By Pat Martin, MLS Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
With the Major League Soccer regular season coming to a frantic end, the stage is set. Four teams had a chance at the last two playoff spots entering the final weekend, and two teams battled it out for the last spot in the last game of the regular season - with Chicago topping Los Angeles 1-0 to advance after an uninspiring effort from the Galaxy.
"I am 46 years old and after that game I feel like I'm 56 now," Chicago coach Juan Carlos Osorio said. "I just congratulated everybody in the locker room and that's over. It is history and now we're in the playoffs."
All the drama of winning streaks, losing streaks and everything in between is wiped from the slate and all eight teams in the hunt for the MLS Cup are on equal ground.
The Fire play Supporters' Shield winners D.C. United in the Eastern Conference Semifinal Series, which opens with the first leg at Toyota Park on Thursday. Chicago actually looks like a team that could upset the top seed, especially since United may not have the services of Golden Boot winner Luciano Emilio or the league's all-time leading scorer, Jaime Moreno, for the first leg because of ankle injuries they suffered in the team's regular season finale vs. Columbus.
"I think the injuries (to Moreno and Emilio) are going to be okay," D.C. coach Tom Soehn said.
D.C. United may not have the services of the league's all-time leading scorer, Jaime Moreno.
Fourth-seeded Chicago seems to be a playoff tested team, needing to get hot down the stretch to even make the second season. Cuauhtemoc Blanco has seemingly single-handedly turned the Fire into a contender, as evidenced by the squad's 6-2-6 record since his arrival in late July.
The Fire lost in the Eastern semis to New England last season while D.C. also fell at the hands of the Revs, in the conference final. D.C. has won the Cup three times in its history, most recently in 2004 while the Fire have been champions once, capping off a U.S. Open Cup and MLS Cup double in their inaugural season of 1998.
In the other Eastern semi, second-seeded New England takes on third-seeded New York in a battle of very evenly matched clubs. But if recent history proves true, the Revs will be advancing to their fifth-straight Eastern Conference Championship game. Since the start of the 2005 season, the Revs are 7-1-3 against the Red Bulls, including going 6-0-2 in the last eight meetings.
The Revolution have advanced to the MLS Cup title game three of the past five seasons, only to fall all three times - twice in extra time and once on penalty kicks.
"It takes a lot to make the playoffs and it takes even more to get all the way to the finals," Revs goalkeeper Matt Reis said. "Over the last couple years, we made it to the last game and unfortunately we didn't have that little bit of extra in the last game to pull it out...I think we definitely have the talent in this locker room to win an MLS championship. Unfortunately we haven't shown that in the past, but given a few more chances, I'm sure we could."
"To be so close so many times and be on the short side of the stick so many times is frustrating because you feel like it wasn't meant to be, it will never happen," Revs defender Michael Parkhurst said. "These opportunities don't come very much in the sport. We want to take advantage of these championship runs when they come along."
The Revs will be aiming for a different result this time around while New York fell to D.C. in the semis last season. Neither team has ever won the MLS Cup.
Kansas City finished fifth in the Eastern table and, as a result of the new playoff format, moves into the Western bracket as the fourth seed and take on top-seeded CD Chivas USA. This should be an interesting series considering the two teams split the season series - both one-goal games.
Kansas City narrowly avoided its third-consecutive late-season collapse and seems poised for an upset, especially considering Chivas will be without veteran forward and 11-goal scorer Ante Razov for the series because of a knee injury he suffered on Oct. 11.
"We have a deeper squad this year and some of these young guys have been waiting for their opportunity," Chivas coach Preki said.
This will be Kansas City's first playoff appearance since 2004 when it lost to D.C. in the title game while Chivas fell to Houston, 3-2, in the Western semis last year. The Wizards have won the MLS Cup once in their history - in 2000 - while this will be Chivas second trip to the playoffs in its brief history.
This season's other Western semi features defending champions and No. 2 seeded Houston against Texas rival and third-seeded FC Dallas. This series is hard to predict mainly because of the rivalry factor, but the shutdown defense that the champs have shown should be enough for them to reach the Western finals.
"Dallas is a good opponent, a good team and dangerous," Houston coach Dominic Kinnear said. "We have some spice because of our location. Between the two teams, it's going to be a difficult series. They have a lot of attacking players, we have to be on our game to be able to come through. It's going to be difficult. When you get to this part of the season, you have to play a good team and that happens to be FC Dallas."
The Hoops suffered a devastating penalty kick loss in the semis last season to Colorado while Houston topped New England in PKs to win the MLS Cup. It was the franchise's third MLS Cup, with the other two coming in 2001 and 2003 as the San Jose Earthquakes. Dallas has never reached the title game.
EASTERN SEMIFINALS PREDICTIONS
(1) D.C. vs. (4) Chicago:
Chicago's second half run will come to an end. D.C. is not going to be upset
after winning the Supporters' Shield. Chicago will win the first leg on
Thursday, 1-0, to put pressure on United, but the top-seed will come out
flying at home on Nov. 1 and advance.
(2) New England vs. (3) New York:
Despite New England's recent success against the Red Bulls, Juan Pablo Angel
and company will outperform New England's solid nucleus of veterans as the Red
Bulls advance. New York will win big in the series opener at Giants Stadium
Saturday and hang on in the away leg in Foxborough, Mass. on Nov. 3.
WESTERN SEMIFINALS PREDICTIONS
(1) CD Chivas USA vs. (4) Kansas City:
Chivas will show its improved depth this season and dominate this series.
After earning a slim win in the opener at Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday, the
Goats will dominate at The Home Depot Center and advance to the Conference
(2) Houston vs. (3) Dallas:
The Hoops will play Houston tough, as they usually do in this Texas rivalry,
but the champs dominating defense will be too tough to break, even without
Ricardo Clark. Houston holds for a scoreless draw in the opener on Saturday
before pulling away in Houston on Nov. 2.