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The West is the Best

The MLS cup is up for grabs

The MLS cup is up for grabs

A thrilling weekend of MLS matches ended Sunday evening with the New England Revolution claiming the final playoff spot after their 1-0 win at the Columbus Crew. Needing only a draw to advance, given the string of events that took place on Saturday, the Revs made sure they would advance when Jeff Larentowicz hammered home a spectacular and unstoppable 79th minute free kick that is sure to garner significant Goal-of-the-Week consideration. If New England had somehow faltered at Crew Stadium last night, the Colorado Rapids were poised to claim the last available playoff spot. Instead, the Western Conference has to settle for 3 of 4 wildcard slots – with Real Salt Lake moving over into the Eastern Conference bracket as the fourth seed.

Five teams from the West and three teams from the East – the opposite of what we saw in last season’s MLS Cup playoffs. The consensus in 2008 was that the Eastern Conference was clearly superior to their western counterpart, an opinion backed up by the stunning run of the New York Red Bulls to the Cup Finals out of the Western Conference bracket. (They also claimed a small piece of silverware as the “Western Conference Champions” – explain that one to the casual soccer fan!) This season, momentum has swung out West, where undoubtedly 4 of the best 5 teams in MLS reside. Apologies to the Chicago Fire, but only the Columbus Crew can stand toe-to-toe with the West’s Big Four. So while I expect the Crew will be flying into Seattle later in November to defend their MLS Cup win of a year ago, three weeks of mouth-watering matches out west will determine their opponent.

Top seed LA Galaxy faces their intercity rival CD Chivas USA; the Houston Dynamo takes on the expansion darlings Seattle Sounders FC. What fan of MLS doesn’t want to see these intriguing and fascinating pairings. Some of the league’s biggest stars will be on display in these matches – including the biggest one of all, David Beckham. But let’s not forget Ljungberg, Donovan, Holden, Kljestan, Keller, Ching, Bornstein, Clark, and Montero – the faces of Major League Soccer doing battle in a quest for the Cup. Two straight Superclassico matches at the Home Depot Center – two straight chances to watch Beckham and Donovan avoid the hardest tackling team in MLS. Two standing-room-only crowds urging on their clubs, with all the noise, chants, drums, banners, and taunts a soccer fan could ask for. Up north at Qwest Field, the Sounders fans will put on their own brand of frenzied support – c’mon Houston, time to rally around your club and fill up Robertson Stadium for the return leg. There is no doubt we are in for an exciting time watching the Western Conference bracket draw down to one.

How about this scenario: by the end of the second weekend in November, the dust will have settled on the Western Conference playoffs, and for the third time in four years, the Houston Dynamo will be poised to win the MLS Championship. After exacting their revenge on Seattle in the second leg of their first round tie, the Dynamo will travel to Carson, California and methodically break down the defense of the Galaxy in a 3-1 triumph. The class of the Western Conference in this decade – including their years in San Jose – will cap off 2009 with another MLS Cup.

Of course the regular season matters – congratulations to the Columbus Crew on winning the Supporters Shield for the second season in a row – but the playoffs are where memories are made. This past weekend gave us a taste of that win-or-go-home sensation across the Week #32 schedule – the perfect appetizer for the MLS Final Eight. However, the regular season is behind us, and the playoffs begin this Thursday. While I’ll have an eye on what is happening out east, my focus will be squarely on the battles in the west. For the teams involved in the 2009 edition of the MLS Cup playoffs, the West is surely the best.

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  1. Tom

    October 29, 2009 at 12:51 pm

    Charles- We agree every team should play the others home and away, at least until the league has too many teams. I’m just saying that in conferences not all teams play the same schedule, so why can’t they not play the same schedule in a single table? Chivas or LA’s schedule is different from Colorado’s by 2 games. Colorado’s was also different from teams in the Eastern conference by 2 games. So what is the difference? Why does single table have to imply a balanced scheadule but conferences don’t?

    I don’t think we need to worry about 32 teams, that is a long time off. But at 18 teams with a 30 game schedule each team can play 13 opponents home and away (26 games) and 4 teams just once, home or away. That schedule could be done with a single table or 2 conferences; I’d prefer a single table (with playoffs).

  2. Bolacuadrada

    October 28, 2009 at 9:07 pm

    This is Beckham’s time to keep his winning streak alive. He was a champion with Manchester United. He was a Champion with Real Madid. Now it is time to be a champion with the LA Galaxy. Go LA Galaxy, take care of the Chdivas.

  3. Charles

    October 28, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    The schedule was not balanced, but it was pretty close. Maybe the Sounders and Chivas were at a disadvantge by having to play each other one more time, but do you believe if it was unbalanced to the point of the West playing a majority of the games against the West, that would be fair in a year like this ?
    As the article points out the West is clearly stronger top to bottom, but the Sounders could be out of the playoffs replaced by weaker East teams. DC, Toronto, NE etc. Teams they beat this season, but wouldn’t play in the larger league scenerio.

  4. Alejandro RUiz

    October 27, 2009 at 11:13 pm

    Did I miss something, didn’t the Fire go to head to head vs Chivas last week?

  5. Rave Green

    October 27, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    Please keep underestimating the Sounders…..

    … your peril.

  6. Tom

    October 27, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    I don’t know why they all have to play the same schedule to have a single table; under the current system, not all teams in a conference place the same schedule.

