It might not be the match-ups the suits at MLS HQ and the league's broadcast partners wanted, but we certainly got the four results I wanted to see from the conference semifinals over the last week. Mostly, we got the Not New York Red Bulls, the Not New England Revolution, the Not LA Galaxy and the Not Seattle Sounders, which I think most D.C. United fans would say is about as much as we could have hoped from the four semifinal ties from a "teams we don't hate advancing" standpoint. Now it's time to move on to the conference finals, which should provide us with some good stories in addition to whatever narratives spawn off of them.
Houston Dynamo vs. Sporting Kansas City
Up first is the East, which gives us a rematch of the 2011 conference final and last year's conference semifinal. You won't be able to escape the talking point - and this is no exception - that the Dynamo, despite finishing behind the Sporks during the regular season in both of those years, managed to top KC come playoff time. The other talking point you're likely to hear is that this will be the uglier of the two MLS Cup semifinals, with two physical teams squaring each other up.
But don't let anybody tell you these teams aren't skilled. Not with guys like Graham Zusi and Brad Davis pulling strings on either side.
KC got here by beating New England. The Sporks came out of the first leg in Foxboro down a goal, but managed to make it up over 90 minutes at Sporting Park, completing things in extra time. Houston managed to draw both legs against New York and also managed to bundle home the winner in extra time. Both teams will be tired - especially the Dynamo, who will be playing roughly their 37th game in the last eight days. But I still think this'll be a fun one to watch.
Match Info: Saturday, Nov. 9, 2:30 pm EST on NBC (that's NBC proper, Channel 4 in the DC area), from BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Tex.
Prediction: Look for the Dynamo to come out of this leg with an advantage. The trick for Peter Vermes & Co. will be to limit that as much as possible. I'll say Houston wins by two to give Sporting a tough test in two weeks for the second leg.
What Are You Drinking?: Brisk fall afternoon? Give me some apple cider spiked with bourbon, please.
Real Salt Lake vs. Portland Timbers
To a lot of people, this is the main event of the round, as you have two teams with distinct philosophies, both of which are generally described as "pretty," matching up with a berth in the MLS Cup final on the line. You have two teams that score lots of goals and two coaches who are up for the league's coach of the year prize.
In Jason Kreis' RSL, you have the 4-4-2 diamond anchored by Kyle Beckerman and conducted by Javier Morales. The team was traditionally built on a good balance of attack and defense, but this year, after trading their top center back to New York, they've become more reliant on outscoring opponents and managed to trail only the Red Bulls in goals scored this year. Of course, the Timbers were just three goals behind RSL on that metric.
Caleb Porter has become more pragmatic as the season has gone along, playing more frequently on the counter and otherwise changing up his tactics according to the opposition. At one point, against RSL, he even ditched his vaunted 451/433 for a 3-man defense in order to try and pack the midfield. It didn't work, and he reverted to the more familiar system before the game - which Portland would lose - was over. This one should be interesting, and hopefully it doesn't end up being too cagey and defensive.
Match Info: Sunday, Nov. 10, 9 pm EST on ESPN, from Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah
Prediction: I can't pick a winner for the first leg, so I'll say it's a draw. Hopefully a high-scoring draw, but I see the teams going back to Portland all square.
What Are You Drinking?: Probably a porter or a stout of some kind. Haven't decided yet.
Watch the games this weekend and follow along in our live thread below. This is your place for all your playoff commentary.
More from Black And Red United:
- This Day in D.C. United History: November 8, 2012 and the Eastern Conference Semifinal vs. the Metros
- Bahia will not extend Freddy Adu's contract
- Cake or Death? Team MVP Perry Kitchen should be an easy enough call
- The Andy Award, for D.C. United's 2013 Rookie of the Year
- D.C. United is in Honduras observing players at C.D.S. Vida