The final showdown in the playoffs before the big finale on December 1. Houston and LA take their big leads on the road this weekend in a hope to reach their second straight MLS Cup against one another.
There are a few story lines in each series to look out for and I have you all covered here as we go into the weekend.
1. Can LA and Houston keep the status quo?
Houston enters this weekend with a 3-1 lead over D.C. United as the series shifts to RFK Stadium. On the other side of the bracket the LA Galaxy go to Seattle with a 3-0 lead. Both are big and both are dangerous. LA knows that they cannot for a second take their foot off the pedal and I’m sure Houston feels the same way with a two goal advantage.
Each side has to play to their strengths, LA with their attack up front with Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan; and Houston with their set pieces and strong play out of Will Bruin.
It all comes down to each club’s ability to defend on the road. LA has struggled in Seattle this season but let’s be real for a moment, the last time they visited Seattle this club wasn’t nearly at the full pace that they are at right now. Given that they got a rare full week off to train for this game, you can’t for a second believe that Bruce Arena won’t pull out all the stops if he needs to.
Same goes for Dominic Kinnear and the Dynamo. He knows his lead his dangerous but he also knows his defense is as good as any that are left in these playoffs.
2. Will Dwayne De Rosario really be enough for United?
Let’s face it, D.C. United is a banged up mess at the moment. If Chris Pontius isn’t able to go, then I’m not sure what to really make of them. Adding in former MVP DeRo to the mix helps in a way but is he really 100% too? The guy hasn’t played in a couple months and at such an important juncture of the season, do you really want a guy that is potentially rusty leading the charge?
Yes and no. DeRo adds an element to the United attack that was certainly missing in the opening game in Houston. But at the same time his health is vital to this squad. It is such a gamble in my mind to use him for this game but it is a gamble that you almost have to take if you are Ben Olsen.
My gut tells me he will be a second half sub for D.C. United if the series is still within a shot of winning.
3. Home field what?
In some ways home field advantage is a waste of breath in MLS. Teams that are the higher seed, meaning they host second in a two-legged series typically do worse than their counterparts. D.C. United and Seattle and attest to that right now. Since 2008, teams who won the first leg advanced to the following round 76.9% of the time. Those aren’t good numbers for either Seattle or D.C. at this point.
But there is something to be said about home cooking. I love it, and I’m sure most of you do as well. But in the game of soccer there certainly is such a thing. United need to possess the ball like crazy and hope their rowdy crowd can lift them up. Seattle needs to do the exact same.
Early goals are huge here. If D.C. or Seattle can snag an early goal then look out. Both will be back in these series in no time. But the longer the games drag on without goals, the harder it will be for each team to make an improbable come back.