After the knockout round victories by the Seattle Sounders over Colorado Rapids and Houston Dynamo over the Montreal Impact, the Major League Soccer conference semifinals are set. Each of them is an intriguing matchup making this year’s playoffs highly anticipated.
What will make this year’s run for MLS Cup so fun to watch is the mixture of talent and atmosphere.
Each of the heavyweight contenders has world-renowned designated players. Seattle has Clint Dempsey, the New York Red Bulls have Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill, and the LA Galaxy have Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan and Omar Gonzalez.
The atmosphere will be especially intense for this year’s playoffs because of the matchups and the raucous fans supporting each of the clubs. The Portland Timbers, Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City have awesome fan support at home and that translates on television. For visiting clubs, those are intimidating crowds to play in front of. Along with Seattle, those cities provide a huge advantage for their hometown clubs.
Here is a preview of each home-and-home matchup in the conference semifinals.
Houston Dynamo vs. New York Red Bulls
This will be a historical matchup to watch. New York had the best regular season record, but Houston has played in the last two MLS Cup finals. New York could end up feeling the pressure because it is expected to win. Similar to last season, Houston is coming from the knockout round. The Dynamo have experience for what it takes in the playoffs.
Interestingly, both teams have the same problem with fan turnout. It is decent, but also can be considered disappointing when empty seats are so easily spotted on TV. All the playoff teams with excellent regular season records are hoping New York loses to Houston, so they will have a chance to host the final of the 2013 MLS Cup. I’m going to stay conservative on my picks this year and say New York with Henry playing his most important matches to date in MLS advances with an aggregate score of 4-3.
Sporting KC vs. the New England Revolution
This is the least intriguing of all the conference semifinals. But it brings attention to New England as the surprise playoff franchise and the Revolution’s quest for a new stadium. I expect Sporting KC to dominate at home as Graham Zusi will lead his team to a tough aggregate win of 3-1.
LA Galaxy vs. Real Salt Lake
This is a monster matchup. Each team has such vibrant fan bases and their fans travel to see their teams play as well. Come playoff time though, for the most part (2009 is the exception), Real Salt Lake seems to play well against lesser competition, but has trouble rising up to the challenge of teams with big talent, like the Galaxy.
I expect Kyle Beckerman to play well for Salt Lake, but I also expect the Galaxy to overcome Real with two of the best assist men in the league, Keane and Donovan. LA can have an intimidating home crowd, too. The fans learned it from all those David Beckham years. A final aggregate score sees LA taking it 4-2.
Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers
This is easily the most anticipated conference semifinal matchup. This is already the biggest rivalry in the league and the fans of each team loathe one another. The league needs Seattle to win, but I find it hard to believe in a team that struggled so mightily down the stretch. I’m going to pick them anyway. I think Eddie Johnson will be the difference with his athleticism. I’m picking Seattle 3-2.
This mixture of significant matchups may end up producing the best TV ratings MLS has ever seen. Click here to see times and TV schedule.
Howard Alperin is Managing Editor of AmericanizeSoccer.com