28 October, 2013

MLS Playoff Preview

The 2013 MLS regular season is in the books. Red Bull NY finishes with the best regular season record to win their first MLS trophy of any kind (MLS Cup, Supporters Shield, or US Open Cup) despite being active for all 18 MLS seasons, originally as the NY/NJ MetroStars.

Ten MLS teams make the playoffs, with the #4 and #5 teams in each conference, East and West, playing in a one-game knockout preliminary round. The survivors will then join the top 3 teams in each conference in the quarterfinal round (conference semifinals) for a home-and-home aggregate series. The four conference finalists will meet for another home-and-home series to determine who goes to the one-game MLS Cup final, to be played on December 7 at the home of the team with the better regular season record. This is only the second time in MLS history that the MLS Cup final will not be held at a predetermined neutral site.

Team records are in W-T-L format.

East preliminary round: #5 Montreal (14-7-13) at #4 Houston (14-9-11)
Montreal had an immediate "Impact" by qualifying for the playoffs in their second season. Houston are the favorites in this matchup. One reason is that Brian Ching is no longer in the lineup, having been replaced at forward by former West Brom forward Giles Barnes and USMNT prospect Will Bruin. However, with Italian great Alessandro Nesta in the lineup, Montreal's defense is formidable, and I would not be surprised to see Montreal win the match on the road at Reliant Stadium on Halloween night.

Top Players: Montreal
F Marco di Vaio (Italy)
M Patrice Bernier (Canada)
D Alessandro Nesta (Italy)
GK Troy Perkins

Top Players: Houston
F Will Bruin
M Brad Davis
D Bobby Boswell
GK Tally Hall

West preliminary round: #5 Colorado (14-9-11) at #4 Seattle (15-7-12)

If there was any justice in this world, Colorado would be hosting this match, as Seattle should have lost 2-1 to the LA Galaxy in their final match, but instead tied 1-1 to finish 1 point ahead of Colorado in the standings, as Omar Gonzalez's goal was inexplicably not allowed. (See picture, (c) ESPN) Colorado had the better goal difference. Seattle are the favorites in the game being played Wednesday, October 30, at CenturyLink Field. The addition of Clint Dempsey to Seattle's team makes them light years better than before. USMNT starting right back Brad Evans does not even make my list of top 3 field players for Seattle. I fully expect Seattle to take down Portland in the quarterfinal round after dismantling Colorado in Round 1.

Top Players: Colorado
F DeShorn Brown (Jamaica)
M Atiba Harris (St. Kitts & Nevis)
D Drew Moor
GK Clint Irwin

Top Players: Seattle
F Obafemi Martins (Nigeria)
M/F Clint Dempsey
M/F Eddie Johnson
GK Michael Gspurning (Austria)

Eastern Conference Semifinal: #3 New England (14-9-11) vs #2 Sporting KC (17-7-10)
Sporting Kansas City finished only one point away in the standings from the Supporters Shield (won by Red Bull NY) and are my preference to win the whole cup, mostly because of fan bias and that I can't root for New York teams in general. Sporting goes deep at all positions. For New England, watch their leading scorer, Diego Fagundez, only 18 years old, who has played with both the USA and Uruguay youth national teams. On November 2 the teams meet at Gillette Stadium, and then play the second leg at Sporting Park on either November 6 or 7.

Top Players: New England
F Diego Fagundez
M Lee Nguyen
D Jose Goncalves (Portugal)
GK Matt Reis

Top Players: Kansas City
F Claudio Bieler (Argentina)
M Graham Zusi
D Matt Besler
GK Jimmy Nielsen (Denmark)

Western Conference Semifinal: #3 LA Galaxy (15-8-11) vs #2 Real Salt Lake (16-8-10)
 My feeling is that the Galaxy will destroy RSL, even though RSL technically has the better record. As mentioned above, the Galaxy were robbed of a win yesterday. But, home field advantage doesn't matter in the quarterfinal round, when the two teams play home-and-home. The teams play at the Home Depot Center on Sunday, November 3, and then the second leg at Rio Tinto is yet to be scheduled.

Top Players: LA Galaxy
F Robbie Keane (Ireland)
M/F Landon Donovan
D Omar Gonzalez
GK Carlo Cudicini (Italy)

Top Players: Real Salt Lake
F Alvaro Saborio (Costa Rica)
M Javier Morales (Argentina)
D Nat Borchers
GK Nick Rimando

#1 teams: Portland (14-15-5) will match up against the Colorado at Seattle winner on Saturday, November 2, and Red Bull NY (17-8-9) will pair off against the Montreal at Houston winner on Sunday, November 3 in the quarterfinal round (conference semifinals). The #1 teams will host the second leg. Despite RBNY finishing with 2 points more than Portland in the regular season to win the Supporters Shield, Portland has an amazing record of only 5 losses, the fourth-fewest in MLS history. But, we all know, a win is worth 3 times as much as a draw, and Portland also led MLS in draws with 15. Trivia time: Portland's Darlington Nagbe is the son of former Liberia NT captain Joe Thunder Armstrong Nagbe, who played alongside George Weah.

Top Players: Red Bull NY
 F Thierry Henry (France)
M Tim Cahill (Australia)
D Jamison Olave (Colombia)
GK Luis Robles

Top Players: Portland
F Diego Valeri (Argentina)
M/F Darlington Nagbe (Liberia)
D/M Rodney Wallace (Costa Rica)
GK Donovan Ricketts (Jamaica)

My picks for the MLS Cup final: Seattle at Red Bull NY.
I like Montreal over Houston, Seattle over Colorado in Round 1.
RBNY over Montreal, Sporting KC over New England, LA Galaxy over RSL, Seattle over Portand
Conference Finals: RBNY over Sporting KC, Seattle over LA Galaxy in a vicious battle
Clint Dempsey named MVP as the Seattle Sounders win their first MLS Cup over RBNY.

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