MLS Playoffs – Quarterfinal Round

by Michael Orr

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After Wild Card round victories put Red Bull New York in the Western Conference and Colorado Rapids into the East, MLS moved to its two-legged Quarterfinal round this week.

Eastern Conference:
October 30: Colorado Rapids 0 – Sporting KC 2
November 2: Sporting KC 2 – Colorado Rapids 0
Eastern Conference regular season champions Sporting Kansas City used a gritty away performance to set the stage for an overwhelming home victory to defeat Colorado Rapids 4-0 on aggregate. Sporting had not reached the semifinal round since 2007 but took advantage of injuries on the part of the Rapids and a distinctive, physical style to embarrass the Cup holders. US international striker Teal Bunbury got both goals in the opener in Denver as Colorado went a man down just before the hour and were forced to use all three substitutions on injured players. The two-goal deficit in the second leg was even more difficult to overcome for the Rapids as they were without Conor Casey, Pablo Mastroeni, Drew Moor, Kosuke Kimura, Jamie Smith and Caleb Folan when they ventured to a windy and rainy Kansas City. Sporting took advantage of the weakness in defense, scoring both goals on headers from Graham Zusi free kicks as Aurélien Collin and CJ Sapong nodded Kansas City to the conference final. The one-game tie will be back at Livestrong Sporting Park against Houston Dynamo on November 6.

October 30: Philadelphia Union 1 – Houston Dynamo 2
November 3: Houston Dynamo 1 – Philadelphia Union 0
Brad Davis continued his remarkable season over both legs as Houston Dynamo won both games to reach the Eastern Conference final. Shifted to the east only this year, due to the inclusion of Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps out west, Houston took advantage of that classification and knocked off Philadelphia Union behind two more assists from Davis, the league’s leader. In the first leg it was André Hainault who nodded in from a Davis free kick before Calen Carr got the match-winner on the half-hour. Despite Sébastien Le Toux’s goal for the Union in the first leg, Philadelphia had little to say about either match. The second leg, and final game at Houston’s Robertson Stadium, saw Davis again provide from a set piece, this time with Brian Ching heading in for an insurmountable aggregate lead. The Dynamo’s physical style but substantive finishing will provide a stern challenge for Sporting in the league’s semifinal round.

Western Conference:
October 29: Real Salt Lake 3 – Seattle Sounders 0
November 2: Seattle Sounders 2 – Real Salt Lake 0
In a battle between the second and third overall seeds in the league, Real Salt Lake edged Seattle Sounders 3-2 on aggregate with neither side scoring away. Salt Lake got the important third goal in their home first leg from Ned Grabavoy after a brace from Álvaro Saborío at Rio Tinto Stadium. The first goal was dubious as Saborio was clearly offside when he tapped in for the opener, but his second was a masterpiece, employing a backheel to beat Kasey Keller. Grabavoy’s third proved vital as Seattle threw everything forward in the return leg at CenturyLink Field. Cuban defector Osvaldo Alonso got the first for the Sounders at home in the second half of the second leg, scoring from the spot after Mike Fucito was pulled down in the box in the 56th minute. Just five minutes later, Lamar Neagle collected a wonderful through ball from Fredy Montero and beat Nick Rimando to the far post for a 2-0 Sounders lead. But RSL did just enough, through key saves and defensive pressure, to outlast Seattle and hold on to the aggregate lead, despite only a single shot on goal in the second leg. Salt Lake end the Sounders’ goal of winning the double of the US Open Cup and MLS Cup and advance to the conference final against LA Galaxy.

October 30: Red Bull New York 0 – LA Galaxy 1
November 3: LA Galaxy 2 – Red Bull New York 1
An impressive away victory in the first leg gave way to a less convincing but more satisfying second leg win as LA Galaxy moved past Red Bull New York and into the semifinals. Mike Magee got the game’s only goal on a freezing cold day at Red Bull Arena in the first leg, calmly blasting past Frank Rost as New York’s defenders sought an offside call on Robbie Keane. Goalkeeper Josh Saunders was vital in the first leg, keeping the advantage for the Galaxy heading back to Los Angeles. Luke Rodgers opened scoring in the second leg with his 4th minute goal, compliments of a perfect through ball from Thierry Henry. For his part, Henry was outstanding for New York in the second leg, but the Red Bull defense was not up to the challenge. David Beckham connected again with Magee, this time from a corner, to give the Galaxy an equalizer on the day and a 2-1 lead on aggregate, just before half-time. Later, Beckham was taken down in the box by Roy Miller and Landon Donovan scored the resulting penalty to give LA a 3-1 lead over the two legs and reach the Western Conference final for the third straight year. The Galaxy will host Real Salt Lake on November 6 in a rematch of the 2009 MLS Cup final with a place in the 2011 version at stake.

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