Thursday, October 31, 2013

2013 MLS Playoffs Conference Semifinals: Previews and Predictions

After the knockout round victories by the Seattle Sounders over Colorado Rapids and Houston Dynamo over the Montreal Impact, all the MLS Conference Semifinals home and home series are set.  Each of them is an intriguing match up making this year's playoffs a highly anticipated one.

What will make this year's run for MLS Cup so intriguing to watch is the mixture of talent and atmosphere.

Each of the heavyweight contenders has world-renowned designated players.  Seattle has Clint Dempsey. The New York Red Bulls have Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill.  The LA Galaxy have Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan and Omar Gonzalez.

The atmosphere will be especially intense for this year's playoffs because of the match ups and the raucous fans supporting their clubs.  The Portland Timbers, Real Salt Lake and Sporting KC have incredibly awesome fan support at home and it translates onto television.  For visiting clubs, these are intimidating crowds to play in front of.  Along with Seattle, these cities provide a huge advantage for their hometown clubs.

Houston Dynamo versus New York Red Bulls will be a historical match up to watch.  New York had the best regular season, but Houston is the team that has played in the last two MLS Cup Finals.  New York could end up feeling the pressure because they are expected to win.  Similar to last season, Houston is coming from the knockout round. They know from experience what it takes in the playoffs.

Interestingly, both teams have the same problem with fan turnout.  It's decent, but also can be considered disappointing when empty seats are so easily spotted on Tv.  All the playoff teams with excellent regular season records are hoping New York loses to Houston, so they may have a chance to host MLS Cup 2013.
I'm going to stay conservative on my picks this year and say New York with Henry playing his most important matches to date in MLS advances with aggregate totals of 4-3.

Sporting KC versus the New England Revolution is the least intriguing of all Conference Semifinals.  But, it brings attention to New England as the surprise playoff franchise and their quest for a new stadium.  I expect Sporting KC to dominate at home as Graham Zusi will lead his team to a tough aggregate win of 3-1.

LA Galaxy versus Real Salt Lake is a monster match up.  Each team has such vibrant fan bases and they travel too to see their teams.  Come playoff time though, for the most part (2009 is the exception), Real Salt Lake seems to play well against the lesser talent of competition, but has trouble rising up to the challenge of teams with big talent, like an LA Galaxy.

I expect Kyle Beckerman to play well for Salt Lake, but I also expect LA to overcome Salt Lake with two of the best assist men in the League, Keane and Donovan.  LA can have an intimidating home crowd, too. They learned it from all those David Beckham years. A final aggregate score sees LA taking it 4-2.

Seattle Sounders versus the Portland Timbers is the most anticipated Conference Semifinal.  This is already the biggest rivalry in the League and fans loathe one another.  The League needs Seattle to win, but I find it hard to believe so much in a team that struggled so mightily down the stretch.  I'm going to pick them anyways.  I think Eddie Johnson will be the difference with his athleticism.  I'm picking Seattle 3-2.

This mixture of significant match ups may end up producing the best Tv ratings MLS has ever seen.  Click here to see times and Tv schedule.

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