2012 MLS Cup Playoffs: Eastern Conference Preview

2012 MLS Cup Playoffs: Eastern Conference Preview

  • Posted by Drew Epperley
  • On October 30, 2012
  • 2012 MLS Cup Playoffs, Features

Everyone hopes to knock out Sporting KC, but who has the best shot? (Getty Images)

For the first time in what feels like ages, Major League Soccer’s post season is actually properly split between the Eastern and Western Conferences. No more cross over games, no more teams from Colorado winning the East, or New York winning the West.

The playoffs may not be perfect but I think this may be the most exciting playoffs to date in league history.

I’m going to do a two-part preview of the playoffs. Doing each conference seemed more reasonable than combining them into one larger post.

Time to start with the Eastern Conference – one of the most wide open conferences we’ve ever seen. Five quality teams that all have the ability to win it all this season. I will take you through each series and give you all a few predictions for each as well. Once the conference finals are set I’ll preview it out just like what you see below. 

Knockout Round

Houston Dynamo at Chicago Fire

I think the Dynamo will be kicking themselves for their sluggish finish. Houston went 3-4-4 down the stretch and aside from a couple wins at home they looked rather pedestrian for a club that was close to the top of the table at one point this season. Chicago is another puzzling team too. Their last couple of games this season showed that they can drop a stinker at any point despite all the talent that they possess.

Unsung hero for Houston: Brad Davis. We all know what Davis brings to the table and if the Dynamo can use Oscar Boniek Garcia to run at the Chicago midfield and defense and cause some set pieces, the Dynamo will have a shot at this game.

Unsung hero for Chicago: Chris Rolfe. He’s a big scorer for the Fire and he has to come up big in the playoffs if the Fire want to go deep.

How Chicago can win: Attacking the Dynamo from every angle possible. The Fire are a good team when they spread the ball around, use the width of the field and find openings in the defense with their speed.

Host Houston can win: Drawing set pieces and slowing down the game. Houston would rather play a little more narrow than the Fire and that is okay for them. The experience is there for this squad, probably more so than any other team in this conference which has to give them some serious backing for this game.

The edge: Has to be in the Fire’s favor being at home. Houston was not the best road team this season as they relied more on getting wins at their fancy new stadium than anywhere else.

Conference Semifinals

Sporting Kansas City vs. Houston/Chicago winner

Sporting KC will take on the knockout round winner this weekend. Sporting has been one of the top teams all season long and will want to use their style of play (fast and furious) to dictate how this series will go.

Unsung hero for SKC: Roger Espinoza. The Honduran midfielder has been a massive engine in the midfield this season for KC. If he stays out of card trouble, he’ll help his team go very deep in this playoff.

How Chicago/Houston can win: Both will have to win the opening leg in their building, which both did this season against SKC. Getting SKC under a big hole will be key as they’d prefer to stay in the 1-0 ranges for their games. If either the Fire or Dynamo can open up a big lead at home it will possibly be the end of the great SKC run.

How SKC can win: Simply playing their style that has got them this far. SKC is a strong team that is coming into the playoffs on a 12-game unbeaten run. Momentum like that is hard to find for any club in this playoffs and SKC has plenty of it. Kei Kamara and Graham Zusi have to play big as well for the offense to have any shot at winning them some games.

The edge: SKC. That unbeaten run will get broken up in these playoffs at some point but this team is so talented and defense win in my book. Right now SKC has the best defense and I don’t see the Fire or the Dynamo having enough to get by them.

D.C. United vs. New York Red Bulls

Seeing the Atlantic Cup back in the playoffs is a good thing. These two teams have a rich history against one anther and it will come out in full force in these playoffs. One thing we’ll have to consider is how Hurricane Sandy will impact these two this week in training. New York has been torn up a good bit by the storm and D.C. got plenty of rain as well.

Unsung hero for D.C.: Chris Pontius. The young striker has been a beast for United since Dwayne De Rosario went down a few weeks back. He’s scored five goals against New York this season and you can bet he will be the focal point of the United attack.

Unsung hero for New York: Dax McCarty. If anyone is going to slow down the United attack it will have to be McCarty. The work rate this guy has in the midfield is always impressive and while most will look towards what Thierry Henry will do, it will be what McCarty cleans up in the midfield that lets you know if New York can win this thing or not.

How D.C. can win: United also enters this playoffs on a nice unbeaten run (seven games to be exact). The defense seems to be vastly improved and if Bill Hamid continues to have big games in goal, the Black-and-Red have a great shot at beating one of the top offenses in MLS. Ben Olsen has done a great job of keeping his locker room in tact and keeping the spirits high too.

How New York can win: Their roster is top class and at times unstoppable. Thierry Henry has to be motivated to do his thing and the others need to fall in line behind him. As long as Henry leads this squad, the offense does it’s thing and the defense stays in check, New York can run through just about anybody.

The edge: United. For me, you just never know what you are going to get out of New York. The Red Bulls struggled a bit at home down the stretch and when home field advantage is so important to these two clubs (United only lost one game at RFK this year), New York can’t afford to take their foot off the pedal. United seems to handle adversity better as it is, which puts them over the top for me.