By Ryan Fleming and Kevin Koczwara
Before the 2010 MLS Cup Playoffs commence we’ll take a bit of a look at the conference matchups before the first leg of the postseason starts. Will the Red Bulls take home the cup this year? Can Los Angeles make up for last year’s finals loss? Or will Real Salt Lake add another to their trophy case?
Coming into the 2010 MLS Cup, RSL look to be one of the favorites to take home the Cup. The Royals had a solid season and look poised to make a deep postseason run. For the defending champs, they could become the third team in MLS history to win back-to-back titles. Real, the No. 2 seed coming into the tournament, takes on a Dallas team that has limped their way into the playoffs including losses to Western Conference foes, LA and Real.
The Hoops will certainly lean on their leading scorer, Jeff Cunningham and leading playmaker, David Arturo Ferreira to push them past Real’s stingy defense. Fortunately for Dallas, the rest of their lineup is filled with players more than capable of netting goals – two others with five goals.
The second matchup in the West is one that neither team will feel as if they have the upper hand and will surely point to the flawed MLS Playoff system as the culprit. The Galaxy take on a Seattle team that is a terror to play at QWest Field, no matter who you are. While both team’s defenses don’t matchup well with one another, look for this contest to be one of the highest scoring and most entertaining. Look for the Sounders to try and overwhelm the Galaxy defense and upset Landon Donovan, Edson Buddle and Co.
The MLS playoff system is broken. Plain and simple. But, the New York Red Bulls and Columbus Crew shouldn’t complain because they benefit from the mess. New York and Columbus are the only two teams from the “Eastern Conference” to qualify for the playoffs after finishing one-two in the east with 51 and 50 points respectably.
The Crew and Red Bulls get lucky because they will avoid playing any of the top 4 seeds in the West – Real Salt Lake, Los Angeles Galaxy, FC Dallas and Seattle – until at least the final, and any of those teams could easily eliminate the elite in the East.
Instead New York will get to take eighth seeded San Jose Earthquakes and Columbus get the seventh seeded Colorado Rapids. Both the Quakes and the Rapids finished the season with 46 points, but the two teams had very different seasons.
New York looks to have the easier draw with San Jose. The Quakes rely heavily on MVP candidate and favorite Chris Wondolowski to carry the team’s scoring load. The Golden Boot winner accumulated 18 of the team’s 34 goals and if the Red Bulls can stop Wondo than they should do well. San Jose doesn’t get many multiple goal games, and allows almost as many as they score (34 Goals Scored to 33 Goals Allowed). New York should handle the Quakes pretty easily and get their aging stars some rest going into the second round of playoffs, which should be against the Crew.
The Crew will need to stop the scoring duo of Conor Casey and Omar Cummings. If Columbus can do stop Casey and Cummings while staying focused on its own potent attack, the Crew should be fine. Colorado lost one of its best playmakers when it shipped off Mehdi Ballouchy to New York just a few weeks ago, and this could be the Rapids downfall as they will fall short of being able to break the Crew’s defense.
New York should be able to handle the Crew or Colorado and walk out of the East without too much of a hassle with the talent the team has in the midfield with Rafa Marquez, Joel Lindpere, Dane Richards and the newly acquired Mehdi Ballouchy. And you can’t forget that the Red Bulls have arguably the best forward pairing in the league in Juan Pablo Angel and Thierry Henry. If New York doesn’t make it to the finals it will be a major disappointment for the star-studded squad.
MLS Cup Winner Predictions
Ryan – In the end I think New York will take the Cup home. Thierry Henry, Rafa Marquez, Juan Pablo Angel and the dynamic Joel Lindpere will prove too much, even for the steady and consistent RSL, who they will face in the finals. Overlooking NY’s regular season record vs. Real (0-1-1) is easy when you have those four and a rested Henry, which even at 33, is something to lose sleep over.
Kevin – Real Salt Lake should repeat as MLS Cup Champions. RSL finally got it all together last year heading into the playoffs and made an amazing run through the playoffs to upset Supporters Shield winners Columbus Crew and the heavily favored Los Angeles Galaxy in the finals. Salt Lake City hasn’t looked back since and have the best central midfield paring in the league in Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales, plus the steadiest defense in the MLS and a knack for timely goalscoring.