With San Jose’s dramatic victory last night, they will await this weekend’s slate of matches to see who their next round opponent will be. Their upset victory has set the stage for an interest weekend of matches where we could conceivably see three more lower seeds win their playoff matches and once again throw the MLS playoffs into unexpected territory. After all, the defending champions were an eighth seed (oops, fourth seed in the East) last year.
With that in mind, below are the remaining first round matches and the possibility of an upset (upset defined as the lower seed winning the series). All times are Eastern:
Colorado Rapids v. Columbus Crew (Saturday, 4 PM, Telefutura)
Colorado leads 1-0 on aggregate
The storyline of the first leg of this matchup was simple: Colorado failing to exploit opportunities to increase their lead and Columbus hanging on just enough to have a chance back home. As a reminder, it was an Omar Cummings cross to Pablo Mastroeni that was the difference in the match. However, Cummings was creating chances the entire first half by roaming wide around Chad Marshall and the Columbus defense. For Colorado to win, it will have to keep doing what it did in the first game – allow Cummings to attack and create opportunities for Conor Casey and the Rapids’ midfield.
Columbus, as I mentioned in my post-match summary, should feel very lucky to have escaped only giving up a goal. Now they will have to write-up a game plan that can help them score their own goals, and the key is as always Schelotto. He looked his age in the first match, but the team has to have him involved to create scoring opportunities. The Crew also have to solve Jeff Larentowicz, who controlled the midfield and disrupted the Columbus attack. Of course they have to do this while stopping the Rapids’ forwards, but with the home crowd on their side this is a doable proposition.
Upset potential: High, because of two names. The first is Brian Mullen, who was the silent partner for Cummings and Casey in the first match, but was critical to the attack. The second is Andy Gruenebaum, who had a good first game but is still the backup keeper playing in his second MLS match this season.
Real Salt Lake v. FC Dallas (Saturday, 10 PM, Fox Soccer Channel)
FC Dallas Leads 2-1 on aggregate
FC Dallas and MVP candidate David Ferreira set up two Dallas goals to overcome an early Espindola score to make this an intriguing return leg and possibly give FC Dallas some breathing room. Everyone knows Real Salt Lake has not lost at home this season, but Dallas can draw 1-1 or even “lose” 1-0 and still advance. To do so they will need Ferreira to again turn in an excellent performance, where he makes plays against the RSL midfield and set up his strikers to beat the impressive RSL defense.
The story of this match is who is not going to be on the pitch. For the home club, they will be missing the red-carded Javier Morales, an important absence. However, when he was injured during the month of September, Real Salt Lake went 3-0-1. But coming back from injury will be Will Johnson, who Jason Kreis can use to shadow David Ferreira. The visitors will be missing Atiba Harris to red card, Milton Rodriguez to a hip injury, and George John to a hamstring.
Upset potential: Moderate, simply because Dallas has the lead, an MVP candidate, and a quality keeper. Salt Lake City is a very hard place to win, and RSL should be considered a slight favorite, but Dallas is positioning itself for an upset bid.
Los Angeles Galaxy v. Seattle Sounders (Sunday, 9 PM, ESPN2)
LA leads 1-0 on aggregate
The team with the questions heading into the playoffs may have answered them with their first leg win on Sunday, but the Sounders are still a quality team to contend with. And for them to pull off the upset, they desperately need their star Montero as well as Zakuani and Nyassi to create quality scoring chances. In Seattle, a combination of the Galaxy defense and only a few legitimate scoring chances led to the current deficit, and they need to create those chances in this match. Sigid Schmid has said the larger dimensions of Home Depot Center will help his club create space and find holes for his team to exploit.
On the other side, the Galaxy played a near-perfect match to win in Seattle. Their defense was outstanding, with DeLaGarza playing an unfamiliar position exceptionally well. David Beckham received tons of praise for playing the entire match and playing it well, and the entire Galaxy squad looked fit and played their roles exactly as drawn up for the first time in a while. Can they do it again is the million dollar question. Also keep in mind it took a miracle strike from Edson Buddle for LA to have this lead, and while they had their own chances and settled for a defensive game plan in the second half, Seattle’s defense should still get some credit for the outcome being 1-0.
Upset potential: Low to moderate. LA likely will not play the perfect match like they did in Seattle, and Seattle will find space to score. But LA may not need to be perfect when playing at home and with the lead, maybe just good enough.