Sometime in the afternoon last Sunday, MLS was at its most predictable. Two home teams had sneaked by visiting favorites with 1-0 scores. In Los Angeles’ case, this was only by dint of a whole Rube Goldberg series of events required to get a goal. This was not, under the best of circumstances, riveting soccer.
Fortunately for Don Garber and the MLS brass, the evening featured Jozy Altidore throwing his body around like Thor’s Hammer and Seattle’s Nicolas Lodeiro as whomever-the-Uruguayan-version-of-Captain America-is. Now two of the favorites in the playoffs have their backs against the wall. As the playoffs reach their second leg of the conference semifinals, there is blood in the air.
Coming into Sunday, Toronto is sitting pretty and the Galaxy have to like their odds. There are going to be a whole bunch of quick-bitten nails, though. And, surprisingly enough, the Supporters’ Shield holders look screwed. Here is who is feeling good, and who isn’t, heading into the weekend.
It is an exultant feeling to play over 80 minutes against a cynical, park-the-bus team and then just absolutely run over them in the final few minutes. Toronto had to deal with an NYCFC side that was trying to be as difficult as possible, but in the end Patrick Vieira’s side was not difficult enough. Toronto takes a 2-0 decision into the Bronx, which looks pretty good.
The cramped quarters of Yankee Stadium are great for a road team with a set-piece monster like Sebastian Giovinco. Who, if he is aware of the MLS MVP finalist list existing at all, he’s probably pissed that he is not on it. Even without Armando Cooper, Toronto just needs a road goal against a bad home team to get through.
Is Nelson Valdez finding his touch the karmic reversal of Clint Dempsey’s heart issue? The Paraguayan is, all of the sudden, really dangerous. And still only the fourth- or fifth-most dangerous guy on this roster.
After beating up on Dallas at home, Seattle only has to not screw up at this point. They are not really built to be a defensive team, and have some historical memories of just not having to screw up, yet managing to do precisely that. Any less than a 3-0 win and I would be more skeptical.
New York Red Bulls
For having lost their first leg, the Red Bulls must be feeling pretty good. They had the most home wins of any team in 2016 and just have to do…that, basically, to move on. Jesse Marsch is canny enough to not get caught by the same counter-attack two matches in a row, and Sacha Kljestan is canny enough to create a half-dozen chances again. Other folks start finishing them, and the Red Bulls should be on to the Conference Finals.
If you were skeptical of the aged Galaxy after a weekday game, how do you feel about them in the Colorado altitude? It was surprising to see the Rapids unable to get an away goal – Bryan Rowe had to basically stand on his head.
Jermaine Jones has another week to get back in sync with his teammates. They looked a bit tentative with how to fit around the 34-year-old dynamo. If Mastroeni can come up with a plan to shut down LA and nab a couple his team should be fine.
Los Angeles Galaxy
That all said, do you really trust the 39 goals-in-34 games Rapids to nab a couple? Do you really think that a good response to a young ‘keeper standing on his head is, “he probably can’t do it twice”?
The Galaxy dealt with tired legs by leaning heavily on 22-year-old Emmanuel Boateng and 24-year-old Sebastian Lletget. That, and Jelle Van Damme succeeding in his quest to be MLS’ first false number four. Bruce Arena has managed his way out of tougher traps than a 1-0 first-leg lead. Of all the away teams this week his has the best chance.
Montreal is in many ways an inspiration. They were so bad before Didier Drogba came to Canada, and now he seems gone again. Harry Shipp has been a bust. And here they are, riding two wingers with many flaws possibly into the Eastern Conference finals.
Unless Ignacio Piatti has yet another rabbit in his top hat – or unless Red Bull Arena is going to have a quarter mile-long pitch so Dominic Oduro can just run past everyone – it will be tough to move forward. Winning at NYRB is difficult. If Montreal can sneak in a goal, though, they have a chance. As long as three or four don’t get by Evan Bush, at least.
It may sound bizarre that NYC’s opponent has a better shot to move forward than Dallas’ opponent, and NYC has better odds than Dallas itself. But bear with me.
Toronto may have looked great last week, and may be facing a City side that went .500 at home this year and all of that – but a few moments of magic can get New York the result they need. There were plenty of goals in that Villa/McNamara/Harrison front this fall, and Patrick Vieira seem to have a plan. His plan to bunker up last week didn’t work. Maybe his plan to rush forward all guns blazing will? It will at least be fun to watch.
…And it will at least be a plan at all. Oscar Pareja confused everyone last week by coming out in a 5-3-2 against Seattle. For someone who pushed the right buttons all season, Pareja is now playing for three goals and without beloved, beleagured Mauro Diaz.
I could see any number of ways all of the above teams could win. I could even see a way Seattle could lose. But, where are three goals in 90 minutes coming from in the Dallas front line? Are there any confident answers for that?
Asher Kohn regularly contributes a soccer column to SiriusXM Sports. He’s based out of the Bay Area and is happy to talk MLS or USMNT on Twitter: @ajkhn. Keep up with all the soccer news across the globe with SiriusXM FC (Ch. 85).