Sunday, November 6, 2011

Gameday: Conference Championships

Today the MLS Cup finalists will be decided and two teams will earn humble silverware with a conference championship. Sporting Kansas City and the Houston Dynamo will square off to decide the East while the LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake square off to decide the West. For the first time in what seems like ages, teams from the east and west are playing in their respective conference championships. Furthermore, it seems that the best teams from their conferences have made it this far.

Eastern Conference Final:

Sporting Kansas City have been on an absolute tear in recent months. They've taken down the leagues elite and built LiveStrong Park into their own "Blue Hell". Since their awful road swing to start the season, they've slowly molded themselves into team that plays fast, attacking soccer. Houston will have their hands full with SKC's collection of attacking talent. Worth noting is that they've done much of this without the help of their DP as Omar Bravo has been out for crucial moments. He's expected to make a return to the bench and should provide yet another boost to Sporting in their quest for the cup.

Houston has exceeded the expectations of many around the league, including their more reluctant fans. Dominic Kinnear is as experienced as they come in the playoffs as he's won the final four times (twice as an assistant in San Jose and twice as head coach of Houston). Lead by Brian Ching and Brad Davis, the two veterans will take the field against Sporting and look to make it to yet another final. The stellar play of Davis this season has been MVP worthy and he'll look to continue that form. The series though may be decided in how Houston is able to cope with the many offensive weapons of Sporting. Bobby Boswell and Geoff Cameron will have their hands full with Bunbury, Sapong and Kamara... stopping them will be mission number  one.

Prediction: Sporting Kansas City 3, Houston Dynamo 1

Western Conference Final: 

The Western Conference is perhaps where the best soccer will be played. Jason Kreis has molded his group into a fluid attacking side in the vein of their previous two years. Through all the ups and downs of the season, they've persevered and will look to take down the league's elite team; the Supporter Shield winning LA Galaxy. RSL have certainly come alive in recent weeks, including an impressive display at home in dismantling Seattle's defense. The concern though comes from their 2-0 loss at CenturyLink Field to squeak into the conference final. There are certainly reasons to point to as both their starting center backs were unavailable, but if those same mistakes are made against LA, then RSL is in trouble.

All that said, Salt Lake has done the impossible on more than one occasion this season. We've seen them be two men down and hold on for a result. We've seen comebacks and we've seen them beat LA. Wise fans of the league know: never count the boys from Utah out.

The Galaxy on the other hand will do anything but. For the entire season they have been the best team in the league. Time and again they've proven that their maturity and composure on the ball puts them in a class above the rest. Rarely to they play the most gorgeous soccer out there (I dispose those honors to RSL and Seattle), but they quietly get the job done and go about their business. They are star studded and have a spectacular supporting cast. If David Beckham, Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and the rest of LA's group are able to perform, then the game will be won. Mike Magee and Omar Gonzalez are equally important to their group's success.

Bruce Arena's squad will have to play their best in order to stop Salt Lake, but the job is doable. Juninho is returning to the squad and they'll be confident after two wins against New York. When all is said and done this is LA's game to lose but as I said: never ever count RSL out.

Prediction: LA Galaxy 2, Real Salt Lake 2; Galaxy in overtime 3-2

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