MLS Cup Playoff Previews: First Round

MLS Cup Playoff Previews: First Round

  • Posted by Drew Epperley
  • On October 28, 2010
  • 1 Comments
  • 2010 MLS Cup Playoffs

The Crew and Rapids face off tonight in the playoff opener. (Getty Images)

It all begins tonight. The 2010 MLS Cup Playoffs kick off in Colorado between the Colorado Rapids and the Columbus Crew. Below is my preview of each series and who I think will come out on top after the two games are over.

Colorado Rapids – vs – Columbus Crew

Some people have talked about momentum going into the playoffs and how it effects teams. This is one of those series that we’ll really see if momentum is a big deal or not going into the playoffs. Columbus backed their way in for the most part while Colorado was wildly inconsistent down the stretch. Throw in the fact that the Crew lost their starting keeper right before the start of the playoffs and Colorado gave up two last minute goals to rival RSL in the season finale. This series folks is really too close to call.

Players to watch: Conor Casey and Omar Cummings (Colorado); Chad Marshall and Guillermo Barros Schelotto (Columbus). Each are a difference maker in their own right. Colorado has the offense that can come from anywhere with Cummings and Casey but their defense has been pretty solid for most of the season as well. Columbus has the experience though and knows what it takes to get to the MLS Cup.

X-Factors: Robbie Rogers and Andy Gruenebaum (Columbus) – For Columbus to win it comes down to these two guys really for me. Rogers hasn’t had a great season by any stretch really and Gruenebaum will be stepping in for the injured Will Hesmer. Some will lean on Gruenebaum as the bigger factor here but his experience in Champions League games will help him out here. Rogers will have to come up bigger in this series for the Crew to advance.

Final Thoughts: One side you have experience and the other side you have very little outside of Brian Mullan and Pablo Mastroeni. This series is simply too tough to call right now. In these situations I tend to lean on experience more than anything else. I know people say Columbus backed their way into the playoffs but ever since that Hesmer goal against Toronto I think the Crew woke up again and are going to make a run of things here. The last minute draw for Colorado against RSL last week will come back and haunt them in this series as they won’t be able to fully put away the Crew.

Prediction: Columbus win (4-2 on aggregate)

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MVP candidate David Ferreira leads FC Dallas against RSL. (Getty Images)

FC Dallas – vs – Real Salt Lake

In most normal situations these two should never have met in the first round but in the conference finals. You have the second and forth best clubs in the league matching up in the first round shows exactly how bad the league needs to revamp their playoff structure. But that mini-rant is over. This series should absolutely be stellar.

FC Dallas carried a 19-game unbeaten run through the season before dropping their final two games of the season. RSL on the other hand are currently riding a 14-game unbeaten run and they also haven’t lost at home since last year.

Key Players: Javier Morales, Kyle Beckerman and Jamison Olave (Real Salt Lake); David Ferreira, Daniel Hernandez and Jeff Cunningham (FC Dallas). Each carry a little different weight than the others. Morales and Ferreira are MVP type players that can change a series on a dime. Olave and Beckerman have to control the defensive pace of the series for RSL while Hernandez has to do the same for Dallas. Then you have Cunningham who just needs to score for Dallas to do well in this series.

X-Factors: Nick Rimando and Kevin Hartman. Yes the two keepers are the biggest factor in this series for me. Rimando had a stellar season but then again so did Hartman before he got hurt. As long as Hartman can show his Goalkeeper of the Year play in this series Dallas will have a shot but if he isn’t fit enough to go and Dario Sala has to step in again it could be a short playoff run for the Red Stripes.

Final Thoughts: People will point to the LA-Seattle series as the best one but this one should take the cake easily. There are simply too many big factors in this series to point out but you have to lean to RSL in this series based on injuries and lack of experience with Dallas. Let’s not forget too that even though Dallas had a remarkable record this season they still had 14 draws to their campaign. But of their wins this season they did score a big one over this RSL bunch, which happened to be the last time RSL dropped a game.

The flaws are there in RSL and if Dallas can find them we could be in for a treat. Colorado showed over the last month how to beat RSL (and how to easily drop points to them in the final minutes as well).

Too many injury concerns for Dallas makes me lean to the defending champs here though. As much as I thought Dallas would be able to make a good run in this playoffs this matchup just doesn’t suite them as well as it would have when they were at their best this season and right now I just don’t think they are there.

Prediction: Real Salt Lake win (3-2 on aggregate)

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Can New York slow down Chris Wondolowski? (Getty Images)

San Jose Earthquakes – vs – New York Red Bulls

This could easily be a tricky series to predict. You have teams on opposite ends of the country squaring off in the first round so the long travel distances could be an issue for each club. Each club has some solid momentum going into the playoffs as well though as the Red Bulls found a way to go from worst to first in the east this year while the Quakes lived in Wondo’s World to get to the playoffs for the first time since rejoining the league.

