Friday, November 4, 2011

The Friday Five

Jacob and I hatched a scheme for an intermittent Friday back-and-forth questionnaire on pressing matters. With MLS playoffs roaring to a boil, we're putting the league's happenings on the block today. For our inaugural Friday Five, we bring you our conference final edition. Marquez lovers, progress no further.

In your mind, who was the most impressive player or team through the conference semis?

Will: I'll have to go with Sporting KC. It was obvious that KC was streaking into the playoffs on an envious late-season run of form, but the question marks surrounding SKC's playoff inexperience abounded. Could young pup Teal Bunbury take to the stage? Was this back line as good as we thought? Pretty much every question I've had was answered over two shutout legs against the Rapids. Winning 4-0 on aggregate in a conference semi is impressive enough. Even LA couldn't accomplish that task. And yes, Colorado was banged up. But they were also the defending champs with a solid home field advantage, and KC ripped that to shreds in a 2-0 beating on Sunday evening. And Bunbury already has a pair of goals to his name. Sharp. So is this team ready to be anointed the East's rep in the final? Houston may have a final say in the matter, but I'd say yes.

Jacob: For me, it's got to be David Beckham. This Galaxy team, and Beckham personally, have as much expectation on them since he came on. He delivered through the regular season and it's hardly stopped for the playoffs. It was especially evident in the return leg where you could see he was making up for Juninho's absence and then some, putting himself in good positions, drawing fouls, tracking back like a man possessed, shaking off a pretty nasty looking knock to the head, and just generally making the game his own. 

I'd be the last to kneel before the altar of His Glitziness, but it's one thing to fly under the radar, and it's entirely another to be the name on everyone's lips and still deliver the goods. Beckham's done just that.

The LA Galaxy stole three points at Red Bull Arena and then won the second leg 2-1. Is this LA team still good enough to curry our favor as the shoe-in MLS Cup frontrunners?

Jacob: As much as any one team can be favorites in the playoffs, I'd have to believe that your predicted Donovan-Bianca epic make-out session is still a go. If they come out as shaky as they did against NY, Real Salt Lake will hardly be as forgiving but they've weathered the storm while getting the proper wake-up call they clearly needed. If you watch any of the interviews lately, Beckham seems like's he's coyly leaving, but there's no doubt he wants a Cup first. Donovan seems in similar spirits and we all know what Il Bruce is about. They won't be walking over anybody, but if I had to put money down it'd be FC Hollywood taking it at home.

Will: LA is a juggernaut, no question, but I figured they'd storm through New York with more vigor than they did. New York was vastly overrated to begin with, but they weren't 3-1 aggregate good, I didn't think. LA took care of business, but the first leg was a hair's breath away from being 1-1 in the dying minutes, which would have changed everything heading to LA. And who knows what happens then?

Donovan is, as always, the X-factor. You can say as much as you want about Beckham, but Donovan has the probing ability to score goals in myriad ways, more so than anyone left in the bracket. He scored on Thursday to answer the bell after failing to get one in New Jersey, which could very well open the flood gates. I'm not convinced that LA is worlds better than SKC right now, but are they the faves? Jacob is right. As much of a favorite as there can be in this league, that's the Galaxy right now.

Much was made of the Marquez-Juninho incident. LA made it through without their guy, but that said, how do you rate the longtime El Tri captain's tenure in MLS? Better still, is it over?

Will: Marquez is a moron. I've said it before (loudly) and I'm saying it right now so everyone else can hear me. He rants and raves on teammates for not matching his saintly ability to disappear completely for one. He's also a playactor of the worst order. If I'm ever in need of cheering up, I need only look at his woeful acting job at the end of the first leg of the conference semis. Part 1: throw a ball at Landon Donovan, who isn't even looking at you. Part 2: take the meekest of swings at Adam Cristman (and miss). Part 3: grab your face and hit the deck like you're on fire. I've coined a new dance here. I call it the Marquez. Can a brother get a .gif?

That's only a microcosm for why Marquez needs to be done in MLS. The suspension may be moot, but the message is a loud one. Hans Backe's hands were tied in starting Marquez after things blew up because you can't pay him DP money and keep him on the bench. Politics generally won't allow it. Thankfully it looks like MLS (and perhaps New York ownership if they find a spine) will force his hand. I don't know if it will be over, but it should be. Adios amigo.

Jacob: Marquez really ruins a lot of things for me. I was morbidly intrigued when I saw that there was some post-game tension, but when I saw the clip I was severely bummed. It's people like Marquez that give the game a bad rep, especially Stateside. Watching the first half of LA-NY you couldn't help but get the feeling that Backe was more than happy to have him out of the lineup Thursday night. Best Case Scenario: New York leaves him unprotected in the expansion draft, Montreal takes him and deals him to the lower rungs of Mexican soccer and we never hear from him again. Somewhere Cobi Jones is smiling.

Three of four teams gave up home field advantage on the first leg, and the only one that didn't is moving on to the next round (RSL). Whose home field held up best in the semis?

Jacob: You said it in the question, Rio Tinto is still no fun for anybody but the home team (and Monterrey) and drubbing a very respectable Sounders team in the first leg all but put the series to bed. The playoffs are quirky on their own, but as Sigi Schmid noted, no field player had much presence at all in the first leg and that's no coincidence. If you're a Sounders fan maybe you blame it on the altitude difference or just that your team is tired of being awesome from all that US Open Cup success, but the fact remains that the biggest smackdown of the playoffs so far happened in the first leg at Salt Lake. No other team put up that many in one game and not against anyone close to the quality of Seattle, not to mention the now-retired Kasey Keller.

Will: RSL is indeed the easy call, but for my money it doesn't get much better than SKC's home field edge. It's as though this KC crowd had been pining for a proper stadium for years and finally had one delivered midway through the season this year. Funny. LiveStrong Sporting Park (can we come up with a better name? THE STRONGBOX? I like it) is a castle, and it's in that fortress that SKC is 10-2-6 this year. Good luck to ya, Houston. Don't envy the task.

Who you got in the MLS Cup Final?

Will: I alluded to it above, but SKC's home field edge tips them in the East, and the Galaxy continue to be the best bet in the West. I like SKC moving on 3-1, and the Galaxy ending RSL's run in a 1-0 W. Which leaves... my originally predicted pairing of SKC and LA in the final. Oh to be right one more time.

Jacob: The Galaxy will undoubtedly benefit from hosting again and I have every reason to expect that Jason Kreis's team will make the game very much worth our while. For whatever reason, this just feels like LA's year, much more so than the past few years when they were vastly more talented than their opposition. Not to mention there's a bit of a revenge element in that Salt Lake snatched the '09 Cup from the Galaxy. It'll be night, but the Gals take it 2-1.

Kansas City should beat Houston at LiveStrong, but they won't. With Brian Ching rounding into form, Brad Davis making a very strong case for MVP, and Boswell-Cameron looking watertight in the back the Dynamo have enough to hold off Bunbury & Co. and make them pay on the other end. If it ain't broke don't fix it: Houston snags a couple set piece goals and shocks the home crowd 2-0.


SPA2TACU5 said...

You could've at least made it look like the Stars 'n Stripes.

Jacob Klinger said...

Funny you mention that. We had a bleary-eyed conversation that probably lasted longer than it should have re: what colors we wanted to be. In the end we decided on USA all the way.

SPA2TACU5 said...

And the (mls) stars can be found in the article itself. Clever.