.
@americanpitch SKC over SJ for the cup, Zusi man of the match
— Richard McGovern (@RichardMcGovern) October 30, 2012
@americanpitchSJ and NY for final with NY winning.
— Tommy Smyth (@TommySmythESPN) October 30, 2012
@americanpitch San Jose over New York 2-1
— Matt Thacker (@MattTalksSoccer) October 30, 2012
@americanpitch SKC/NY in the east finals. SJ/SEA in the west. SJ/NY finals. San Jose wins. It’s their year.
— Josh Deaver (@USFootballGuy) October 30, 2012