While New York has the flare and pop with their three DPs, San Jose is getting it done in other ways with only one DP. Should Thierry Henry fail to go in this series it could drastically help out the western conference side in this one too.

Key Players: Dane Richards, Rafa Marquez and Tim Ream (New York); Geovanni, Chris Wondolowski and Bobby Convey (San Jose). With the chance of no Henry in this series the Red Bulls will lean on their vastly talented midfield with Marquez, Richards and Joel Lindpere to slow down the Quakes attack. Since coming over to the Quakes, Geovanni has adapted nicely and helped fuel their offense with Wondolowski. Convey will have the task of probably slowing down guys like Richards on the wings which could create some very interesting match-ups.

X-Factors: Bouna Condoul (New York). Most who have read my stuff over the last couple of years know I’m not the biggest Bouna fan. He does get the job done at times but more times than not he comes up short. Going against a guy like Wondolowski who can find a goal anywhere in the 18-yard box, Bouna better be on his A-game or this could be a very tough series for the Red Bulls keeper.

Final Thoughts: The Red Bulls are the easy pick in this one and for many good reasons but you cannot sleep on the Quakes here. San Jose is a favorable match-up for them but let’s not forget the Wondo factor in this series. He’s been lights out for the last two months and New York has to find ways to shut him down.

San Jose will have to play their style to perfection to come out on top and getting a good lead in the series this weekend at home is really what they need to do. New York has been unbeatable at Red Bull Arena as of late I’m not so sure they can pick up too much there. Scoring first will also go a long way as they’ve been 1-10-1 when scored on first this year.

In the end the Red Bulls are the ones to come out on top here. I’d love to take San Jose in an upset and I’m nearly leaning that way but I see Hans Backe coming up with a solid enough game plan to slow down Wondo and the rest of the Quakes.

Prediction: New York wins (2-1 on aggregate)

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Bruce Arena will guide the Galaxy against Seattle. (Getty Images)

Seattle Sounders FC – vs – LA Galaxy

This will likely be everyone’s favorite series of the first round and for good reason. Sigi Schmid going up against his old club. The Qwest Field faithful against the Home Depot Center folks. The Supporter’s Shield winners against the league’s hottest club. Just a quality opening series really.

LA may have gotten the best of Seattle in the regular season by winning the season series on 7 goals to one but don’t lean too heavy on that as Seattle is a much better side than the one from earlier in the year when these two met. Aside from a season finale loss at Houston, the Sounders have been one of the best teams in the league.

Key Players: Landon Donvoan, Donovan Ricketts, and Gregg Berhalter (LA); Steve Zakuani, Blaise Nkufo and Jeff Parke (Seattle). We know LA will lean offensively on Donovan along with David Beckham and Edson Buddle but the real focus will be on Ricketts in goal and the defense with guys like Berhalter, Sean Franklin and Omar Gonzalez. The speed of Seattle with Zakuani will be fun to see while defensively in the back with Parke and Patrick Ianni will have to deal with Buddle.

X-Factors: Fredy Montero (Seattle). While Montero had a couple months of MVP caliber play to get Seattle out of their early season slump, lately he’s been quiet and cold offensively. If he can find openings against the lack of speed in the back for the Galaxy and get back to putting shots on frame he could be the reason why Seattle moves on in this series.

Final Thoughts: While Colorado-Columbus is a tough series to gage due to both clubs lack of play down the stretch, this series has plenty of toughness to gage as well. Seattle was lights out in the final months of the season while LA managed to hold on to win the Supporter’s Shield trophy. Some will lean on those two LA wins from earlier in the year but believe me at this point they mean very little.

It comes down to which defense will crack first and for how long it will stay cracked. Seattle has issues in the back with experience and using guys that are really third and forth choices to replace injured players. LA’s defense is solid but the lack of ability to fight speed will really do them in.

I’m leaning with Seattle in this one based on their recent form and their speed. The blueprint to beat LA is out there and Seattle should be able to figure it out this time around but don’t sleep on the Landon Donovan factor either. If he gets going LA will move on, I just think Seattle will find a way to shut him down enough in the opening leg of the series.

Prediction: Seattle wins. (4-3 on aggregate)

  • reddevilyank

    San Jose is a one Wondo team, stop Wondo, stop the Quakes scoring chances in which NYRB should do, NYRB wins the series. 2-0 total goals

    The one goal lead the Rapids have against the Crew will not hold up on the road in Columbus. I see the Crew geting a goal back and 120 minutes of soccer until penalty kicks decides the winner, which will be anyone’s guess.

    The loss of Morales will hurt RSL and keep in mind the FC Dallas needs to tie, not win, to advance. LIke the first match it will be open, but FC Dallas surprises many. 3-2 total goals

    Buddle’s wonder goal will be enough for LA, as its defense will contain Seattle’s speed and with Beckham’s playmaking, Donovon will become a scoring threat at just the right time. 2-0 total goals.