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Playoff preview

MLS Set for Wild End to Conference Semifinals

The second legs of the MLS conference semifinals will take place on Sunday, and they should all make for exciting action: No team was able to put its respective series out of reach in the first.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
November 05, 2015
3:05 PM

New York Red Bulls vs. D.C. United
Time: 3:00 p.m. ET

First Leg: 
The Red Bulls enter this game following a convincing 1-0 win on the road at RFK. That lead, plus the away goal, gives New York a decisive advantage heading into the return leg in Harrison, N.J.

What to expect: D.C. has had a rough time with New York of late, its strong start to the season now a long-distant memory. Still, it’s important to keep in mind how United responded in the knockout stage against New England after the Revolution grabbed the opening goal in spectacular fashion.

If the Red Bulls score early, though, this series is almost surely over. The Red Bulls are a confident team and smell blood. The most pressing question will be the central defense pairing of Matt Miazga and Ronald Zubar after Damien Perrinelle suffered a serious knee injury against United. Zubar has done well on occasion with this team, but the key will be whether he can both be a consistent performer and avoid a yellow-card suspension.

D.C. is going to need Bill Hamid to come up big again if it’s to have any chance. He is the only reason why United still even has a chance at this—after he made two big saves in the first leg to keep that one-goal deficit from becoming more.

Prediction: A 2-0 Red Bulls victory, for a 3-0 win on aggregate.

Columbus Crew SC vs. Montreal Impact
Time: 5:00 p.m. ET

First Leg: Montreal 2-1 Columbus. Crew SC managed to score an away goal, but mistakes nonetheless have left the club in a tricky spot. With the way the Impact has played since Drogba’s arrival in August, it is probably too much to expect Crew SC to preserve a shutout. 

What to expect: Crew SC will have to come out strong. A 1-0 win means it advances, but again, that is going to be very hard to achieve. Instead, it will likely have to score a bunch of goals while somehow hoping its defense can limit the damage.

Kei Kamara, Ethan Finlay, Justin Meram, and Federico Higuain are going to all have to play well for that to happen — something that didn’t in the first leg, when Finlay, an MLS Best XI candidate, was largely ineffective. 

Montreal has the edge, to be sure, but it’s dealing with a team like itself that can score quickly and often. Assuming Columbus opens the game up, Montreal is going to have some quality chances. And that’s where Drogba has been lights out.

Prediction: A 2-2 draw, and Montreal advances, 4-3, on aggregate.

FC Dallas vs. Seattle Sounders
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET

First Leg: Seattle 2-1 Dallas. Dallas came out strong with the opening goal, but gradually Seattle began to win the midfield battle. From there, it was only a matter of time. 

What to expect: Seattle has had its peaks and valleys all season, but it is clearly trending in the right direction right now. Better yet, there is also the possibility that Osvaldo Alonso and Brad Evans return in time for Sunday. FC Dallas has the advantages both of an away goal and of a very good defensive presence. The problem is that this game needs maturity, and while Seattle has plenty (perhaps even too much) of it, Oscar Pareja’s side is extremely young. Victor Ulloa did not have a good game in the opener; Kellyn Acosta has resumed training but has missed the past four games with an injured hamstring.

There seem to be too many variables with Dallas at the moment, then, whereas Seattle has found a way to get through its own sizable question marks. As long as Clint Dempsey and Obefemi Martins are fit and ready, the Sounders will always be dangerous. After a full week of rest and now heading to a warm environment, their veterans should be able to get the job done in Dallas.

Prediction: A 2-1 road win for Seattle, which flies through, 4-2, on aggregate.

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Portland Timbers
Time: 10:00 p.m. ET

First leg: Portland Timbers 0-0 Vancouver Whitecaps

What to expect: This should be Sunday’s most entertaining game, too: A raucous crowd is expected at BC Place, the scoreboard remains blank, and Portland (surging) and Vancouver (fading) have been heading in complete opposite directions over the past few weeks. The Whitecap players should be kicking themselves after a 0-0 draw in the first leg, as the Timbers were playing on two days’ rest after a grueling shootout win over Sporting Kansas City in the knockout stage. That being said, returning home to BC Place should provide for a clean slate, and it would be fair to expect Vancouver to come out emotionally ready — and eager to make an early statement.

There are a lot of things going in Portland’s favor right now, however. Diego Chara looks to be set to return after a foot injury that kept him out of the first leg, an inclusion that will allow Caleb Porter to better deploy his successful 4-3-3 formation. Portland has also played well on the road, winning its last three and four out of its last five, and it kept Vancouver off the board with no critical away goals.

The Whitecaps will likely come out stronger in the opening stages of the match, but if the Timbers can keep their defense in order, they will get their chances. Entering the series, Portland had scored 11 goals in its previous three games; after surviving the first leg on heavy legs, its offensive talent should be back to its old ways.

Prediction: A 1-1 draw, leaving the Timbers to advance on away goals.

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