It's looking very much like the 2012 MLS Cup Final will be a repeat of the battle we witnessed a year ago. After the first leg of the Conference Finals, LA Galaxy and Houston Dynamo both hold commanding leads following a dramatic weekend of action.
First off, hands up. I predicted LA wouldn't make it to this stage. I didn't think the Galaxy would manage to overturn a first-leg 1-0 deficit in their semifinal against Supporters Shield winners San Jose Earthquakes, but I should have known better than to bet against the Galaxy. When they're at their best, no-one in MLS can touch them. A week ago, there were questions after a poor, flat performance at home against the Quakes. Now, I would be stunned if they don't make it back-to-back championship wins.
The two performances from LA in the past few days have showcased their ability, but also proved their desire to successfully defend their crown. The loss of central defender Victor Bernardez was a massive blow for San Jose at Buck Shaw Stadium on Wednesday, but that was only a small part of the reason for the Earthquakes exit. Quite simply, they couldn't live with the first half onslaught from LA, led by the magnificent Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane. On the night, there was a difference in class.
Fast forward five days and it was Donovan once again pulling the strings as LA tore apart an understrength, disorganized Seattle Sounders at the Home Depot Center.
There have been a few outstanding performers in the MLS Playoffs this year including Keane's three-goal colleague Mike Magee, and Houston Dynamo's Will Bruin, but for me, the Irishman has been the outstanding player in the post-season so far. Keane scored twice against Seattle and Magee also hit the target, as the Galaxy put one foot into the final. They could and should have finished the tie. It's not an understatement to say they could have won by five or six.
The Sounders defence simply couldn't live with LA, but also going forward we saw very little from Sigi Schmid's side. It was not the sort of performance you associate with the men in rave green, although it isn't the first time they have blown up in the playoffs - you only have to look back to last year when they lost the first leg of their Conference Semi-final 3-0 at Real Salt Lake. A year ago, that deficit proved too much to overcome, and although the Sounders did beat the Galaxy by four at home in August, on Sunday's evidence there's very little to suggest they can get anywhere near that result again.
So it looks as though LA will be hosting MLS Cup for the second successive season. That's because Houston Dynamo are in the driver's seat in the Eastern Conference Final against DC United. With the final being played at the home of the highest seed, should DC overturn a 3-1 deficit, they would host at RFK, but if it is Houston in MLS Cup, the league's showpiece event will be heading to the West coast.
I think the Eastern final is hanging more in the balance than the West, but a 3-1 loss from the first-leg will likely be too much for United to overturn. Ben Olsen's men have been involved in a couple of enthralling matches in recent days, but by the end of Sunday's game at BBVA Compass Stadium they were the walking wounded.
United have the right to feel aggrieved at the officiating. Canadian defender Andre Hainault scored one of the Dynamo's goals but only after an incident earlier in the game that saw him appear to pull down Raphael Augusto who would have been through on goal. It looked like a foul, and should have been a red card. The referee gave neither. So a slice of luck for the Dynamo, but there's no doubting they deserved their advantage after a clinical second half performance in front of goal.
With so many injuries hurting DC, Houston must be clear favourites heading into the second leg in the US Capitol. They have experience on their side. They know what it takes to reach the final, but they also know exactly what is needed to defend a lead on the road in the playoffs having successfully made it past Sporting Kansas City earlier in the post-season.
The MLS Playoffs this year have shown nothing can ever be seen as a formality, so I'm not booking my flight to Los Angeles just yet, but anything other than a Galaxy-Dynamo match-up on December 1st would be a major surprise.