MLS: The Hour of TruthBy: Juan Mesa
With the FIFA break for international friendlies almost over, the attention comes back to the MLS Conference Finals set to begin. The first-leg games are going to be played on Sunday, November 23, while the second-leg matches will be played over the weekend after Thanksgiving Day. Our bets? The West finals, between LA Galaxy and the Seattle Sounders, are too close to call, but the New England Revolution starts off as the favorite in the East series against the now surprising New York Red Bulls. The winners will play against each other for the MLS Cup on the grounds of the team with the best regular season record.
But let’s take a closer look.
WESTERN CONFERENCE: LA GALAXY VS. SEATTLE SOUNDERS. Blame the MLS playoffs rules: this final is pitting the top two teams of the regular season against each other (something that has happened only a handful of times). In other words, the series between the Galaxy and the Sounders should actually be the one for the championship, but only one of them will make it to the MLS Cup final. The Sounders won the duel in the regular season after a 2-2 tie in LA and a 2-0 victory in Seattle, but that is completely irrelevant in the playoffs and Landon Donovan is still playing for the Californians, so all bets are off. Captain America scored a hat trick in the 5-0 victory over Real Salt Lake during the second leg of the Conference Semifinals (the first match had ended with a blank score), a feat that has everybody thinking he might retire with a brand-new ring on his finger. On the other hand, Seattle struggled to eliminate FC Dallas in the Semis and made it to the Conference finals only thanks to the away-goal rule. Cuban midfielder Osvaldo Alonso scored in the first leg played in Dallas for the 1-1 tie that ended up being the aggregate score after a scoreless draw in the second leg. The series will begin in LA and finish on Seattle’s artificial turf, which gives a slight advantage to the Sounders.
EASTERN CONFERENCE: NE REVOLUTION VS. NY RED BULLS. The New York Red Bulls busted the ghost of losing playoffs series against eternal rival DC United and is in a Conference Final for the first time since 2008, when they advanced to the MLS Cup game only to lose against the Columbus Crew. The Red Bulls played a perfect game in the first leg at home and won 2-0. In the revenge at the nation’s capital, they went back to sloppiness and seemed to prove that all the alleged curses on the team were true, but Péguy Luyindula scored the goal they needed to exorcise themselves and advance (DC won that game by 2-1). Their opponents are the New England Revolution, a solid team that got rid of the Columbus Crew in the Conference Semis after winning both games and scoring seven goals. Lee Nguyen, Jermaine Jones and Charlie Davies seem undefeatable at this point in the season, and are responsible for having the Revs up in the bets. Still, they must stop the Red Bulls’ lethal attack, a combination of Thierry Henry’s magic skills and Bradley Wright-Phillips scoring instincts, to prove how good and compact they are.
LOGISTICS: MLS Cup Playoffs, official website