MLS Conference Semifinals Leg 2 Recap, Highlights: Henry, Donovan Play On

IMAGE, LAGALAXY.COM

by RYAN BRISTER
Staff Writer

Major League Soccer’s conference semifinals concluded with manic second legs over the past weekend. In the end, the league’s biggest stars and markets moved on to the next round.

A pair of original ’96 clubs will face off when New England and New York meet in the Eastern Conference Finals. In the Western Conference, Seattle and LA will meet twice more for the right to host MLS Cup.

DC United 2 – 1 (2-3 agg.) New York Red Bulls

Peguy Luyindula provided the vital away goal as the New York Red Bulls advanced over DC United.

The 2-0 Red Bulls lead created a cautious opening half hour at RFK Stadium. New York was content to let DC have possession, while the home side didn’t want to leave themselves too exposed too early.

The tone quickly shifted after Nick DeLeon’s goal in the 37th minute. DeLeon, who scored the winning goal to eliminate the Red Bulls in 2012, just needed to redirect a great cross from Taylor Kemp to open the scoring. DC kept the pressure on as the first half came to a close. Heading into halftime, the Red Bulls had to be feeling nervous about their position, in the lead but with momentum working against them.

New York nerves were eased in the 57th minute. Thierry Henry was able to get space against Sean Franklin to fire in a cross that Luyindula turned past Bill Hamid. Luyindula has been a godsend to the Red Bulls since Mike Petke brought him on as a substitute against Kansas City. He’s scored two goals and notched two assists in 191 playoff minutes.

His countryman Henry assisted on all three goals New York scored in the two legs. The questions have been about Henry’s future, but his current play has put that decision off for at least another few weeks.

DC was down just 3-1 on aggregate, but the away-goals rule meant that they needed an improbable three goals to advance. Sean Franklin scored for DC in stoppage time, but it was just consolation; United were never going to get another two.

It’s a disappointing end to a very good season for DC United. A year after winning just three games, United finished the season with the best record in the Eastern Conference. But since MLS moved to the two-legged format in 2003, teams with the best record in their conference are 12-12 when it comes to advancing from the first round. That trend has caused some critics to wonder if the playoff format needs to be changed.

The Red Bulls, however, certainly don’t mind the current set-up. A mediocre regular season is now firmly in the past, and there’s nothing stopping New York from extending this run even further. Roy Miller made the task a little more difficult when he got sent off in the 78th minute. He was already going to be suspended for picking up a yellow card earlier in the match, but the straight red he received for a high boot ensures that he’ll miss both legs of the conference finals.

It’s just the third time in their 19-year history that the Red Bulls have reached the penultimate stage. In the MetroStars era, the club lost in the 2000 semifinals over three games against Chicago. In 2008, they won the Western Conference final 1-0 at Real Salt Lake.

New England Revolution 3 – 1 (7-3 agg.) Columbus Crew

After a dominating performance in Columbus, the New England Revolution piled it on in front of their home fans. The Revs took advantage of the Crew, who were desperate for goals and left themselves vulnerable in defense.

Federico Higuain was injured and did not make the trip for Columbus, increasing the difficulty of their task. Despite his absence, they succeeded in creating chances throughout the first half. But Jairo Arrieta’s first touch often failed him on the Gillette Stadium turf, and Bobby Shuttleworth made key saves to keep the Crew from climbing back into the series.

When a goal was finally scored in the 43rd minute, it came from Lee Nguyen and the Revolution. Kelyn Rowe’s long ball bounced by Steve Clark on its way to Charlie Davies. Without an angle to shoot, Davies eventually found Nguyen streaking into the box. Nguyen peeled away from Tony Tchani and buried the finish. It was his 20th goal of the season, and effectively put the series to rest.

With Columbus stretched, the Revs were able to add to their lead in the second half. Jose Goncalves made a 90-yard run up from his usual center-back position to eventually get on the end of Charlie Davies’ assist. Goncalves’ finish wasn’t the best, but Clark was unable to keep the bouncing ball from crossing the goal line.

Things got worse for the Crew when Ethan Finlay’s collision with Bobby Shuttleworth was controversially deemed worthy of a red card. After the two sides traded goals, Justin Meram picked up his second yellow. Columbus finished the series beaten badly and down to nine men.

