Get ready ladies, gents, and robots, the MLS Playoffs are here! Whether you’re a Euro soccer snob or a genuine MLS fan since ’96, don’t miss any of these upcoming matches (or do, I don’t care). With each 4th place team hosting the 5th place opponent in a single knockout game, there will be no shortage of drama. The winners of these games will go on to face either Sporting Kansas City (tough) or the San Jose Earthquakes (even tougher) in their respective Conference Semi-Finals. Let’s check out the games for this week.
Eastern Conference Play-In
Chicago Fire (4th) vs. Houston Dynamo (5th)
@ Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois
October 31st, 9 p.m. ET
Neither team is looking particularly in form coming into this game, Chicago just came off a 1-1 tie with D.C. United over the weekend and Houston have only won two of their last six games. Chicago were hoping to avoid this game entirely with a win over United, and the Dynamo didn’t have their best showing against Colorado (In their defense, they didn’t start their strongest line-up with prior knowledge of already making the playoffs). If I had to choose a favorite though, it would be the Fire.
Chicago is 11-3-3 at home, have an impressive list of playoff veterans (Rolfe, Segares, Nyarko, Logan, Pause), and have yet to lose to Houston this year. The Fire also have Pavel Pardo back, who missed six games due to a calf injury. Midfielder Patrick Nyarko is, excuse me for this, on fire right now. His energy and agility on the field makes him an important player that has proven to be imperative on the field. As long as keeper Sean Johnson remains consistent, the Dynamo will have a difficult time finding the back of the net. With Austin Berry and Arene Freidrich leading the back line, the Fire should be able to hold back any Dynamo chances.
Houston come in with just as much, if not more playoff experience after their MLS Cup run last year. Coach Kinnear is going to need Will Bruin to fire on all cylinders and Brad Davis to create opportunities for the team. Davis’ attacking style leads the team in assists and is 2nd on the team-list on goals for the season. The tenacious and determined midfielder is going to need to play the game of his life if he wants to help the Dynamo get past the Fire. Oscar Boniek Garcia is another key player that can provide some much-needed magic and energy against Chicago. At his best, Garcia can create plays out of nothing and is able to break any defensive line in the league.
So far this season, Houston have lost once and tied twice against the Fire, giving Houston some hope statistically, but not too much. Houston are 3-9-5 (W-L-T) on the road and lost 3-1 at Chicago in their most recent meeting with the Fire.
The Dynamo will have the small advantage of well-rested starting players, but have the worst away record out all of the playoff teams in the Eastern Conference. The 1-9-5 record they have accumulated in their past 15 away games highlights the trouble they will have. Chicago have yet to lose to the Dynamo and have a respectable home record, all signs point to a victory for the Fire.
Chicago 2-0 Houston
Western Conference Play-In
L.A. Galaxy (4th) vs. Vancouver Whitecaps (5th)
@ Home Depot Center, Los Angeles
November 1st, 10:30 p.m. ET
L.A. are looking great right now, after a terrible start to the season the Galaxy finished the 2nd half of the year with only three setbacks. The Whitecaps on the other hand, have had an almost exact opposite season with nine losses during the latter half of the year.
Have you heard of Landon Donovan and David Beckham? These two unknowns have recently come back in the squad for L.A. and should provide, if anything at all, a huge morale boost to the team. Donovan, Keane, and Beckham helped L.A. win the title last year and they could possibly do it again. The Galaxy also have one of the most impressive post-season home records at the Home Depot Center. Since 2003, L.A. has gone 9-1-0 in playoff games at the HDC. The Whitecaps have never scored in the HDC, this is going to be a tough game for Vancouver. Omar Gonzalez has been on form in the back and should be able to easily hold off any attacks from Whitecaps offense.
The Whitecaps are going to need Jay DeMerit to be the anchor of the team. While the midfield and forwards have been tinkered with during the year, the defense has remained consistent and is Vancouver’s strongest quality. Forward Kenny Miller needs to wake up and Camilo Sanvezzo has to create chances out of the counter-attacks that they will need to utilize. This is going to be a very (very) tough game for the Whitecaps who have yet to win a road game in their last nine. Martin Rennie is going to need a last-minute revelation for his offense to get going in their first playoff game ever.
Let’s be honest here, the home team are the current title holders while the visiting team is playing their first playoff game, who do you think will win? The Whitecaps have had immense issues with scoring this year and are the only playoff team with a negative goal differential. In fact, the only teams who scored less goals this season than Vancouver are the Timbers and Chivas. The Galaxy are looking great and have only lost one home game in the last seven while the Whitecaps are on a downward spiral.
L.A. 3-1 Vancouver