And then there were eight. The MLS Conference Semifinals - which you may as well just call the MLS quarterfinals - get underway Saturday night with the first two of four games this weekend. These are essentially the first legs of two-legged ties, which will finish up mid-week, and they're all at the site of the lower seed. We've got everything you need to be ready for all four games.
New England Revolution (East #3) vs. Sporting Kansas City (East #2)
First up is a battle of nominal 4-3-3s. The Sporks will bring their physical, high pressure full-field defense to Foxboro. Luckily for them, the Revs, who were once among the most physical sides in MLS are now an incredibly technical team that doesn't generally stand up to exactly the sort of physical challenge SKC likes to dish out. That said, New England has been a much better team with Juan Agudelo leading the line, and if they can get their possession game going against Sporting's pressure, they could pose problems even for KC's notoriously stingy back line.
Match Info: Saturday, Nov. 2, 8 pm EDT on NBCSN
Prediction: I think this first leg plays really, really tight, which favors the visiting Sporks. Look for KC to sneak a goal late to set up a big advantage for themselves when they return home for the second leg.
EDIT - What Are You Drinking?: Mulled cider with Buffalo Trace bourbon.
Seattle Sounders (West #4) vs. Portland Timbers (West #1)
Also known as "Don Garber's wet dream." The Cascadia Cup rivalry makes its postseason debut in the late game on Saturday. Seattle will be hosting their second game in four days, each against a proponent of the 4-3-3. But don't think the Timbers will go down as easily as the Colorado Rapids did on Wednesday. The Timbers are stronger than the Rapids at nearly every position and have the best record in the Western Conference to show for it. The Sounders seem to have gotten off their schneid - eight games winless to close out the regular season - but securing a lead before the return leg in Portland is going to be a big ask for Sigi Schmid & co.
Match Info: Saturday, Nov. 2, 10 pm EDT on NBCSN
Prediction: Last time these two teams played, just a couple weeks back, the Timbers came out 1-0 winners at home. I think the cagey nature of playoff games and the change in venue are worth a goal. Get ready for the dreaded scoreless first leg. This one ends 0-0.
EDIT - What Are You Drinking?: Ditching the cider for the night cap and shifting to scotch. Glenmorangie 10-year should suffice for tonight.
Houston Dynamo (East #4) vs. New York Red Bulls (East #1)
One team known for their playoff prowess hosts a team known for their history of utter failure trying to rewrite their story. The Metros managed to be the one team that didn't implode down the stretch and claimed the Supporters' Shield for the league's best record, and the Orange did what they always seem to do in the playoffs, dismantling the Montreal Impact in the knockout game on Thursday night. Thanks to his efforts to defuse a fracas in the closing stages of that game, Dominick Kinnear won't be on the sideline for this one, dealing a bit of a blow to the hosts. Never mind that, and never mind Jersey's combined 9-1 scoring advantage in the teams' three meetings this year. it's the playoffs, and Houston know what they're doing.
Match Info: Sunday, Nov. 3, 3:30 pm EST (Oh yeah, change your clocks!) on NBC (Channel 4 in the DMV)
Prediction: Houston win 2-0. Knowing how to win in the playoffs is a special kind of knowledge, and the Dynamo have it.
What Are You Drinking?: Cannot do anything that might be confused with supporting the Metros, so I'm going to find me some Texas beer. Shiner Bock being the most famous, and the most readily available, that's what it'll probably be.
LA Galaxy (West #3) vs. Real Salt Lake (West #2)
Coming into the season, these were probably the two teams with the biggest hills to climb as far as replacing critical pieces. The Galaxy, of course, lost David Beckham, while RSL shipped both Jamison Olave and Fabian Espindola to new Jersey. Obviously Bruce Arena and Jason Kreis managed well enough. Both these teams are very tough in knockout competitions, and RSL will be looking to make up for falling short in the US Open Cup. LA will have the home field in this one, and that could be the difference for this afternoon game.
Match Info: Sunday, Nov. 3, 8 pm EST on ESPN
Prediction: 2-1 LA. Both teams score plenty of goals and let in their share, too, so I don't think we'll see quite the cagey affair that we should expect in the other Western Conference match-up.
What Are You Drinking?: Hot chocolate. Whether or not it's spiked with anything will depend on the result of the early game on Sunday. Really don't want to see the Metros any closer to [shudder] another trophy.
So what do you see happening? This is your place for any pre-game thoughts, in-game commentary and post-game reaction.
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