By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
MLS Playoff Preview
MIAMI—The Quest for the Cup has begun anew as the MLS playoffs get underway this weekend. With the defending champion LA Galaxy failing to make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, a new champion will be crowned at MLS Cup 2006 at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas. Here’s a preview of the 8 quarterfinalists.
DC United (1): They won the Supporter’s Shield given to the team with the most points at the end of the regular season a month ago. They have the leading candidate for MVP in Christian Gomez. They have one of the most dynamic attacking lines in Gomez, Jamie Moreno and Freddy Adu. They have a solid defense that had the third best goals against average in the league.
So why are fans of the 4-time MLS Champs worried? Because the Red and Black have absolutely staggered into the playoffs. They have one win in their last six home matches and only claimed 11 out a possible 39 points to close the season. This is a team that has clearly lost its confidence and despite their standing as MLS’ top side, I don’t think any team fears them right now.However, this side is still dangerous and RFK will definitely be rocking for the playoffs. If budding star Bobby Boswell can marshall the defense and the midfield can regain its flow with the possession style of play which helped establish them as MLS front runners, the Red and Black still have the personnel to capture its 5th MLS title.
Red Bull New York (4): It’s been an…um…eventful year for the team at Exit 16W. Just before the season began, the team was bought by the Austrian company that manufactures the Red Bull energy drink and renamed Red Bull New York or the New York Red Bulls (the latter sounds like a U-7 team) depending on who you talk to. Then former US International Alexi Lalas, abandoned the Red Bull jihad (email me for the video explanation of this comment) by resigning as President and General Manager to join LA Galaxy FC in the same capacity. Former French Interntational Youri Djorkaeff begged out of a match claiming a family illness only to be spotted in the crowd watching the France-Brazil match at the 2006 World Cup. Finally, Mo Johnston was fired midway through the season and replaced with former US coach Bruce Arena.
So how did this team make the playoffs? Just barely. The MLS playoffs are soccer’s equivalent of a safety school: just about everyone gets in. After beating the KC Wizards on the final day of the season thanks to an Amado Guevara hat-trick, RBNY earned a playoff ticket with their Atlantic Cup rivals, DC United.
***image8*** While they come in with the least amount of points of all of MLS’ playoff teams, (39) the latter part of the season has seen the emergence of young Josmer Altidore at forward and a renewed commitment from the teams two stars, Guevara and Djorkaeff.
My man Stan in Harlem once said that RBNY is relevant if only through their rivalry with DC United. The rivalry, such as it is, renews itself this weekend.
NE Revolution (2) If the Revolution are to bring an MLS Cup back to Foxboro any time soon, this might have to be the year. There is unrest in the Revolution camp as US Player of the Year Clint Dempsey has publicy stated his desire to leave MLS for greater challenges in Europe, Shalrie Joseph is unhappy that a $1 million transfer to legendary club Glasgow Celtic was turned down and last season’s league MVP Taylor Twellman wants more money.
With all of that drama there’s no telling who’ll be in the 508 next season, so the 2-time MLS Cup Runners Up need to bring it as the playoffs begin.
***image9*** And bring it they can. Coach Steve Nichol has turned this franchise around in his 5 years in Foxboro and made it a hard working side that’s hungry to add a soccer championship to owner Bob Kraft’s trophy collection. They have a talented game breaker in Dempsey, a proven scorer in Twellman and the best defensive midfielder in Joseph. Throw in a solid backline that’s marshalled by team MVP Matt Reis in goal and you have a team that no one will be suprised to see lift the trophy in Dallas.
Chicago Fire (3) The Fire will be looking to take it old school and repeat the domestic double of 1998 by adding the MLS Cup to the US Open trophy they captured earlier this year.
The Fire opened a new stadium in suburban Bridgeview and Toyota Park has been good to likes of Costa Rica’s Andy Herron who led the team in goals and veteran CJ Brown who has re-established himself as a fixture in the starting lineup. Nate Jacqua and US hopeful Chris Rolfe all continue to make this Fire side, one of the most combative and feared teams heading into the playoffs. If they get past New England and meet up with DC in the conference final, watch out.
FC Dallas (1) Well, no one is questioning that Eddie Johnson trade now, are they?
While Johnson produced a whopping two goals for KC and found himself suspended at the end of the season, FC Dallas replaced him with former Manchester United trainee Kenny Cooper and rode the goal scoring of he and Guatemalan hit man Carlos Ruiz to the best record in the West.
I’ll say it right now, the conference is their’s to lose. FC Dallas was the class of the Western Conerence and they have the added motivation of playing for a possible title in their home park as DC did in 1997. Former Irish international Ronnie O’Brien continues to exert his influence on the midfield as does Richard Mulrooney and a finally healthy Chris Gbandi continues to grow on FC Dallas’ backline. Shaka Hislop will have his first taste of MLS playoff action and after starring for Trinidad and Tobago at the World Cup, he’ll be ready.
Colorado Rapids (4) Colorado enters the playoffs with the second lowest point total of all the playoff teams. This is a side that has, for one reason or another, defined mediocrity throughout the league’s existence except for their lone appearance in MLS Cup ’97. They expected numbers and inspired play from former eclectic icon Clint Mathis for whom they traded away Jeff Cunningham but got neither. Instead they will continue to rely on the playmaking and scoring of Kyle Beckerman and Nicolas Hernandez who co-led the team with 7 goals apiece.
US International Pablo Mastroeni, Jovan Kirovski and GK Joe Cannon will have to inspire this team if they have any shot of advancing past FC Dallas.
Houston Dynamo (2) The artists almost known as Houston 1836 arrived in H-town after the league decided they did not get the necessary fan support in San Jose. They opened up shop in the land of the Geto Boys and continue where they left off, with excellent, organized play through midfield and a pair of effective strikers in Canada’s Dwayne DeRosario and US International Brian Ching, both of whom scored 11 times.Ricardo Clark and Eddie Robinson help solidify the midfield on this team while Wade Barrett, the team leader in games and minutes anchors the back which also features Candian Adrian Serioux. This is a very good side that won 2 MLS Cups in San Jose and also have their eyes on winning MLS Cup in their home state. A Dallas-Houston semifinal would be a solid match up.
Chivas USA (3) If Bob Bradley doesn’t win Coach of the Year this year, I’ll buy a trophy and give it to him myself.
Chivas USA’s first season was a complete disaster as flamboyant owner Jorge Vergara figued he’d just add some Hispanic players and beat the gringos at will. All Chivas USA did was produce the worst record in the history of the league.
***image7*** Enter Bradley who reshaped the team and added former Chicago Fire hitman Ante Razov (who I STILL think should have been on the 2002 World Cup side, but I digress). Razov scored 14 times, 2nd best in the league and gave the Goats a legitimate threat up top. The porous defense of a year ago was tightened and Chivas qualified for the playoffs in their second year, claiming third place in the West.
Former Mexican International Franciso Palencia helps drive this team forward with help from Ramon Ramirez. But keep your eye on Francisco Mendoza a talented up and coming player in this league.
The quarterfinals will be decided over two legs with the winner decided on aggregate score. The conference championships will be decided by one off matches at the home stadium of the highest remaining seed. It all culminates with MLS Cup 2006 on November 12, 2006 just outside Dallas at Pizza Hut.
MLS Playoffs: It’s time to bring it.