MLS Playoffs – Can they get any weirder?
In the primer for the playoffs last week, the underlying theme was that in soccer, and especially in the MLS there is a huge bias for winning by the home team. And historically that bias has been even stronger in the playoffs.
So in the knockout stage, I saw no reason to go with any away teams and predicted that all four home clubs would prevail. Well that didn’t fare so well. While both home sides did indeed win on the Western Conference side of the bracket. Both away teams won on the Eastern Conference side. So before we take a look at the Conference Semi-finals lets take a quick look back at the knockout stage matches.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
Chicago Fire vs New York Red Bulls
The pre-match key was whether or not Bastian Schweinsteiger was fit enough to return. Well it turns out he was….sort of. He came in mid way through the second half but by then it was already 2-0 for the Red Bulls. And the Red Bulls tallied the nail in the coffin shortly after he came on to go up 3-0 and then scored once more late to embarrass the home side 4-0.
Atlanta United vs Columbus Crew
This match ended up 0-0 and had to go to penalties to determine the winner. One of the things pointed out in the primer was how a hot goalkeeper can make all the difference in the world. And that was certainly the case for the Crew. Zach Steffen had eight saves in the first 120 minutes including a couple of the spectacular type. Then he came up huge in the shootout stopping two shots from the mark. USMNT goalkeeper Brad Cuazn also had a very strong match with several big saves during play. Unfortunately in the end it didn’t matter.
From an unbiased view, the end result was just. Columbus had a goal ruled offside and the replay clearly showed that the player had not been off. However, the referee, upon seeing the lineman’s flag blew the whistle to stop play. Huge mistake because once the whistle has blown it takes video replay out of the game. And there was also a cross into the box looking to go right to a Columbus striker. At the last minute an Atlanta defender came in shoulder to shoulder and knocked the striker off. To me that was a penalty but it wasn’t called. So there was justice in the end anyway.
Houston Dynamo vs Sporting Kansas City
This match actually went right according to script. Houston did come out on top in a tightly played match 1-0. The game was pretty chippy and there were two incidents where players could, and probably should have been sent off. But in both cases match referee Mark Geiger chose to go with a yellow (instead of a direct red) and a talking to instead of a second yellow. While I thought both calls were wrong he is one of the top referees in the entire region so I won’t get on him too much.
Vancouver Whitecaps vs San Jose Earthquakes
As predicted, the Whitecaps came out on top in what was never a close match. After scoring in the 33rd minute to take the lead, it was pretty much downhill for the Quakes and they ultimately ended up going home after a 5-0 drubbing.
So the knockout stage has been completed and the Conference Semi-Finals begin tonight. How do those matches stack up? Key point to remember here is that unlike the last stage this round is a home and home series so the home field advantage is largely gone.
Vancouver Whitecaps vs Seattle Sounders
Its a good thing that it is a home and home series else Seattle, the defending Champions, might be in trouble. They are missing two strikers for the first session tonight in Vancouver. Clint Dempsey is suspended and Jordan Morris is still injured. The bad news for Vancouver is that they are a team that likes to attack with space. They likely won’t see much tonight as Seattle will play defensively and try and earn the road draw or at least keep the score low and close and rely on having Dempsey back for the match in Seattle where they should win. For Vancouver to have much of a realistic chance they must win tonight. In the end I think Seattle moves on.
Portland Timbers vs Houston Dynamo
This is a tough scenario as its pretty hard to bet against the Timbers. Portland is the top seed in the West and I don’t think this is the round they lose in. Too much attack even for the Dynamos defense.
Toronto FC vs New York Red Bulls
The Red Bulls came in not having played their best soccer of late. But they turned that around in Chicago in a big way. Can they pull off the upset and beat TFC? While this match will be tight here’s the bottom line.
TFC is one of if not the best teams to ever have played in the MLS and they have the deepest roster by far. It won’t be a pushover but I felt prior to the start of the season that this was TFC’s year and I see no reason to change that now.
New York City FC vs Columbus Crew
Remember the key. Go with the hot goalkeeper and in this case the Crew have not lost in their last eleven matches. Its seems like the shocking announcement by their owner that he may move the team has given this team a rallying cry. They played extremely tough in the hostile Atlanta environment. Can they keep that momentum up against the #2 seed in the East will be the question? I think yes and am staying with Zack Steffan until he falls off. Right now he’s in beast mode and I am sticking with him. Almost like this one enough to bet the house especially given the odds makers favoring FC.
So its going to be a great week of football starting tonight. Tune in and watch the show!