By: Matt Vereen
The Conference Semifinals wrapped up last Sunday and all but one were exciting to watch. This has been a historically good playoff with top-notch play and climactic finishes (and we’re only halfway done!). Last week we covered the 1st legs of the Conference Semis, so this week all touch on how those finished up and on the matchups we have set for the Conference Finals. Spoiler Alert: They’re going to be great.
The Wild West did not disappoint. We’ll start with the less-insane game that took place late Sunday night: Portland vs. Vancouver. The Timbers expertly held of the Whitecaps and capitalized on opportunities just enough to springboard themselves to a 2-0 win on the road and a 2-0 aggregate series win. If you had told me that Vancouver’s explosive offense wasn’t going to score a single goal in the playoffs, I’d have slapped you across the face. I’m glad I didn’t. Despite Vancouver’s impressive regular season, it finished the year with just one win in its last eight MLS matches, including both Portland legs as separate matches. Safe to say the Caps melted when the heat picked up. Or they froze under pressure? I don’t know. Pick your pun. Portland, meanwhile, is picking up steam at exactly the right time. After three straight wins to end the season, the Timbers survived the PK shootout heard around the world against Sporting KC and showed masterful control as they broke apart Vancouver. They’ll be a force to be reckoned with in the finals, but whom will they play?
For that we look at the West’s other match from Sunday: Seattle vs. FC Dallas. I was torn in for who I wanted to win in this match up to make me look smarter. I chose Seattle to win the Cup in the offseason, but FC Dallas to take it home at the start of the playoffs. The two teams gave us a heck of a show. The second leg was scoreless after 84 minutes and nothing was happening… when suddenly everything happened. FC Dallas substitute Tesho Akindele opened the scoring with his first touch of the match in the 84th minute sending Dallas fans into jubilation. Seattle, however, would respond behind a Chad Marshall header in the 90th minute that would still send the Sounders through on the “away-goal” rule. Another FC Dallas sub and Furman University grad (Go Paladins!), Walker Zimmerman, was having none of that, though, as he buried a chance not 60 seconds later to send the match to extra time. No one would capitalize during the extra half-hour so the match went to penalty kicks. There, young 20 year-old FC Dallas GK Jesse Gonzalez would be the hero with two PK saves to help send the Toros on to the next round to meet Portland.
The Eastern Conference games attempted to match the West, and half of them succeeded. Let’s start with the other half first: New York vs. DC United. A matchup between two long-standing MLS rivals was, for most watching, a snooze fest. It’s a good thing we started with this game. If Sunday had ended with it I would have gone to bed with a bad taste in my mouth. DC United looked desperate and dreadful. New York looked better and boring. In the end, it was a late goal from BWP that sealed the victory for the Red Bulls on a 2-0 aggregate to send them to the Conference Finals.
There they will meet the Columbus Crew who overcame a 2-1 deficit from the first leg against Montreal in thrilling fashion. The Crew dominated early and had a 1-0 lead just four minutes in thanks to Kei Kamara. Columbus failed, however, to put the Impact away and Dilly Duka capitalized in the 40th minute to bring the leg level and keep the Impact in the driver’s seat. It wasn’t until the 77th minute when Ethan Finlay drew the aggregate even and sent the game spiraling into extra time. Unlike Seattle and FC Dallas, though, Columbus took advantage of the bonus play as Kamara netted his second of the game in the 111th minute, which turned out to be the game winner.
So it’s Portland vs. FC Dallas in the West and Columbus vs. New York in the East. Only one team left (Columbus) has ever won the Cup. That means a 75% chance of a first star for one of these clubs. Let the drama ensue. Zach will touch on the first legs next week since they don’t take place until two weeks from now. In any event, here are my series predictions: FC Dallas beats Portland 3-2 on aggregate. The Red Bulls defeat Columbus 4-3 on aggregate.
That’s it for this week. Be sure to read next week’s edition for Zach’s take. Have a great week, folks