Monday, November 8, 2010

MLS Conference Finals Set

It was a bizarre weekend in the MLS playoffs. With the exception of LA (more on that later), every higher seed lost their first round series. New York Red Bull crashed and burned against San Jose. Columbus went down on penalties to Colorado after a regular time stalemate. And Dallas convincingly held Real Salt Lake to a draw at Rio Tinto, allowing them through on aggregate after their 2-1 win at home last week.

This means that we are guaranteed the presence of either Colorado or San Jose in the MLS Cup Final, the lowest seeds in the playoffs and the #5 and #6 teams in the Western Conference table, respectively. Oh, and one of these teams will be representing the "east." It's a repeat of last year, when 5th position Real Salt Lake made a run through the east to get to the cup final against LA.

I'm sure Don Garber can make an argument why this is good for the fans, but it's hard to see this as anything other than a massive fail for the league. I have nothing against San Jose or Colorado, but neither of them belongs in the MLS cup final. Had the league seeded the playoffs from a single table, you'd have seen #1 LA vs. #8 San Jose, #2 RSL vs. #7 Colorado, #3 New York vs. #6 Seattle, and #4 Dallas vs. #5 Columbus. Tell me that wouldn't have produced a more interesting set of possibilities for the conference and cup finals.

One team didn't succumb to the higher seed curse this weekend, and that was LA Galaxy. Against most predictions, LA didn't park the bus and try to protect the 1-0 lead from the first leg; instead, they attacked Seattle right from the start, and once again used the set piece to tremendous advantage. This seemed to take Seattle somewhat by surprise, and they were on their back foot from the start.

Sigi Schmidt protested the first goal because Beckham was allowed to take his corner from his favored right side (although the replay I saw suggested that was the correct call), but Schmidt's whinging obscures the fact that Seattle conceded four corners in the first 18 minutes, and Beckham was dropping dangerous balls exactly in the same place that Buddle connected. You can't concede multiple free kicks against a team that set a league record with 13 set piece goals in the regular season and expect not to be punished.

The second goal, also off a set piece, was pure training ground as Beckham's sharply curled ball fooled the defenders into letting Gonzalez lose his mark at the near post for a spectacular diving header. Beckham came close again with a free kick just outside the area, and LA had a number of other chances.

The result sets up an LA-Dallas conference final at Home Depot Center next Sunday, and you have to like LA's chances to get through to a second consecutive MLS Cup Final. With either Colorado or San Jose coming out of the other bracket, the winner of next Sunday's contest in Carson has a great chance of lifting the silverware.

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