The final weekend in MLS set up two compelling conference semifinal matchups with the New York Red Bulls vs. D.C. United in the East and Seattle Sounders vs. Real Salt Lake in the West.
Last Saturday, the New York Red Bulls came up with a decisive 3–0 win on the road against the Philadelphia Union. This result, when combined with D.C. United’s fortunate 1–1 draw away to the Chicago Fire meant the Red Bulls finished third and DCU finished second.
The Red Bulls avoided the “wildcard” or single-knockout game, setting up a home-and-away clash with their hated rival DCU.
In the West, the only thing left to be decided last weekend was who would finish second—Seattle or Real Salt Lake. What was at stake was home field advantage in the second match between the two sides.
RSL fielded a weakened squad, played out a scoreless draw against travelling Vancouver, and got second place after Seattle lost to L.A. in the final game of the season.
New York’s win over Philadelphia was their first road win since May 19—their first road win in 10 games. Meanwhile, DCU without the services of last year’s MLS MVP Dwayne De Rosario, finished the season with five wins and two draws. Based on form alone, D.C. United have to be favored.
The story of the two head coaches couldn’t be more different. DCU’s Ben Olson, 35, was one of the team’s all-time greatest players and youngest coaches in MLS. Olson won two MLS Cups with DCU.
New York’s Hans Backe, 60, hails from Sweden and has been under fire for not producing the results given the star-studded lineup he has to work with. Speculation is rampant about his future given the hiring of new French general manager Jerome de Bontin.
DCU’s young American goalkeeper Bill Hamid put on a masterful performance in the 1–1 draw on the road against the Chicago Fire in last Saturday’s final game of the season.
New York has gone with Luis Robles, a D.C. United draftee, in their last four games of the season. His play has been decent but unspectacular.
New York has no problems scoring goals but they have shown some vulnerability defensively. A healthy (mentally and physically) Rafa Marquez is critical for New York to have success.
Kenny Cooper has to be one of the best acquisitions of the season. The imposing striker finished second behind sure-to-be-named MVP Chris Wondolowski in goal scoring with 18. He has formed a dynamic partnership with Thierry Henry.
Without De Rosario, D.C. United’s main threat is Chris Pontius. Pontius has been in impressive form and can score goals in any number of ways. He has become a “go-to guy” in a blue-collar squad.
DCU hasn’t shown any weaknesses lately, while New York is something of a wildcard. The Red Bulls’ recent road form is questionable while DCU has greatly improved theirs most recently.
The season series had a win, a loss, and a draw for each team.
New York hosts the first leg Saturday night and D.C. United hosts the second leg next Wednesday.
Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake know each other very well. Last year, Salt Lake took a commanding 3–0 lead in the first game rendering Seattle’s task next to impossible in the second leg. Salt Lake hung on for a 3–2 aggregate win.
Both sides are very entertaining to watch with excellent midfields. The edge has to go to Seattle in the goal scoring department with Fredy Montero and Eddie Johnson, who tweaked his hamstring against L.A. last Saturday, while RSL has seen goal production drop off in the last couple of months.
The Sounders added German designated player Christian Tiffert during the summer, while Salt Lake’s tried-and-true lineup is one to admire for its consistency.
The two coaches—Sigi Schmidt for Seattle and Jason Kries for RSL—are two of the brightest soccer minds in the game despite being opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of age and experience.
The season series between the two was extremely tight with only one goal being scored in three meetings. RSL won in Seattle back in May. A coin flip may be needed to decide the winner here.
Game 1 is in Seattle on Friday while Game 2 is at RSL next Thursday.
Follow Rahul on Twitter @RV_ETSports
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