MLS Playoffs – Semifinal Round

by Michael Orr

houston

With two-legged quarterfinals behind, MLS moved into it’s single-game semifinal round with the top seeds in each conference hosting.

Sporting Kansas City 0 – Houston Dynamo 2
The first semifinal came at Livestrong Sporting Park, the sparkling new ground in Kansas City, Kansas, and saw Sporting KC hosting Houston Dynamo for the right to the title of Eastern Conference champion. Neither side held much back in the early going as a two-week layoff awaited the winner, given FIFA’s international break on the weekend of November 13. No goals were scored in the first half but there was a significant momentum shift just six minutes from the break. Brad Davis, the league’s leader in assists and the key to Houston’s attack, crashed to the turf under a challenge from Graham Zusi, landing awkwardly and injuring his right quadricep. His removal came in the 39th minute and had Jermaine Taylor inserted, a move that had Dynanmo players and fans devastated. Yet early in the second half, Houston got the opener after Adam Moffat’s free kick (taken in place of Davis) was headed down by Taylor and poked in by Canadian international defender André Hainault. Sporting were forced to expose their back line even more than they had previously and while they had a penalty shout when Davy Arnaud was tackled in the box by Brian Ching, the home side could not catch Houston. In the 87th minute, Luiz Camargo sprung Carlo Costly who kept clear of Aurélien Collin and blasted a second goal in off the post. The Dynamo will play for their third MLS Cup since moving to Houston in 2006. Back-to-back champions in 2006 and 2007, Houston will travel to Los Angeles seeking their third title in six years.

LA Galaxy 3 – Real Salt Lake 1
The higher profile semifinal was between two-time defending Supporters Shield winners LA Galaxy and 2010/11 CONCACAF Champions League runners-up, Real Salt Lake. The match lived up to the hype as both sides scored terrific goals, had shots go off the post and had great saves within the 90 minutes at the Home Depot Center. The Galaxy grabbed an early lead after Omar Gonzalez was fouled in the box by Andy Williams. Landon Donovan buried the resulting penalty and LA seemed to be off to a dream start. But just two minutes later, a Javier Morales corner was headed goalward by Jámison Olave and finally nodded in by Álvaro Saborío to level the score and keep the Galaxy from shutting the game down, as they’d done in winning eight 1-0 games already this season. RSL nearly took the lead just moments before half-time when Kyle Beckerman smacked the post but a second goal simply would not come for the visitors. Just before the hour, David Beckham connected to Mike Magee for a goal for the third time in these playoffs, lifting LA and giving Beckham an assist in all three playoff games. Yet Fabián Espíndola came right back with a stunningly creative flick and shot that had Josh Saunders beaten but could not reach beyond the crossbar. After missing several chances earlier, including hitting the post himself, Robbie Keane finally put the match away with an excellent individual goal in the 68th minute. From there the Galaxy held off RSL’s late charges and even missed a few opportunities to inflict further damage on the visitors. In the end, the Galaxy advance to play in their home ground for their third MLS Cup title against Houston Dynamo, a team that defeated Los Angeles 3-1 in the season finale in Houston.

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