MLS Playoff Predictions

Thursday, October 28, 2010 | View Comments
SEATTLE - NOVEMBER 22:  Kyle Beckerman #5 of Real Salt Lake holds the Philip F. Anschutz MLS Cup trophy as he and his teammates celebrate their win over the Los Angeles Galaxy in the MLS Cup final at Qwest Field on November 22, 2009 in Seattle, Washington. Real Salt Lake won 5-4 in a penalty shootout following regulation time.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Columbus and Colorado kick off the MLS playoff season tonight at Dick's Sporting Good Park.  Eight teams, one Cup, all the pomp, pageantry (such as MLS can produce for conference semifinals), and more cliches than you can shake a stick at.

Most eyes will be on the Western Conference, where both the Supporters Shield winner and the defending champs will be facing touch first round battles.  Though RSL came up short in their points title bid, they head into the playoffs as a strong favorite to repeat.  LA has struggled in the second half of the season and it's anyone's guess which version of the Galaxy shows up against Seattle.  

Back in the East, New York and Columbus might be slight favorites, but neither is rolling into their match-ups at full strength.  New York will be without Thierry Henry in their first leg at San Jose, and Columbus must make do without goalkeeping stalwart Will Hesmer.  In the case of the former, the Frenchman's injury absence might not be a deciding factor in the series; in the case of the latter, a Crew side without Hesmer's experience and ability seems ripe for the Rapids' taking.

Columbus v. Colorado

First Leg: Thursday, October 28th 9:00 PM Eastern at Dicks Sporting Goods Park on ESPN2
Second Leg: Saturday, November 6th, 4:00 PM Eastern at Crew Stadium on Telefutura

The Crew are wheezing and Colorado humming along (two minute collapse against RSL last week aside); with the first leg in the altitude of Colorado, all advantage seems to be on the Rapids' side.  Add in Hesmer's absence as mentioned above, and it looks like Colorado have the upper hand.

And I'm completely in the bag for Omar Cummings, so it would be easy for me to chalk this up as a Rapids win and move on; but there's more here, not the least of which is Columbus' expected fight, and I hesitate to dismiss them too easily.

But Schellotto's ability to influence a match by himself has waned, Columbus is hardly imposing from a goal-scoring standpoint, and Colorado will have every chance to push their advantage in the first leg.  I want to give Columbus a fighting chance, but I can't shake the feeling that Colorado will ultimately prevail.

My player to watch: Omar Cummings

Prediction: Colorado wins 3-2 on aggregate

Real Salt Lake v. FC Dallas

First Leg: Saturday, October 30th 5:00 PM Eastern at Pizza Hut Park on FSC
Second Leg: Saturday, November 6th 10:00 PM Eastern at Rio Tinto Stadium on FSC

FC Dallas' unbeaten run was certainly impressive, and they seem to find ways to keep themselves in games no matter the odds.  That being said, that unbeaten streak was highlighted by ten draws, and drawing at home against RSL is a recipe for disaster.  Should FC Dallas outscore RSL in Frisco, they give themselves a fighting chance; otherwise, consider the series over going into the second leg.

It's hard to find a reason to bet against RSL.  They don't lose at home (where it snowed yesterday, by the way), they have dangerous attackers and a record-setting defense.  Rimando just doesn't give up goals, and the Royals have two players rightly named finalists for Defender of the Year (Borchers and Olave).  Confidence is surely high, and Jason Kreis has proven he knows how to navigate the playoffs.

Gimme RSL, relatively big.

My player to watch: Will Johnson 

Prediction: RSL wins 4-1 on aggregate

New York v. San Jose

First Leg: Saturday, October 30th 10:00 PM Eastern at Buck Shaw Stadium on Telefutura
Second Leg: Thursday, November 4th 8:00 PM Eastern at Red Bull Arena on Telefutura

New York is the walking wounded at this point; Henry is out for the first leg, Ibrahim might not be available, Tony Tchani is out, and Joel Lindpere is playing through pain.  Meanwhile, San Jose has the chance to build a cushion at home, has the hottest striker the league (Chris Wondolowski), and can play with relative reckless abandon as the underdog in the series.

Smells like trouble for New York. Still, I give them a puncher's chance on the road, and if they can get back to New York tied or down a goal, they'll have every opportunity to win.  I think Backe's magic keeps them close in San Jose.  From there, crapshoot.

The Red Bulls will need continued great play from Dane Richards and must find a way to stop Wondowlowski.  Without Tchani, can they control the midfield and give Marquez a chance to connect with the attack?

My player to watch: Joel Lindpere

Prediction: New York win in penalties 

LA Galaxy v. Seattle Sounders

First Leg: Sunday, October 31st 8:00 PM Eastern at Qwest Field on ESPN2
Second Leg: Sunday, November 7th 9:00 PM Eastern at the Home Depot Center on ESPN

The crowd in Seattle for the first leg will play a small role, but shouldn't overly faze the Galaxy.  Most important for Arena is how to slow down the Seattle attack; this is not the same Sounders team the Galaxy dominated earlier in the year.

Gonzalez is good enough to slow down Seattle, but it's his partner that will determine how good the Galaxy central defense will be.  AJ De La Garza or Gregg Berhalter (is he healthy?) will be key to a back line that hasn't exactly scared teams in recent weeks.

But this is the Galaxy, and whether he's running down or not, I expect Donovan to take the series by the neck.  Seattle will fight, and this may even go the distance (extra time plus penalties), but in the end the Galaxy come out on top.

My player to watch: Steve Zakuani 

Prediction: LA win in penalties

Feel free to tell me where I've got it all wrong, and hit your own predictions in the comments.  
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