With the culmination of the baseball season, the beginning of the basketball season, and football season midway through, another sport’s playoffs usually get overlooked. The Major League Soccer (MLS) playoffs have begun, and this year the champion could be any of the eight teams still alive. Both the Western and Eastern Conferences ended with a scramble to move up in the rankings and make the playoffs.
Going into the last game of the season there were three teams that had the chance to claim the Supporter’s Shield Trophy for the best record. The New York Red Bulls, Sporting Kansas City, and the Portland Timbers all had an opportunity to claim the Supporter’s Shield. All three teams won their final game of the season, including routs by the Red Bulls over the Chicago Fire 5-2 and the Timbers over Chivas USA 5-0.
The Red Bulls ended the season with 59 points and won the Supporter’s Shield. Sporting KC and Portland ended with 58 and 57 points, respectively. The win gave the Red Bulls first place in the East and the Timbers first place in the West. After the regular season, the playoffs begin, with the Red Bulls and Timbers holding the first seed in their respective conferences.
In the East, Sporting Kansas City is the second seed and the New England Revolution are the third seed. The Houston Dynamo and the Montreal Impact are the fourth and fifth seeds and played a preliminary game to get into the final eight with Houston coming out the victor by a score of 3-0. In the West, Real Salt Lake holds the second seed and the L.A. Galaxy have the third seed. The fourth and fifth seeds are the Seattle Sounders and the Colorado Rapids, who also played a prelim game that the Sounders took 2-0.
After those two preliminary games, the next two rounds of the playoffs consist of two games each, where one game will be played at the home field of each team. For these two games, the Red Bulls take on the Dynamo, Sporting KC goes up against the Revolution, the Galaxy play Real Salt Lake, and rivals Portland and Seattle are pitted against each other. The winner of the two games is determined by the total number of goals scored in each of the games.
At first glance at the matchup between the New York Red Bulls and the Houston Dynamo, I predicted the Red Bulls an easy win. That looked to be correct as the Red Bulls went up 2-0 with goals from Tim Cahill and Eric Alexander in the 22nd minute and 32nd minute, and then Houston cutting the deficit in half with a goal from Ricardo Clark in the 51st minute. Olave of the Red Bulls got a red card in the 65th minute, and then in stoppage time Houston was able to tie the game up at 2-2 on a goal from Omar Cummings. The Red Bulls’ Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill played great, and they must win in New York in order to continue on. The Dynamo’s Will Bruin and Brad Davis face a steep challenge of winning in New York, and I believe the Red Bulls will be able to defeat Houston since they play at home in New York.
As for the other matchup in the East, Sporting Kansas City against the New England Revolution, the Revolution shocked everyone with a 2-1 win at home with goals from Andy Dorman and Kelyn Rowe. Aurélien Collin scored for Kansas City in the 69th minute, right after New England’s second goal in the 67th minute. Despite the one goal disadvantage, I am still taking Sporting KC to the Conference Finals. Kansas City has playoff experience after getting to the Conference Finals in 2011 and the Conference Semifinals last season. Graham Zusi is great at creating and scoring goals and will help lead Sporting KC into the Conference Finals. Juan Agudelo and Lee Nguyen played great in the first game, but they won’t be able to do much when playing in Kansas City.
In the Western Conference, it is tough to call between Real Salt Lake and the L.A. Galaxy. RSL had been fantastic all season, and looked like they would win the West until Portland had a great end of the season. The Galaxy have the experience, and are also back-to-back MLS Cup champs looking for the three-peat. I thought each team would get a 1-0 win at home, and L.A. did just that in the first game. The score was deadlocked at halftime, but a surprise goal right after halftime from Sean Franklin in the 48th minute broke the game open, and the Galaxy went on to win by a 1-0 score. Real Salt Lake need to get a win when they play at home, and I think they can manage to do that with a midfield led by Kyle Beckerman and Robbie Findley as a great presence up front. I see the L.A. Galaxy ultimately coming out victorious behind their leaders Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane.
The rivalry, Portland vs. Seattle, will be two great games to watch. During the regular season the teams were 1-1-1 with the goals for each side 2-2. The key for either team is getting a tie on the road and then getting a win at home. Portland did even better. Ryan Johnson scored early for the Portland in the 15th minute, and Darlington Nagbe added a goal in the 67th minute. The Sounders looked out of it but Osvaldo Alonso found a way past the Timbers defense in the 90th minute to halve the deficit. As for the game played in Portland, the Timbers have only lost once at home the entire season and their goalkeeper, Donavan Ricketts, is going to keep it that way. Clint Dempsey and Eddie Johnson of the Sounders will be shut down by the Timbers defense. Portland will easily get to the next round on the back of their defense and their incredible home fans.
The Conference Finals have the same set up as the Semis, two games, one at home and one away. The Eastern Conference, between the Red Bulls and Sporting KC, and the Western Conference, between the Timbers and the Galaxy. The Eastern Conference Final is an intriguing matchup between two of the best players in the league,Thierry Henry and Graham Zusi. The Red Bulls have been one of the most consistent teams all year and they were top in the Eastern Conference almost the entire season. Tim Cahill of the Red Bulls is one of the leading scorers in the league and may be the MVP. KC’s keeper, Jimmy Nielsen, will need to play well to stop the powerhouse Red Bulls. Sporting Kansas City will prove to be a great opponent, maybe even getting a win at home, but they will ultimately fall to the Red Bulls.
Out West, the two games of Portland vs. L.A. will both go to the Timbers. The young Timbers have not lost a game in the eight games coming into the playoffs, and they will prove that even after poor seasons the past two years, the three-year-old team will get to the Finals thanks to their new coach, Caleb Porter. The Galaxy have a tough task if they want to move on since Portland has only lost five games all year. The Galaxy’s Gyasi Zardes and Robbie Keane need to play well if they want to win. L.A. will prove to be tough at home, but Portland has beat them in Los Angeles already this season, and I think they can do it again. Portland’s defense, led by Gambians Pa Modou Kah and Mamadou Futty Danso, is almost impenetrable, especially with the veteran Donovan Ricketts in goal. Playing in Portland is an almost guaranteed win for the Timbers too, and they will move on to the Finals.
That would set up the Finals of MLS between the top teams of each conference, the New York Red Bulls from the East and the Portland Timbers from the West. Unlike the last two rounds, the Finals are just a single game, played in the stadium of the team with the better record. If the prediction holds true, the Finals will be played in New York City. Despite not having home field, the Timbers have one if the best fan bases in all of sports, and they will travel to New York to be able to see the game.
I predict a 2-1 victory with the MLS Cup going to Portland. Portland will score early in both halves with the Red Bulls scoring a goal towards the end of the game. That goal will not be enough though, and Portland will celebrate their championship. I predict a goal from Diego Valeri to start the game off and right after halftime Will Johnson will net another to put the Timbers up 2-0. Donavan Ricketts need to play great in goal to stop the Red Bulls, and Portland’s defense won’t break. The Red Bulls will finally get a goal from Thierry Henry, but it will be very late in the game. It will end up being too little too late. The young Timbers team will celebrate along with their fans in New York City and bring home the trophy to Portland.