PBPP: First Leg Losers Still Alive

Dellacamera recaps the first leg of the MLS conference semifinals

These two leg, total goals, MLS conference semifinals bring in a different type of mentality. 

The pressure is surely on the home team. If you lose big, you don’t have much of a shot to get back, since the next leg is away. As for the visitors, you’re happy even with a 0-0 draw, or a draw of any kind, knowing you just have to win your home game.

The only thing you must avoid in game one (besides injuries and red cards), is a blowout loss. Fortunately we saw four close games this past week and weekend, so it’s still all to play for in the upcoming second legs.

Here are some capsule comments from the games:

Columbus at Colorado

The Thursday night encounter could have been a blowout for the home Rapids, who play winning soccer at altitude. Despite all of their effort, they only managed a 1-0 win with a goal from an unlikely source, midfielder Pablo Mastroeni. With 10 first half shots, Colorado could have stuck Columbus in a deep hole. Instead, poor finishing more than anything else has given the Crew some life. They will need more out of Guillermo Barros Schelotto in Saturday’s second leg, otherwise their season ends early.

New York at San Jose

Even without Thierry Henry, New York came out and attacked. Midfielder Joel Lindpere again showed his class, netting the game’s only goal. It could have been worse for San Jose had Jon Busch not been at his best in the first half. Having said that, New York nearly allowed the Quakes back in towards the end. The second leg is Thursday and San Jose needs that first goal. An early lead by New York could end San Jose’s hopes in a hurry. 

Henry injury update—he did return to training on Monday.

RSL at FC Dallas

This was the most entertaining of the four postseason matches played. We were treated to some wonderful strikes, starting with RSL’s Fabian Espindola. However, the defending champions could not hang on to a one-goal lead, losing the game in the closing minutes on an Eric Avila goal.

The game featured the two best goalkeepers in MLS this season in Kevin Hartman and Nick Rimando. Hartman returned after missing several games from a freak leg injury suffered in a collision with Red Bulls striker Thierry Henry. The second leg will be most interesting. RSL is without suspended midfielder Javi Morales, while FC Dallas is minus suspended Atiba Harris. Both clubs are also dealing with injuries. I still like RSL here, at Rio Tinto Stadium, where their unbeaten streak is at 32 games in all competitions.

LA at Seattle

I really thought Seattle would do a better job in this one, playing at home in front of 35,000 plus. The Sounders were a better team than the Galaxy down the stretch, but on Sunday, they were not.

Edson Buddle’s wonder-goal from distance was the difference in this one. Strange to say, but the defensive work of Landon Donovan and David Beckham was more noteworthy than their offensive play. As such, they (with some help) completely neutralized the Sounders' speed on the wings. Wonder what adjustments Seatte head coach Sigi Schmid will make in the second leg at the Home Depot Center on Sunday.

Random Thoughts

Martin Vasquez Fired at Chivas USA

When coaches get fired midseason in their first year like Curt Onalfo (DC) and Preki (Toronto), it comes as no surprise to see a coach of a struggling team get fired at the end of the season. Make no mistake, Chivas struggled all season long.

However, at the end of the season, quotes came down from the front office that Vasquez's job was safe. They said it was a learning year for everyone, including Vasquez, but that he would be back.

Something obviously changed when the firing was announced last week. Best guess is that the parent company, Chivas de Guadalajara, had some different thoughts on the coaching position.

Those earlier quotes about Vasquez coming back in 2011 were not from them.

Changing the Playoffs for 2011

Commissioner Don Garber has stated that the playoff format and structure will change for next year, but what will it look like?

We don’t have to know now. In fact, I’d rather wait for some reasonable discussion, so that those in power can figure out the best way to do this.

The best way is to reward a Supporters' Shield winner, and the conference winners. Whether it’s a bye in the opening round, or playing a lesser opponent, something has to change.

While LA did win in Seattle on Sunday, what kind of a reward was that for them? They had the league’s best record and had to face the fourth best team in the West -- and the 6th overall seed -- on the road. There has to be a better way.

We should also eliminate shifting teams to different conferences in the playoffs. How confusing was it to say that the New York Red Bulls were Western Conference champions in 2008? Or that Real Salt Lake won the East in 2009? Again, there has to be a better way.