  7. Charles

    October 27, 2009 at 2:30 pm


    The problem withthe single table is, what are you going to when the league expands and not everyone plays everyone equally.

    IF you have a 32 teams league, every team plays 62 games ?
    I think the MLS was smart enough to figure out, eventually you need conferences. Hopefully sooner rather than later.
    Maybe now the MLS is small time enough, but what about in five years ?

    If you answer is second/third division, think again, noone is going to support a team playing for 21st, this is the US, not England.

  8. Charles

    October 27, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    Man that article has me jazzed for Thursday…..
    36,000 Fans wearing a beeeauuuutiful green…..
    Let the REAL season begin !

    PS. Sounders have the Dynamo’s number !!!!
    Seeeeaaaaattttllle Sooooouuuuuunders !

  9. Jonesta

    October 27, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    I agree the conference champion should be the team with the highest point total after the regular season. Then you seed the teams based on overall points total as if it were a single table to get the playoff pairings. This way we still have the conferences that allows for more and more teams to be added which becomes hard with a single table format as for all teams to play equal matches would require many more games, (MLS can’t handle that right now with the limited roster space there is currently) yet we can have some semblance of a single table at the same time.

    So Columbus would be the Supporters Shield/Eastern Conference Champion and L.A. would be the Western Conference Champion. Then you merge the playoff spots into one table and pair them off according to points total and the games would be;

    Columbus vs RSL
    L.A. vs New England
    Houston vs Chicago
    Seattle vs Chivas

    Perhaps Chicago and Chivas’ spots would be swapped I’m not sure on the tie break, but you get the idea. It keeps open the room for expansion while still rewarding those teams that deserve to be top seeds for their performances throughout the regular season. Thus making the regular season mean more and perhaps creating even more dramatic playoff pushes and games throughout the regular season than we were treated to this year.

  10. Berlin

    October 27, 2009 at 11:13 am

    I love the MLS Playoffs. It’s like the anxiety and joy I feel at every game all season, magnified and compressed into week by week mini seasons. I can’t wait to give Seattle a wake up call.

  11. 7hillstalk

    October 27, 2009 at 12:29 am

    I am wondering why cant the LA Galaxy be given the Western Conference title and the Crew given the Eastern Conference title? Who ever is leading at the end of regular season should be that conference champ. I don’t like the Idea of NY winning the west title last year.
    Why do we have to wait until the end of play-offs?

    • Adam Edg

      October 27, 2009 at 8:11 am

      I agree. Right now it is too much like the NFL except that teams from the east compete in the west. Kind of dumb.

    • Berlin

      October 27, 2009 at 11:16 am

      I did find NYRB’s run to be distasteful, but we’re a country of playoffs. Unless you’re not talking about the playoffs at all and just the awarding of the title, in that case I agree, give it to the Western Conference leader at the end of the season and make no reference to the Western Bracket winner being the Western Conference champion. Makes much more sense.

  12. Oscar

    October 26, 2009 at 11:23 pm

    This should be intense, with the western conference contenders of LA Galaxy, Chivas and Houston–probably my least favorite teams! All three will be pleasing to watch get destroyed at Qwest by Seattle.

  13. Rex

    October 26, 2009 at 7:42 pm

    Great article. I can’t wait. I hope Houston wins it all, but of all the seasons, this year I am the most skeptical.

    To get to the final, Houston, in a span of 3 games essentially needs 1 tie and 2 wins; something they have not done since July.

  14. Kyle

    October 26, 2009 at 6:59 pm

    Wow I am pumped up now! ESPN should hire you to promote the MLS playoffs 🙂

    In my opinion, it will be the Galaxy over Columbus in the end.

  15. Robert

    October 26, 2009 at 5:54 pm

    This is why i love MLS so much and soccer for that matter. Playoffs, Supporters Shield, CCL! so much action and no commercials during the game. Love it. Chivas is going to take it.

  16. Adam Edg

    October 26, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    I agree with your pick – Houston will win it all again. All around I think the Houston-Seattle series will be the best of the playoffs.
    Then again if somethign happens to Columbus to give Gruenebaum the go ahead in net, then I will forgo my prediction and allegiance to the Fire to cheer on Andy. That’s my boy.

  17. todd

    October 26, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    I’ve been drooling over these western match-ups for two weeks now. Its going to be insane and I can’t wait.

    Dale Dynamo.

  18. Martek

    October 26, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    Between you and Sean Wheelock, that’s now two predictions in favor of Dynamo. It warms my Orange heart to hear these thigns, but personally, I think this is a conspiracy against me to give me a heart attack or something. I think an MLS Cup match-up between the last three champs would be a thiller like no other.

    But in reality, there is so much parity out there that the only givens are to eliminate Chivas and RSL, who I think are clearly pretenders. I would put New England in that group, but I have learned never to count out a Steve Nicol squad. It would be just like them to mount a run to the final, where of course they will lose because that seems to be the law.

    That means that the real title contenders are Dynamo, Seattle, the Gals, Crew and Fire, and one of these will for sure be out after the first round (I think they’ll be wearing green.).

    “Looks like fun! I can’t wait!” — Martek’s cardiologist

  19. Joe in Indianapolis

    October 26, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    I’m so pumped for this tournament. C’mon Sounders!

  20. EastLAChiva

    October 26, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    Let’s go Chivas!

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