The first legs of the MLS Cup Quarterfinals are in the books and we finally got to see what teams really have to offer with their seasons on the line. Some stepped up while others crumbled. As is usually the case, the difference between a win and a loss is one or two moments of brilliance from a single player. Lets take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly to come out of the MLS Cup Quarterfinals first legs.
Charlie Davies (New England Revolution/Forward) – Charlie Davies, along with teammates Jermaine Jones and Lee Nguyen were a three headed monster against the Columbus Crew in their first leg matchup. Columbus had multiple lapses in concentration throughout the match and Davies was there to punish them. His two goal performance was punctuated by his final goal, which more than likely sealed the Crews fate in this series. It was a screamer from long range that showed all the promise Davies showed before his horrible car accident five years ago.
Jamie Penedo (Los Angeles Galaxy/Goalkeeper) – Penedo was forced to make save after save against a relentless Real Salt Lake attack. His performance meant everything to the Galaxy, who would have had a mountain to climb if they went back to LA with a multiple goal disadvantage. That easily could have been the case if Penedo hadn’t turned into a brick wall in the second half of the first leg. His six saves gave the Galaxy a shut out on the road, but Real Salt Lake only have to tie LA in the second leg to move on to the next round.
Thierry Henry (New York Red Bulls/Forward) – Henry showed us all once again why he is considered one of the greatest footballers of all time. His vision and playmaking ability totally stunned DC United and showed they were playing at a different speed than Henry was. His first assist, a back to goal back-heel that drew the entire defense out of position, came out of nowhere and could only be pulled off by a handful of players in the league. United weren’t ready for this game and they will have to pour it on hard in the second leg in the nation’s capital. They will also have to hope Henry is playing down from his current form.
Steve Clark (Columbus Crew/Goalkeeper) – Clark was very poor against a powerful New England attack, giving up four goals. The defense played well below standard in front of him but he needs to become more of a leader and demand better of them. He did manage five saves, which speaks to how badly the Crew defense and midfield played considering he also gave up four goals.
Real Salt Lake/LA Galaxy Offense – In a game that was screaming for someone to take a hold of it, nobody was able to make it happen. Netting a goal in this game would have provided a massive advantage yet neither team seemed to really go for it. RSL pushed the pace for a long stretch but couldn’t score on a masterful Jaime Penedo. LA on the other hand has been sputtering as of late and haven’t won a game outright in more than a month. The team was seemingly unstoppable during stretches of the season but lately hasn’t been able to come together with a complete game. They need a retiring Landon Donovan to provide a signature performance this coming weekend if they want a chance at a fifth championship.
Ben Olsen (DC United/Head Coach) – Going from worst to first in the Eastern Conference was a great achievement for the former most decorated team in league history. The team has shown great grit and determination throughout the year with injuries, but with the season on the line they put together a stinker, and at the worst possible time. I wouldn’t put it past them to come out swinging and land a knockout blow to the Red Bulls, but that is looking like a very tall task for them at the moment. I have to wonder how well they were coached up for this match up. They had plenty of time to prepare and looked out of sorts in the first leg. Coach Olsen will have to return to his season long tactics in order to get his squad ready for an elimination game.
Playoff game atmosphere – The Crew didn’t even manage to crack the 10,000 mark for attendance in a playoff game, FC Dallas showed out well but had some open seats from my view in my living room and Red Bull Arena looked sparse at best. While Salt Lake was in full force, the overall atmosphere of the first leg games was a bit underwhelming. This is greatly disappointing for a league that seems to be growing season after season but for different reasons seems to struggle drawing people to stadiums from time to time. With the second league games being played in LA and Seattle we will see better fan turn out which will improve the overall feel of the games. United and Revolution fans will also turn out better than their series rivals did last weekend. I expect the second leg games to be hotly contested and the home field fans will be one of the key reasons why.
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