Ten teams became eight in the MLS postseason over the last few days after the exit of Vancouver Whitecaps and Chicago Fire in the Knockout Round. Here are my picks for the MLS Cup Playoffs:
Eastern Conference Semi Finals
Houston Dynamo will take a 2-0 lead to Sporting Kansas City for the second leg of their semi-final. It wasn't the prettiest match at BBVA Compass Stadium on Sunday afternoon, but it was a high energy affair in which the Dynamo made the most of the chances they created.
It was a stunning strike from Adam Moffatt that opened the scoring, before 2011 SuperDraft pick Will Bruin finished off a lovely move to double Houston's advantage in the second half. In a physical contest, the Dynamo deserved to win. Sporting Kansas City's usually influential midfielders Graham Zusi and Roger Espinoza didn't affect the game enough for the visitors.
Sporting KC are very strong at home while the Dynamo have struggled on the road, but the two goal lead should be enough for the Dynamo to knock out Sporting for the second successive season.
DC United couldn't make home advantage count and now head to New York Red Bulls tied at 1-1 for the second leg. It was a game in which both sides failed to really show their attacking best and each needed an own goal to find the net. Three individual errors denied DC a win and may well have cost them progression. Chris Pontius had a first-half penalty saved. Goalkeeper Bill Hamid threw the ball into his own goal for the Red Bulls leveler, and then United's young Honduran Andy Najar was sent off following a moment of stupidity when he threw the ball at the referee as he was being shown a yellow card. He'll now be suspended for the second leg.
Although DC finished the season strongly in the absence of 2011 MVP Dwayne DeRosario, I don't think they will have enough of a cutting edge to beat New York at Red Bull Arena. The Red Bulls were nowhere near their best at RFK Stadium, but I expect them to find a way to beat DC at home.
Western Conference Semi Finals
Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando was the star of the show as his side came away from Seattle with a goalless draw. Despite not being able to field their first-choice back four, RSL stood firm under pressure and Rimando produced one of the best performances of his career. When Seattle are at their best at home going forward, very few teams can live with them in MLS, but on Friday night they lacked their usual sharpness in front of goal and missed the presence of Eddie Johnson.
Real Salt Lake must now be favourites as they return home for the second leg. It is always difficult to bet against the Royals at Rio Tinto Stadium, but they also have the psychological advantage of having knocked the Sounders out of the post-season a year ago, while Seattle must deal with the pressure of never having won a playoff round since joining MLS.
It wasn't pretty, but San Jose Earthquakes won't care. They're taking a 1-0 lead back to Buck Shaw Stadium for the second leg against LA Galaxy after Honduran defender Victor Bernardez powered home a late free kick from outside the penalty area. Playing their second game in four days, the Galaxy looked tired and apart from the ingenuity of Robbie Keane, LA lacked creativity in attack.
The defending Champions have only themselves to blame. San Jose created very little going forward but in stoppage time when the Earthquakes got a free kick, the Galaxy defended extremely poorly. Goalkeeper Josh Saunders was at fault for letting the ball slip through his grasp, but the shot from Bernardez shouldn't have made it that far. The LA wall failed to do its job, with Omar Gonzaez the main culprit jumping out of the way. It's ironic that he should be to blame after criticizing the way San Jose plays the game following the team's final meeting of the regular season.
It was another statement of belief and resilience from the Supporters Shield winners. The goal was the 10th time they have scored in stoppage time during 2012. It's a remarkable achievement, and that never-say-die attitude is the reason I expect them to finish the job at home.
East – New York Red Bulls vs. Houston Dynamo
West – San Jose Earthquakes vs. Real Salt Lake
San Jose Earthquakes vs. New York Red Bulls