The MLS Cup Playoffs now have its conference finalists, as Real Salt Lake, Chicago, Houston and the LA Galaxy booked their dates with aggregate wins in their opening round matchups. Real Salt Lake dismissed the 2008 MLS Cup champs Columbus Crew with just their 2nd road victory of the year and a 4:2 aggregate victory over the defending champs. They will travel next to Chicago to face the Fire, who used a 2-0 home victory over the New England Revolution this past weekend to gain a 3:2 aggregate victory. Chicago will be heavily favored in the Eastern Conference final against Real Salt Lake, but RSL is hitting their stride at just the right time, getting hot right at the end of the season to make it to the playoffs and to get past the defending champs.
In the Western Conference, Houston beat first-year upstarts Seattle Sounders at home1-0 yesterday, needed an extra-time golazo from Brian Ching in the 96th minute to move on to the conference finals. They will head to the Home Depot Center to face David Beckham, Landon Donovan and the LA Galaxy, who beat Chivas USA 1-0 yesterday in their “home” match (Chivas USA and the Galaxy share the Home Depot Center), and winning their series 3:2 on aggregate. A penalty kick goal by Donovan proved to be the difference, but it was an otherworldly pass by Becks that helped Mike Magee draw a penalty in the box, setting the stage for Donovan’s winner.
So far, one thing that the MLS Cup Playoffs have been is entertaining. I have seen every game thus far and despite some scoreless draws, there have been lots of offensive chances and some dramatic defensive stops on all sides. MLS has to be happy with these final teams, with the two games to take place in front of raucous crowds in LA and Chicago, with the winner of each game moving on to a sold out Qwest Field in Seattle for the MLS Cup final. While of my original picks, only LA is left, the great thing about predictions is that you get to start over after each round. Right now, my money’s on a LA-Chicago final. RSL is playing very well, but do they have the moxy to win yet again on the road after winning twice all season? My bet is that they fall short. On the other sie, LA-Houston will be a great game, with lots of firepower on both sides. In the end, Donovan proves to be too much for the Houston defense, and LA moves on.
But, that’s why they play the games. We shall find out on Friday who wins between LA and Houston, and then that will be followed on Saturday by RSL-Chicago. Tune in, because the MLS Cup Playoffs are just heating up.