Kick Off: Conference Semifinal field set as LA fight off upset
All aboard the California Clasico.
What a weekend we have in store. The Conference Semifinal playoff bracket is set, and the matchups are veritably juicy.
An upset looked on the cards after Darren Mattocks produced a fine finish not five minutes into the match, but the Galaxy rallied for a 2-1 victory to set up a crunch Western Conference Semifinal series with rivals San Jose, despite Vancouver leading for almost 70 minutes.
Afterwards a relieved Galaxy locker room had Mike Magee to thank (yet again in the playoffs) for digging them out of a hole.
“He’s a type of player that shines in moments like this," Landon Donovan said. "There’s something special about players like that. Mike scores goals that matter. He’s done it consistently since he’s been here.”
Magee equalized in the 69th minute with a wonderful side-volley to finally tie the game up after Mattocks’ gave the ‘Caps something to hold onto. The visitors defended doggedly for two-thirds of the match, but Jay DeMerit's substitution was the blow they couldn't come back from, as Donovan scored the game-winning goal from the penalty spot in the 73rd minute to complete a quick-fire Galaxy turnaround.
“To come back against a team that was content to defend 11 guys behind the ball," Donovan said, "I thought it was really impressive that we were able to break them down.”
Martin Rennie’s defensive game plan worked almost exactly as planned, until five minutes of madness ensued. Vancouver were happy to sit back and defend their lead, but just couldn’t hold on with ‘keeper Brad Knighton under increasing pressure as the Knockout Round clash wore on.
“I’m sure people watching on TV around the world [who thought], ‘Well, these guys might be able to pull it off,’" Knighton said. "That’s kind of the feeling that we had.”
But they didn’t, of course, as Rennie was left to debate the penalty call that ended Vancouver’s season. (WATCH)
“That was the turning point in the game because I think we had frustrated LA and they were not in a comfortable position," Rennie said. "I’d like to see it again but it would take a lot to convince me that it was a penalty.”
The Vancouver Sun labeled the display “ugly” but it nearly got the job done, as Canada’s first-ever side to reach the MLS playoffs fell at the first hurdle.
So with the field in place for the Conference Semis, let’s look ahead to a bumper weekend of playoff action.
First up is a monster clash in the West, as Seattle host Real Salt Lake on Friday night (10 pm ET, NBC Sports Network, live chat on MLSsoccer.com) in a rematch of last season’s contentious Western Semifinal.
RSL ‘keeper Nick Rimando expects a defensive battle, with the second- and third-best defenses in MLS up against each other at CenturyLink: “I go in there not wanting [Seattle] to score any against us, and I think they do the same thing,”
But one of RSL’s key defensive cogs is questionable for the tie. See who, here.
On the other side, Seattle hope home-field advantage will put them in a positive position for the second leg at Rio Tinto.
But they will likely be missing leading scorer Eddie Johnson, who is battling with an adductor strain. CCL wiz Sammy Ochoa is in line to replace EJ.
Seattle are ready to avenge last year’s playoff defeat to RSL, watch head coach Sigi Schmid’s press conference here.
Yet “advancing and not payback” is the real aim for the Sounders, as the Seattle Times builds the hype ahead of the huge playoff clash.
Meanwhile, the guys at NBC preview what to expect ahead of their live coverage.
On Saturday, our attention shifts to the nation’s capital, as D.C. United host the New York Red Bulls (8 pm ET, NBC Sports Network, live chat on MLSsoccer.com) with RFK Stadium the venue after Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc around Red Bull Arena, flip-flopping home dates.
Despite working hard to seal home-field advantage in the postseason, D.C.’s players aren’t focused on the last-minute switch.
Brandon McDonald summed up the mood in the United locker room: "Obviously you want the second game at home, but there's nothing you can do. You're praying for the people in New Jersey and New York."
On the other side of the equation, Red Bulls captain Thierry Henry believes “it doesn’t change anything.”
