After only twelve goals total being scored in the conference semifinals, fans could be forgiven for expecting low-scoring first legs of the conference finals. Instead, tired legs and teams pressing advantages led to seven goals and seemingly anti-climatic second legs coming up on Sunday, as a repeat of the 2011 MLS Cup looks in the cards. Both Los Angeles and Houston have major advantages over the higher seeds in their series and, with LA holding the better record than the Dynamo, the eyes of American soccer could again be turning to the Home Depot Center.
In the first match of the double header it was a tired DC United team falling to a tactically advantaged Dynamo club in BBVA Stadium 3-1. DC was the better team in the first half, as despite their injuries (and losing Chris Pontius early in the match) they created a number of opportunities in front of Tally Hall. Nick DeLeon continued his incredible playoff run by cleaning up a Lionard Pajoy shot for the first goal of the game. The major talking point afterward was Raphael Augusto, in his MLS debut, being taken down on the break by Andre Hainault; referee Ricardo Salazar ruled that no foul was committed and let the play continue. Replays showed that Hainault and Augusto had locked shoulders, which Hainault used to pull down the rookie. Was the call correct? You make the decision -
The first half saw more substitutions than goals, but Houston asserted themselves in the second half. In fact, it was their play down the sides that created their goal scoring opportunities. Having a slower Robbie Russell as one fullback and not covering Chris Korb defensively on the other side gave DC a major tactical disadvantage that Houston exploited with Mac Kandji, Brad Davis and others. Time and again runs down the sidelines forced a DC centerback to come out to cover the runner, leaving space to be exploited in the middle. A visibly tired DC team, which used all of its subs by the 60th minute, was almost powerless to stop them.
In the second game, fatigue also played a factor but in reality Los Angeles dominated the team that they psychologically have always dominated in the playoffs. Seattle came into the match having struggled offensively against Real Salt Lake, but pressed the Galaxy defense to try and steal a goal or two on the road. However, their offensive push left room for the Galaxy midfield to exploit, and they did exactly that. As Seattle settled for long-range blasts from outside the box, a number of Galaxy players pushed in front of Michael Gspurning and sent in cross after cross. While the final score was 3-0 to the home team, it could have been worse.
So MLS is now faced with the two defending conference champions holding major goal advantages going into Sunday’s second legs of the playoffs. If the near-impossible does not happen, fans will see a repeat of last year’s title game. Is this healthy for the sport? Sound off in the comments section and tune in to the MLS Talk podcast to hear our take.