By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
Down To The Wire: MLS Playoffs Roll On
MIAMI — After the most competitive opening round in the MLS’ 10 year history, 4 teams get ready to do battle for the right to advance to MLS Cup’06
EASTERN CONFERENCE Teams: DC United v. New England Revolution Schedule: 11/5/06 at 4pm, ESPN2, RFK Stadium How they advanced: DC def. RBNY 2-1 on aggregate; Revolution def. Chicago Fire 2-2 on aggregate (4-2 on penalties) Outlook: A rematch of the greatest playoff match ever played, the 2004 MLS Eastern Conference Final
No Clint Dempsey (injury) or Shalrie Joseph (red card suspension)? No problem!
Down 2-0 on aggregate? No problem!
Should anyone be suprised that faced with long odds, the Revoluton simply dug deep, forced overtime and won on penalty kicks? Perhaps only Chicago, who won the first leg 1-0 on Justin Mapp’s brilliant free kick. Goalkeeper Matt Pickens started in front of Zach Thornton and had a superb afternoon.
Chicago had to figure their chances of advancing were as good as gold especially after Clint Dempsey limped off in the second half with an ankle injury and Shalrie Joseph, playing his first match after sustaining a hand laceration a month ago, was red carded for elbowing the Fire’s Ivan Guerrero.
It didn’t look any better for New England after Nate Jaqua scored 17 minutes into the return leg, giving Chicago a 2-0 advantage on aggregate.
But Taylor Twellman finally showed up in a big game, scoring four minutes before halftime and Pat Noonan, himself returning from injury, completed the comeback scoring on 58 minutes to win the 2nd leg and tie it on aggregate. A 30 minute overtime resolved nothing and the match then went to penalties.
Matt Reis saved two penalties and scored one of his own to send New England to DC for the Conference Final. New England will get Joseph back but Dempsey remains doubtful. That said, New England is playing better than anyone right now.
Christian Gomez singlehandedly rescued DC from a horrific playoff exit against Red Bull New York. He scored a beautiful 77th minute game winner in the first leg played at Exit 16W then crushed RBNY by collecting the ball at the left post and squeezing it between the keeper and the post 5 minutes from the end. His goal tied the score at 1 in the second leg but give DC the aggregate win.
But don’t get it twisted.
DC was outplayed for large stretches of both legs. While they were solid if unspectacular in the first leg, they were seemed tentative desite being roared on by 21,000 fans at RFK in the second. There was little sharpness in front of goal and the defense, in particular Argentine Facundo Erpen never settled in. Erpen was repeatedly abused by 16 year old Josmer Altidore.
In fact Altidore drew a foul on Erpen just outside the box on right side when Erpen grabbed him, then buried a header from the ensuing free kick as Erpen lost his mark. Altidore’s goal had given RBNY the lead and a tie in the aggregate and the Jesey representers looked the team more likely to score in overtime until Gomez’ heroics.
The 3 man backline led by MLS Defender of the Year Bobby Boswell (who gave a post game interview and then joined in with the Barra Brava as they celebrated) needes to tighten up against New England because they will simply get punished if they give the ball away and mark with the carelessness shown in the last match.
Freddy Adu also needs to step up and become a creative force to alleviate the attention that will be placed on Gomez and Jamie Moreno.
WESTERN CONFERENCE Teams: Houston Dynamo v. Colorado Rapids Schedule: 11/5/06 at 7pm, Fox Sports Channel, Robertson Stadium How they advanced: Dynamo def. Chivas USA 4-3 on aggregate; Rapids def. FC Dallas 3-3 on aggregate(5-4 on penalties) Outlook: Rapids seeking to re-create magic of ’97 against “new” boys from Houston.
FC Dallas has to be wondering what happened. They played very well in Denver, winning 2-1 in the first leg but it all fell apart when they returned home to Dallas for the wildest match of the playoffs thus far.
FC Dallas’ Defender of the Year Chris Gbandi was sent off on 29 minutes for a over the top tackle on Matt Crawford. Yet even still, FC Dallas appeared to be in control as Carlos Ruiz scored in the 48th minute to give FC Dallas the lead on the night and a 3-1 lead on aggregate.
However, Nicolas Hernandez began putting his stamp on the Rapids comeback, scoring off his back less than 10 minutes later to bring the Rapids within one, then slotting home the game winner after a corner fell to him at the far post. It was now 3-3 on aggregate and 30 minutes of overtime loomed.
FC Dallas now desperate to hold off this surging Rapids (pun not intended) side looked to secure passage when Clarence Goodison headed in a free kick just two minutes into overtime.
But Clint Mathis who had done virtually nothing all season after being acquired in a trade for MLS leading scorer Jeff Cunningham, unleashed an unstoppable 25 yard laser to the upper left corner 6 mintues from time to even everything up again.
To penalites it went and FC Dallas keeper Dario Sala saved Aitor Karanak’s potential series clincher only to see his own offering saved by Joe Cannon. Pablo Mastroeni converted the next kick to send the Rapids to an improbable win.
An on-field fight ensured as the Rapids taunted some of FC Dallas’ fans, earning Sala a 6 match ban to start next season.
This was supposed to be FC Dallas’ year and Chris Gbandi will have a long winter, thinking about his red card that played a major role in this loss.
Meanwhile, Chivas USA looked to complete their stunnig turnaround after capturing the first leg at home wtih a 2-1 win over Houston Dynamo on the strength of two Ante Razov goals. Razov was a late scratch for the return leg but Chivas seemed to be weathering the storm on the road until Juan Franscico Palencia was red-carded after a confrontation with Ricardo Clark.
In all actuality both players should have been sent off but Clark’s conduct went unnoticed by the ref (but not the league who later fined him) and the momentum began to swing to the homeside. Dwayne De Rosario earned a penalty after being tackled from behind in the penalty area. Brian Davis converted the pk on 63 mintues and the aggregate series was tied at 2-2.
Chivas repeled attack after attack until two minutes into stoppage time when Eddie Robinson headed a DeRosario cross down into the area. Brian Ching jumped the highest for the loose ball and headed home the winner on virtually the last play of the match.
Colorado has absoutely nothing to lose but Houston has a high octane offense that ultimately should help them reach the final for the first time as the Dynamo.
These have been the best playoffs this writer can remember and these semifinals have the potential to be very tough but well played affairs, especially in the east.
MLS Playoffs: Time to bring it.