MLS Playoffs: The Conference Finals

By Andrew Dixon, III
Updated: November 7, 2007

MIAMI — After a first round that for the first time in history, saw both #1 seeds knocked out of the first round, the MLS Playoff field is now wide open ahead of the conference finals.

EASTERN CONFERENCE Teams: New England Revolution v.

Chicago Fire Schedule: 11/8/07 at 8pm, ESPN2, Gillette Stadium How they advanced: Fire def. DC United, 3-2 on aggregate; Revolution def. RBNY 1-0 on aggregate Outlook: A rematch of the last year’s first round match up.

New England Revolution: Just enough to get through

New England Revolution: Just enough to get through

Chicago knew they had it as soon as the match-up was announced.

The Fire have absolutely owned DC United in the playoffs dating back to their stunning upset over the two time defending champions in MLS Cup ’98. In fact Chicago hadn’t even conceded a goal to DC in six playoff matches.

DC came into the playoffs with some injuries and in uneven form. That was never going to be enough against a team that had been in playoff mode for a month. The Fire won the first leg on a 14th minute goal by Chris Rolfe who took advantage of a Greg Vanney misplay attempting to chased down a ball in the air, ran past an inattentive Marc Burch and buried a shot past Troy Perkins. DC was unable to muster any kind of offense with Luciano Emilio on the bench nursing a hurt ankle and Jaime Moreno far from effective. Had Troy Perkins not come up with a string of timely saves, this tie would have been over early.

It nearly was in the second leg. Chicago took advantage of two sloppy clearances and scored three minutes apart through Chad Barrett and Rolfe again. DC, unable to break down Fire defense in the first half, simply started playing long balls and pulled two bag through a brilliant Clyde Simms goal on 69 minutes and Christian Gomez finish five minutes later. This pulsating match looked to have gotten an injury time winner from Gomez but replays clearly showed him using his hand to knock the ball down into his path as he fought off a defender. The Fire held on for second leg tie and a 3-2 aggregate win.

Meanwhile the Revolution’s defense was stellar for two consecutive matches, holding RBNY scoreless in front of a meager 14,000 at Exit 16W. Bruce Arena called his MVP candidate Juan Pablo Angel for not making himself available to get the ball, an assertion that Angel strongly disagreed with.

Things got no better for RBNY when headed up I95 to Foxboro. Though they fought hard and had some largely positive play, an early second half concussion saw Angel depart the match but while RBNY tried to bring on a sub, Shalrie Joseph played in Steve Ralston with a tremendous through ball. Ralson laid it off to his left for Taylor Twellman who finished the chance and the series.

Chicago Fire: Looking for another upset

Chicago Fire: Looking for another upset

The Revolution have to like their chances of getting back to a third consecutive MLS Cup. While both sides have the ability to shut down their opponents, I’ll take the experience of Revolution and their ability to create wins over the influence of Cuauhtémoc Blanco in the midfield. The key battle will be between Shalrie Joseph and Blanco but if Chicago can hold firm and take advantage of mistakes, they could pull another upset.

WESTERN CONFERENCE Teams: Houston Dynamo v. KC Wizards Schedule: 11/10/07 at 7pm, Fox Soccer Channel, Robertson Stadium How they advanced: Dynamo def. FC Dallas 4-2 on aggregate; KC def. Chivas USA 1-0 on aggregate Outlook: Houston guns for a 2nd straight MLS Cup berth while KC looks to continue its impressive defensive effort

KC Wizards: Another Defensive task ahead of them

KC Wizards: Another Defensive task ahead of them

For the second straight year, FC Dallas has to be wondering what happened. They played an excellent first leg at home, winning 1-0 scoring off a long Adrian Serioux throw in and a stunning Clarence Goodson finish then withstanding a 15 shot onslaught from the defending champions.

Houston looked to be in trouble in front their home crowd of 30,000 when Carlos Ruiz put the Hoops up 1-0 and 2-0 on aggregate with a 14th minute goal. But Arturo Alvarez’ sending off just a minute into the second half turned the tide for Houston. Stuart Holden got the comeback started for Houston after receiving a knockdown in the box from Ching on 67 minutes. Ching then tied the match and the aggregate after getting a beautiful feed from Dwaye DeRosario five minutes later.

Regulation ended 2-1 and 2-2 on aggregate setting up overtime. Houston dominated the extra session getting a goal from Joseph Ngwenya whose have a phenomenal season and a free kick/cannon from Brad Davis that left GK Ray Burse no chance.

Houston demonstrated its ability to turn on the offense and that should strike fear in just about everybody left in the playoffs.

Houston Dynamo: Back to Back titles still a possibility.

Houston Dynamo: Back to Back titles still a possibility.

Meanwhile, Chivas USA limped into their first round encounter with Kansas City without its two leading scorers, Ante Razov and Maykel Galindo. Razov and Galindo both suffered late season injuries, with Razov’s ending his season. Chivas USA’s starting forward tandem had combined for 23 goals ans 12 assists and without them, it was always going to be tough.

Still there was mild surprise when KC took the first leg at home. on a single goal. Eddie Johnson was fouled about 30 yards away from the goal, setting up Davy Arnaud’s spectacular free kick. Thivas USA till managed more shots and shots on goals but KC’s defense, marshalled by Jimmy Conrad stood firm.

It was then left to Chivas to bring it at the Home Depot Center where they had lost just twice all season. Galindo returned to the lineup and he junior Goats were aggressive from the start, forcing Kevin Hartman into six saves, some of the brilliant variety that recalled his days in LA with the Galaxy. They doubled KC’s shots and shots on goals and forced six corner kicks to the Wizards’ none.

But they simply couldn’t find the back of the net. The hit two goal posts and saw an injury time header from John Cunliffe smack the cross bar. KC only managed 3 shots on goals and didn’t need score. But they didn’t need to. KC, not exactly a defensive juggernaut, pitched its third straight shut out, took out a very good team and allowed its fans to dream about a sequel to their 2000 championship run.

Houston presents a different animal, however. They have a varied attack through Ching, Ngwenya and DeRosario and was among one of the best defensive sides all season. It’s going to take a might effort by KC and early goal (are you listening EJ?) for KC to have a solid chance at winning this thing.

Expect these matches to be competitive and well played as a trip to MLS Showcase Showdown is on the line. My picks? A repeat of last year’s final.

MLS Playoffs: Time to bring it.