For New England, the series couldn’t have gone much better. They were convincingly better in both legs, improving their overall form to 12-1-1 over their last 14 games. Their seven goals are an MLS record for a two-game playoff series. The home crowd of 20,184 was the largest playoff crowd ever for a Revs home game; Gillette Stadium was technically a neutral site when the Revs played in the 2002 MLS Cup.

Nguyen’s goal was his seventh in six games, and Jurgen Klinsmann has rewarded him with a call-up for the USMNT’s friendlies against Colombia and Ireland. Along with his teammate Jermaine Jones, Nguyen will likely play against Colombia on Friday and return to the U.S. before the national team takes on Ireland next Tuesday.

The Revs have reached the conference finals on six previous occasions, all in consecutive seasons from 2002-2007. They advanced to MLS Cup four times, but have never lifted the trophy.

LA Galaxy 5-0 (5-0 agg.) Real Salt Lake

Landon Donovan doesn’t want to retire just yet. With a hat trick and an assist, he extended his career for a few more weeks and propelled the LA Galaxy into the Western Conference finals with a 5-0 obliteration of Real Salt Lake

After sitting back in the scoreless first leg, the Galaxy went on the attack at home. They needed just 10 minutes to open the scoring, when Donovan headed in an A.J. DeLaGarza cross. Ten minutes later, Donovan delivered the cross for a Robbie Keane tap-in.

RSL looked overwhelemed, which is rare for them. They didn’t get a shot on goal—their only shot on goal—until after halftime. The comeback never came, because the Galaxy never took their foot off the gas. In the 54th minute, Keane played a through ball for Donovan, who sprinted around Nick Rimando to score his second.

Marcelo Sarvas made it 4-0, as LA kept dancing through a static Salt Lake defense. Keane lofted a ball over RSL’s back line to help Donovan complete his hat trick—and the carnage—in the 72nd minute.

LA’s five-goal margin of victory is an MLS record for a two-game series, and the largest single-game playoff margin since Chicago beat New England 6-0 in 2000. Donovan’s hat trick was his fifth multi-goal game in the playoffs, another MLS record for his personal collection.It was the first time that RSL lost by five goals since July 2012.

Salt Lake will have a sour taste in its mouth heading into the offseason, but little time to linger. General manager Garth Lagerway’s contract is up, and the core he leaves behind is aging, with several players over 30-years old. Uncertainty lies ahead for RSL.

The Galaxy, meanwhile, are in familiar territory. LA has been a part of MLS’s final four 13 times in 19 seasons. The Galaxy are the only club remaining who have won MLS Cup before.

Seattle Sounders 0-0 ( 1-1 agg.) FC Dallas

It was less than convincing, but Seattle advanced to the Western Conference Finals with a scoreless draw on Monday night. The away-goals rule worked in their favor, and the first-leg goal in Texas proved vital.

Despite the score, it was a very open match. Both teams pushed forward from the opening whistle, though only Dallas needed a goal. Fabian Castillo would streak past defenders at one end, and a minute later Dempsey and Martins would combine to create a chance at the other. The best chance of the first half came from Seattle’s dynamic duo, but Dempsey drilled his shot directly at Chris Seitz.

The second half followed in that same pattern, though Dallas applied more pressure as the clocked worked against them. Oscar Pareja subbed off both Blas Perez and Michel, upsetting them both in the process, but their replacements came no closer to finding the crucial goal. Again Dempsey had a big chance, and again he left a welt in Seitz’s chest.

Baldomero Toledo had big decisions to make on two occasions, but each time he waved off the cries for a penalty. Brad Evans shoved Castillo from behind in the first half, but went unpunished. Dempsey was the one left complaining in the second hlf, but Toledo was having none of it. Under normal circumstances, those might even out, but with the away-goals rule in effect, Dallas might have reason to complain.

With the penalties not given, Dallas’s season comes to an end. Pareja can take pride in taking the team to the playoffs after a two-year absence, and in the fight they showed over two games against the Supporters’ Shield winners.

This is the second time the Sounders have reached the conference finals in their six years in MLS, and the second time that they’ll face the Galaxy. LA won 4-2 over two legs in 2012. Osvaldo Alonso’s health will be a concern for Seattle moving forward. He went down with an apparent hamstring injury early in the second half, and had to be subbed off.