MLS Conference Finals Leg 2: Previews and Predictions

IMAGE, LAGALAXY.COM

by RYAN BRISTER
Staff Writer

One game separates two of Major League Soccer’s final four teams from a place in the MLS Cup Final. The New England Revolution have a clear edge heading home for the second leg, as they try to return to the final for the first time since 2007. Out west, there’s still much to be decided between the league’s two best teams.

New England Revolution (2) vs. New York Red Bulls (1), Saturday at 3 p.m. on NBCSN

The Revs are expecting a franchise record playoff crowd of more than 25,000 for the second leg of the Eastern Conference final. In return, those fans have every reason to expect their team to clinch a berth in the MLS Cup final. Regardless of the result, it will be the last home game the Revs play this year; they and the Red Bulls would both have to go on the road for the MLS Cup Final. Thierry Henry will play on turf for the Red Bulls, but New York will be without golden boot winner Bradley Wright-Phillips, who is suspended for picking up two yellow cards in the playoffs. Mike Petke might choose to replace him with Tim Cahill in the striker role.

First Leg:

In the regular season, the Red Bulls won a pair of games they didn’t control, but that script was flipped on Sunday. Teal Bunbury gave New England an early lead with a great curling goal in the 17th minute, but after that the Red Bulls spent most of the game on the front foot. They outshot New England 18-8, and after BWP’s equalizer, New York had several chances to take the lead. But the winner came on a Revolution counter attack. Jermaine Jones—who some thought should have been sent off—finished a chance set up by Lee Nguyen and Teal Bunbury in the 85th minute to give the Revs the win.

Prediction:

Even with BWP, this would have been a tough hill to climb for the Red Bulls. The Revs haven’t lost at home since July, but they could do so on Saturday and still advance thanks to away goals. I don’t think they’ll need to worry about that. With the Red Bulls pushing for a goal, space will open up for New England on the counter. Columbus saw how deadly that can be, and I think the Revs will win the second leg outright.

Seattle Sounders (0) vs. LA Galaxy (1), Sunday at 9:20 p.m. on ESPn

The Sounders have opened up the upper deck for the second leg of the Western Conference final, and they’ve already sold more than 40,000 tickets for Sunday’s game. The Sounders were undefeated in their first 15 games in front of more than 40,000, but lost last month against Vancouver. They’ll need to win by more than one to go on to host MLS Cup Final. The Galaxy have a little more leeway by virtue of Marcelo Sarvas’ goal in the first leg. Sarvas and AJ DeLaGarza left last Sunday’s game with injury, but should be fine for the second leg. Osvaldo Alonso is also expected to be healthy, after not making Seattle’s squad for the first leg.

First Leg:

Both teams had chances at the StubHub Center, but only LA broke through in Sunday’s first leg. Sarvas’ deflected shot in the 52nd minute gives the Galaxy an edge heading north. Seattle sat back for the most part, rarely sending more than Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins forward; they won’t have that luxury on Sunday, needing at least a goal to get to extra time. The first leg was a physical affair, but no one earned a suspension for the second leg. That caused some controversy when Galaxy players claimed referee Kevin Stott said he wouldn’t send anyone off.

Prediction:

The Sounders are certainly capable of winning at home against the Galaxy, but I think the away-goals rule will come into play. Seattle had chances, but did not score in the first leg; LA usually isn’t so generous. A goal for the Galaxy would leave the Sounders needing three, and I don’t think they can pull that off. LA advances, in my mind.