Major League Soccer – Playoff Quarterfinals

by Michael Orr

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The quarterfinal round of the Major League Soccer playoffs brought three upsets and only one favored club into the semi-finals over the two-legged ties. The first surprising result came on Thursday night when San Jose Earthquakes rallied from a 1-0 first leg deficit to defeat New York Red Bull 3-1 at Red Bull Arena, winning the tie 3-2 on aggregate. A Bobby Convey brace pushed New York to the brink of elimination before Juan Pablo Ángel nodded in a sublime cross from 17-year old Juan Agudelo to even the aggregate score in the 78th minute. But Convey dropped a perfect lob into the box, allowing Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski to head in the winner for the Earthquakes just three minutes later, sending Red Bull crashing out of the playoffs and ending Ángel’s New York career.

On Saturday the shocks kept coming as Colorado Rapids emerged from a tough tie with Columbus Crew, losing the second leg 2-1 but surviving extra-time and winning on penalties, 5-4. After taking the first leg with their own 2-1 home victory, the Rapids fell quickly behind Columbus after Eddie Gaven leveled the aggregate score. Robbie Rogers scored what looked like the winner for the Crew in the 70th minute but Conor Casey got his second goal of the tie in the 84th minute to level the aggregate. The penalty shoot-out was an even affair until Brian Carroll blasted his shot clear of the crossbar, pushing Colorado into the ridiculously named Eastern Conference final against San Jose. The Rapids will host the semifinal match, having finished above the Earthquakes on the regular season table.

Having won 2-1 at home last weekend, FC Dallas needed only a draw to advance past holders Real Salt Lake at the Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday. Dallas jumped to an early lead after a fine goal from Dax McCarty in the 17th minute. From there the Texan side held on, despite giving up a goal to the supremely overrated Robbie Findley in the 79th minute. The 1-1 final in Salt Lake City was enough to send Dallas to the semi-final for the first time since 1999 and only third time ever. Salt Lake, a surprise Cup winner a year ago, clearly could not handle the pressure of being a top team this season and go crashing out of the playoffs after holding the league’s second best record.

Life returned to normal on Sunday night as Los Angeles Galaxy dismantled a poor Seattle Sounders side 2-1 and 3-1 on aggregate to return to the Western Conference final. Edson Buddle scored again, after his stunning strike in the first leg, and Omar Gonzalez (pictured) put the tie out of reach with his 27th minute goal. David Beckham assisted on both goals and continued to exert his influence as arguably the most important player on the pitch for the Galaxy. Steve Zakuani scored a pointless goal for the Sounders in the 86th minute. LA end up as the only favored side to go through to the MLS Cup Semifinals and will host FC Dallas for the right to return to the MLS Cup Final. The Galaxy of course famously lost in a penalty shoot-out to Real Salt Lake in the 2009 final as Landon Donovan, among others, missed his penalty.

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