When three of the four lower seeds end up advancing to the conference finals, you have to wonder about the meaning of the regular season and home field advantage. San Jose, Colorado, and FC Dallas all had to get results on the road in the second leg in order to advance, and they all did. Of those three clubs, only San Jose lost game one, which was at their home.
Lost in the shuffle of all of this is that two goalkeepers, who have a shot at getting to MLS Cup 2010, were both cut by their former clubs prior to the start of the season. Jon Busch was unwanted in Chicago and Kevin Hartman was not able to come to a deal in Kansas City, and now their current teams are one game away from the final. Meanwhile, their former teams each missed out on the playoffs.
So it’s now down to the conference final where it’s just one game as opposed to the two-leg semifinal series.
In the Eastern Conference ... strange to say but it’s two Western Conference teams who will battle it out - the Colorado Rapids and the San Jose Earthquakes. Perhaps the only thing that separates these two teams is the altitude. Colorado is so good on their home field, and I believe that altitude does play some role in this.
The Rapids are led by their dynamic duo of Conor Casey and Omar Cummings, who have continued their fine regular season play into the playoffs. In the heart of the midfield, Pablo Mastroeni and Jeff Larentowicz have been as solid as any MLS duo. They will need another strong game on Saturday.
If San Jose has an advantage, I believe it’s in goal. At this point in their careers, I would take Jon Busch over another ex-Fire goalkeeper in Matt Pickens. San Jose also is one of just three teams in MLS (Dallas and Los Angeles) who had a winning record on the road. It seems the Quakes are more comfortable playing away than they are at home. Can Bobby Convey have another game like he had vs New York last week? If he does, then San Jose’s chances to win are improved.
In the Western Conference, how about FC Dallas? They come in as underdogs, yet they knock off the defending champions Real Salt Lake. This is a team that has played all season with confidence. Led by league MVP candidate David Ferreira, they have no fear going into Sunday’s match at the Home Depot Center. This is a game that will feature the following:
- Two of the league’s best goal scorers in Edson Buddle and Jeff Cunningham
- Two of the best goalkeepers in Donovan Ricketts and Hartman
- The top team (LA) in terms of scoring on set pieces, vs Dallas, the team who allowed the second fewest goals on set pieces this season
Hartman won two MLS Cups with the LA Galaxy. Now, to get to the upcoming MLS Cup, it’s his former team that stands in the way. To me, Hartman holds the key for FC Dallas. I have thought that since the playoffs began.
On the opposite side, David Beckham’s game has steadily improved from the end of the season to the playoffs. He is LA’s key man on Sunday. Do not discount Landon Donovan though. So far, his defensive work has overtaken his offensive work in these playoffs. He is due, maybe overdue, for a big offensive output on Sunday. The Galaxy should win this game on their home field, and if they do, there should be no stopping them in the MLS Cup final, regardless of who they play.
However, when three of four lower seeds win in the conference semifinals, there are no sure bets in MLS.