LA Galaxy @ Seattle Sounders
The skinny: Familiar ground for Sounders fans, though not entirely welcome purchase. Last year, RSL pummeled Seattle to the tune of 3-0 at the RioT in the conference semis before coming back to Seattle for the second leg. Second-half goals from Ozzie Alonso and Lamar Neagle weren't enough to even the aggregate, thanks in part to this incredible goal-line clear from Tony Beltran that made Brian Boitano vomit up his dinner from motion sickness. RSL advanced 3-2.
Despite its early-season hiccups, LA has forged on with another impressive postseason, replete with an extra win in the wildcard and a KO over San Jose in the Cali Clasico. Seattle has a monumental task set in front of it if the Sounders hope to stud their otherwise bleak postseason record with something worth remembering.
What could happen: Ozzie Alonso is the game's magnetic pole, vibrating at speed and cinching up most of the terrain on Seattle's end. Christian Tiffert is similarly buoyant, spurred on by a frenetic crowd and a crisp Seattle evening. This frees up Eddie Johnson to whirl through so many step-overs that the ECS section spontaneously breaks out in chants of "You are my Eddie, my only Eddie..." Fredy Montero scores four times. Songs are sung. Monuments erected. Pigs fly from the fleshy caverns of Drew Carey's enormous face.
What should happen: Beckham preens. Sigi complains. Keane scowls. Donovan gets that constipated "I have a widows peak now what do I do" look. EJ shoves somebody. LA gets an ugly away goal. The 2012 Starbucks Riots commence.
What will happen: LA will not play forward-thinking footy. To think otherwise is folly. Arena will not have his advanced lines galavanting into the fray with their standard flung high and the war horses fitted with their irons, the battle already won and the war nearly in hand. This will be an academic affair for LA, though not an insignificant one. Seattle is capable, and three goals at home in an electric atmosphere is not outside the realm of the possible. Although, I should say, a Sounders crowd so heartily obsessed with its own bodily discharges should admit that this is more than just a small hill to climb. They'll have to thoroughly break down a defense that hasn't given up more than a goal in a game to MLS competition in a month. To wit: the last time LA gave up 3+ goals in a game? Aug. 5. Seattle 4, LA 0. In Seattle. Eek.
Seattle will need a goal in the first 20 to open the door, but it won't come despite a high press. We go into the half scoreless and Donovan finds Keano (again) behind Seattle's high seawall for a vital away goal early in the second half, securing LA's passage to another final.
Final: Seattle 2, LA 1
Houston Dynamo @ DC United
The skinny: Again, familiar ground for Houston, though, unlike Seattle, the Dynamo are just fine with the feeling. The Orange Madness (nickname mine) went into the second leg of the conference semis against SKC at the StrongBox protecting a two-goal lead. Punditry, I gather, had the game closer to a 50/50 split than it had any right to be. The numbers were stark: SKC owned a 71 percent share of the possession, had 20 shots and shuttled in 31 crosses in the run of play. But only the one goal. A sturdy base of the spine held into chiropractic synchronicity by Bobby Boswell and Andre Hainault largely kept its shape, owing to a shell game plan the excellent Dom Kinnear must have borrowed from The Special One himself. Yet again, Houston has a two-goal lead to protect, this one at 3-1 rather than 2-0. But the approach will be similar. Construct a cave, erect a forward picket line and dig in at the back. Dig in hard.
What could happen: DC is successful where SKC was not. The return of a not-entirely-100-percent DeRo provides an immeasurable lift, even if Pontius isn't healthy enough to go a full 90 (we'll say he puts in a productive 45, though even that seems strangely unlikely). DC shuttles play through the middle instead of hoofing down the flanks and stinging in crosses as SKC did, creating more substantive opportunities and pushing on one of the few open wounds on Houston's corporate body. Perry Kitchen is unchained to flow beyond midfield and DC's attack, which is so fluent at home, is as dangerous as it's looked all postseason. This is the United, with breakneck speed and breathtaking accord, its fans embraced.
What should happen: Houston's resolute back line is again up to the task, yielding an immense amount of the ball to a dogged attacking side with all to do. Possession does not tilt to DC but is conceded to United almost entirely. Much like SKC, the favor of the home crowd buoys the home side but is not enough to counterbalance the effect of 10 battle-hardened men behind the ball for much of the evening. DC does not get its goals, Dom Kinnear is hailed as a tactical wunderkind, and FC Dallas fans retreat behind their high walls for an offseason of groveling and discontented mumbles about Brek Shea and something about a misplaced canon.
What will happen: The law of averages is against Houston. Something has to give way, and while Houston will be favorites, it is almost unlikely that Houston will be able to throw up another titanium fence for the second week in a row against a side that can put up goals like a champion bricklayer. Houston is familiar with this feeling, having already done this a week prior in Kansas City, and this will help the cause. But knowing the task in front of you and doing something about it are two entirely different matters, and despite injuries I like DC to get goals here. The possible returns of Brandon McDonald and Marcelo Saragosa are both promising for DC, which was unluckily battered in the first leg. Houston enters as the favorites to advance to what could be a surprising rematch of the 2011 MLS Cup — judging by the odds, anyway — but I like DC to capitalize in spaces where SKC could not. The margins here are so fine, the balance so precarious that even the smallest wisp of air could bring Houston's dream postseason run to a screeching halt.
Fortune favors the bold at heart. DC scores in the first six minutes, igniting the crowd and the rally to send DC through to the final with LA. Battle of the coasts, baby.
Final: DC United 4, Houston 1
- Will Parchman