It’s only one year too late
Still should be great though
This weekend witnesses the MLS Eastern and Western Conference Finals to determine which teams will compete for the MLS Cup. The action in the east has thus far been somewhat underwhelming, with the Dynamo’s (#5) visit to Philadelphia (#7) producing the only fireworks. A lackluster 1-0 win for Houston at home was enough to see off the Union. Similarly, Sporting KC (#3) registered 2-0 wins, both in Denver and at home, over a depleted Rapids (#10) side to advance 4-0 on aggregate. Colorado was the lowest ranked team to make it into the semifinals, and they showed it. Both Houston and Philly have reside in the top half of The Power Rank, but only Kansas City have truly distinguished themselves. They will be 0.64 goal favorites over the visiting Dynamo in the Eastern Conference Final.
As has been the case in recent seasons, the most exciting action was out west. Real Salt Lake (#4) traveled to Seattle (#2) with a three goal lead and chose to play a defensive game against the league’s number one offense. Despite an onslaught in the first half, their gamble seemed to be paying off as the Sounders just couldn’t find the back of the net. But things turned around just after halftime, and the last half hour was played with Seattle needing just one more score to force extra time. However, it was not to be, and the number two ranked team bowed out of the playoffs. After two legs against strong competition, it’s difficult to tell which RSL will show up. In Rio Tinto, RSL played very well, while in Seattle they were lucky the Sounders didn’t strike another time because they created few chances of their own.
That said, last year we would have begged for a game featuring LA and Salt Lake. This year we’ll get it, thanks to a 3-1 aggregate win for LA (#1) over the Red Bulls (#6). We were treated to a tie between the #1 and #2 ranked teams… not in terms of their rank, but their payroll. Unfortunately, each team was missing a key central midfielder in Juninho and Marquez following a brawl on the frozen tundra of Red Bull Arena (I never thought I’d write that!). My MVP candidate Omar Gonzalez did not acquit himself well in this match as he continually defended Red Bull striker Luke Rodgers from the outside. Unfortunately for Gonzalez, the goal is inside, and Rodgers leveled New York within four minutes off a great through-ball from Thierry Henry. While it looked for the first half-hour like the Red Bulls might get a winner, LA controlled much of the last hour and got two goals to see them through. They’ll host RSL as 0.74 goal favorites.
Based on each team’s post-season performance, we’re now in a position where four of the top five teams will be playing in the conference finals. Houston is now clearly upper-middle class, while LA is the best MLS side by nearly a tenth of goal. Only they and the now-eliminated Sounders can claim to be elite. Seattle’s 2-0 home victory may not have been enough to see them through to the next round, but at least it helped them regain most of their lost Power Rank rating. Meanwhile, Sporting KC and Real Salt Lake can’t decide if they’re upper-middle class or elite. RSL started the year on top and dropped off, while KC worked their way up. A win by either of them over the LA Galaxy will probably be enough to add a third team to the summit of MLS.