26 October, 2011

MLS Playoffs begin

The MLS regular season wrapped up on Sunday, with the Los Angeles Galaxy blowing away all the competition to win the Supporter's Shield as the top regular season team. However, regular season success does not count for anything when the eliminations begin for the MLS Cup. Think of it as a post-season Cup Tournament like the FA Cup, which has little to do with the standings in the league table and everything to do with an NCAA-style knockout tournament.

This year, the top three teams in each geographic conference enjoy a first round bye. That is the Los Angeles Galaxy, Seattle Sounders, and Real Salt Lake in the West, and Sporting Kansas City, Houston Dynamo, and Philadelphia Union in the East. The similarities to the NCAA tournament continue with a "play-in" round featuring the last four teams to qualify for the playoffs: FC Dallas plays against Red Bull New York at Pizza Hut Park tonight in a one-game winner-take-all showdown, while the Colorado Rapids host the Columbus Crew in a similar one-game battle tomorrow at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. The Wild Card winners will play against Sporting Kansas City and the Los Angeles Galaxy on either Saturday October 29 or Sunday October 30, in a two-leg aggregate series. Kansas City and Los Angeles will host their respective second legs next week, on November 2 and 3. In the other two aggregate quarterfinal matchups, Seattle Sounders travel to Rio Tinto Stadium to play Real Salt Lake on Saturday October 29 in the first leg (Seattle hosts the second leg on November 2) and Houston Dynamo visits PPL Park on Sunday October 30 to play against Philadelphia Union in the first leg of their quarterfinal (Houston hosts the second leg on November 3).

Sadly, DC United and the probable league MVP Dwayne DeRosario missed out on the playoffs. DCU went winless in their final five games with four losses and one draw, and ended up with only the 13th best record in the league, behind Chicago Fire and Portland Timbers in addition to the ten playoff teams. But that wasn't DeRo's fault. Dwayne DeRosario tied with Chris Wondolowski of the San Jose Earthquakes for the league lead with 16 goals, and also ranked fourth in MLS with 12 assists, giving DeRosario an MLS-best 28 points and almost certainly winning the MVP award.

The Goalkeeper of the Year award is quite obvious. The Seattle Sounders finished with the second-best record in MLS, thanks to Kasey Keller single-handedly winning games. Kasey Keller saved 110 of 145 shots on goal, while playing every minute of all 34 Seattle Sounders games. The Los Angeles Galaxy duo of Donovan Ricketts and Josh Saunders had a similar save percentage, but Ricketts only played in 15 games, Saunders in 19, so neither was nearly as relevant as Kasey Keller.

There is some debate about the Defender of the Year, but with the Los Angeles Galaxy only allowing 28 goals all season, my choice is Omar Gonzalez. Most writers seem to think the other contender is Chad Marshall, because Columbus only allowed 31 goals on the season and did not have as strong a possession midfield limiting the opponents compared to the Galaxy. So, Omar Gonzalez or Chad Marshall, take your pick. I choose Big Omar.

The Rookie of the Year is relatively uncontested. CJ Sapong of Manassas, Virginia (don't let the African surname fool you, he is all American) played in every single one of Sporting Kansas City's 34 games in this, his first season out of James Madison University, where he played all four years before entering the MLS draft. CJ scored his first MLS goal only two minutes into Sporting's season opener, a 3-2 win over Chivas USA. CJ Sapong leads all rookies with 5 goals and 5 assists.

My playoff picks: Wild Card round - FC Dallas over RBNY, Colorado over Columbus
(Note: if Dallas wins, they will play Kansas City and the Colorado/Columbus winner will play Los Angeles. If Red Bull wins, they will play Los Angeles and the Colorado/Columbus winner will play Kansas City)
Quarterfinals: Kansas City over FC Dallas, Seattle over Real Salt Lake, Los Angeles over Colorado, Houston over Philadelphia
Semifinals: Los Angeles over Seattle (sorry, but the Galaxy can't be beaten), Houston over Kansas City
Finals: Los Angeles over Houston.

The MLS Cup will be in Los Angeles before the final is played, since the final will be held at the Home Depot Center. It will stay in Los Angeles afterwards, too, when the Galaxy win their third MLS Cup.

1 comment:

  1. Well, 0 for 1 on my picks. Red Bull NY destroyed FC Dallas 2-0 on goals by Joel Lindpere and Thierry Henry, the latter in stoppage time. Henry's goal was scored ten against eleven since RBNY defender Jan Gunnar Solli got a straight red card in the 79th minute. Solli will miss the first leg of the quarterfinal against the LA Galaxy. Sporting Kansas City will meet the winner of Columbus/Colorado in the quarterfinal round.


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