So how about that first leg of each playoff series this weekend? Two draws and two solid wins as each series moves into the return legs for the midweek. A lot of still to play for and we’ll get more into what to expect in those games later this week.
Time now to go over what happened for each club in their opening leg of the conference semifinals. We saw a lot of clubs go with the wait-and-see approach to the first leg with really only a couple teams opening it up a bit to take an early advantage.
Houston Dynamo 2-0 Sporting KC:
Houston got the result just about any club in the playoffs would be hoping for in the opening leg of the series. A 2-0 win at home, thanks to one hell of a strike from Adam Moffat gave the Dynamo the early advantage. You can’t hit a better ball than what Moffat did there. The Dynamo ended Sporting’s 12-game unbeaten run as well in this one.
Kansas City did not look like the club that won the Eastern Conference regular season title (I suppose that is a real thing). Houston limited SKC’s chances and only allowed one shot on Tally Hall’s goal. That is good defense there folks.
But Houston did what you should do on a team like SKC, turn the pressure against them. Make them chase the game and limit their speed up front. Houston showed you just how you can take it to a team like SKC.
The big thing however was Will Bruin’s goal in the 75th minute. That could be a series clincher right there. Leaving this game with a two goal advantage is huge as SKC isn’t the best offense in the league as we’ve seen this season. Houston can be a bit more conservative in the second leg in Kansas City instead of having to push more for goals. Sporting on the other hand will have to run and gun as much as they possibly can at home later this week. Two goal advantages are the worst in soccer to have at some point and SKC will need to do their part here.
D.C. United 1 – 1 New York Red Bulls
This one was about what I expected. A fast-paced game with some drama and wild stuff. Both goals were unfortunate for each side but the real story was Andy Najar’s mental breakdown in the second half as he got a red card for throwing the ball at the center official. That mistake likely cost United a shot at winning this game as D.C. was looking good in the second half.
This game played right into New York’s hands though. They fed on the naive nature of the young United squad and caused just enough problems to keep this series level. Sure the own goal by Bill Hamid helped matters out (just as the own goal on Roy Miller helped United out for a moment), but it was the way New York approached this game that worked. They didn’t press as much as one would have thought, doing just enough to take a draw back to New York.
New York’s DPs were also quiet. Tim Cahill rarely created anything from the midfield, while Thierry Henry say back and had to just do set pieces here and there. I felt he was a bit distant on the night. And as for Rafa Marquez, call it a calf injury if you want New York, if folks see a player and coach arguing on their way into the locker room at halftime and the player doesn’t return to the field (or even the bench!), you know something is up. Drama, drama, drama.
San Jose Earthquakes 1 – 0 LA Galaxy
More late heroics for San Jose. Victor Bernardez scored a stoppage time goal to lift the Quakes to a 1-0 win over rivals LA.
Aside from the late heroics this one was rather dull. For two feisty teams that do not like one another, this game had very little sparks. Each team sat back in the opening half trying not to make the big mistake.
I don’t know what it was about LA though. They looked old, tired and just plain off on the night. LA may have been gassed from their game with Vancouver earlier in the week, which makes sense due to the fact that they had to come from behind in that one.
For once I felt San Jose was far too cautious for their normal self. Rarely this season had we seen them sit back as much as they did in this one. There was definitely a big wait-and-see kind of feel to this one. LA woke up in the second half and had it not been for Bernardez’s late goal this one would have looked much different than a 1-0 win.
I’m not buying into the notion that San Jose will continue to have this sort of magic throughout the playoffs. To me, this latest goal in stoppage time felt like a last gift from the soccer gods above. Before long someone is going to force them to score much sooner than that and if they face a better defense team, it might not happen at all.
Seattle Sounders 0 – 0 Real Salt Lake
This game was a goal keepers dream. Nick Rimando was on his head and Michael Gspurning made a few strong saves of his own on the night. People were shocked at some comments I had after the game that I wasn’t surprised by the scoreline. Come on folks, two of the best defensive teams in the league aren’t going to put up three or four goals on each other, definitely not in the playoffs!
The real story in this one was Rimando and the Salt Lake defense. RSL had a strong game plan in this one not to have a repeat of their Seattle playoff trip from last year. RSL held their own as Seattle spread them out and really pushed for a good chunk of the game to get a goal. You have to tip you hat to what Rimando did on the night. Also a kudos to Jason Kreis for bringing on a banged up Jamison Olave late in the game to keep any aerial threat to a minimum. His play in the final minutes of the game went a long way for RSL.
Seattle missed Eddie Johnson in the final third in this one though. David Estrada and Sammy Ochoa filled in as well as anyone could have but just the finishing from Johnson would have made a big difference in this one.