Either way, with the good-will gesture winning plaudits across the league, niceties are sure to go out the window when the whistle blows at RFK on Saturday.
Then, on Sunday, a MLS Cup Playoff double-header ensues, with in-form Houston hosting Sporting KC (3:30 pm ET, NBC, live chat on MLSsoccer.com) in the first-ever playoff game at BBVA.
The City of Houston has declared Friday “Dynamo Day,” with citizens encouraged to wear orange to work to celebrate the playoffs heading to downtown Houston.
Will Bruin fired the Dynamo to victory on Wednesday and went all “Austin Powers” when reflecting on his two-goal performance: "Honestly, it's been such a long season that it's nice to have that mojo back come playoff time.”
Sporting’s players have had 10 days off to relax and recapture their own mojo for the playoffs. But despite that, Peter Vermes has been working his squad hard as they head to Texas.
Midfielder Graham Zusi believes the break has been hugely beneficial, especially considering some of the injury issues the side has dealt with: “It's good for a couple of guys coming off some knocks. I think we're going to be extremely fresh going into that first game, and very sharp as well.”
Fox Sports’ Leander Schaerlaeckens has been impressed with Sporting KC’s sharpness. He takes an in-depth look at Sporting’s rise over the past few seasons.
Rounding off the Conference Semifinal first-legs on Sunday night, San Jose travel to LA to face the Galaxy (9 pm ET, ESPN, live chat on MLSsoccer.com) with Wondo & Co. eager to get going again.
San Jose were unbeaten in California Clasico matches during the regular-season, smashing nine goals past LA in three matches. A rejuvenated Omar Gonzalez is hoping he can help shut down the potent San Jose offense. He spoke to Soccer By Ives about plans to win another MLS Cup and earn a recall to the USMNT.
The Quakes will have to prepare for Donovan, David Beckham and Robbie Keane, but they can't forget about Magee, who is in top playoff form. Here are three things that came out of LA’s narrow win over Vancouver. Take note, Mr. Yallop.
The fallout of Donovan’s interview with ESPN on Wednesday night continues, with USMNT manager Jurgen Klinsmann having his say on Donovan’s recent comments about taking a break from soccer.
Klinsi named Donovan on his preliminary roster for this month’s friendly with Russia and had this to say about Donovan’s comments: “It’s clearly down to him and what he wants to further achieve in his career and what he wants to do. And whatever he decides to do will be very respected by us.”
MLSsoccer.com’s Jonah Freedman took a closer look at Donovan’s insightful interview in this week’s Throw-In. The message: The man has earned the right to choose his own path.
While Donovan mulls calling it quits, one veteran finally did on Thursday as Montreal forward Eduardo Sebrango retired at the age of 39.
Impact sporting director Nick De Santis hailed Sebrnago and left the door open for a role with Montreal: “He is the most professional and human person I’ve ever seen. We will now discuss how to work out a future for him with us.”
Over in Europe, it was a successful evening for Jozy Altidore as he smashed home two goals in a cup win for AZ Alkmaar. See how the other American exports got on, here.
One MLS player won't be headed across the Atlantic, as Toronto FC ‘keeper Stefan Frei passed on returning to Europe for offseason training, insisting its better for him to remain at TFC and work on getting 100 percent fit.
In other news, despite Keane’s brilliant season for the Galaxy, his on-pitch fame hasn’t quite resonated off the field in LA just yet. In a picture showing Keane posing with David Beckham and Russell Brand at a Lakers game, Keane was captioned as “an unidentified fan.” Don’t worry, we still love you, Robbie.
And finally, Kelsey Grammer will be attending an FA Cup first-round tie on Saturday, as Blue Square Bet Premier side Ebbsfleet United have a new celebrity fan. The Frasier star will reportedly be joining the “Cod Army” faithful, to cheer on the non-league side as they travel to League One Carlisle. The connection: his brother-in-law Phil Walsh is a striker for Ebbsfleet. Cheers.
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