Kick Off: Galaxy, Houston oust top seeds in MLS playoffs
The Goonies may never say die, but that doesn't make them immortal.
On a wild night of MLS action on Wednesday, MLS Supporters' Shield winners the San Jose Earthquakes crashed out of the MLS playoffs after falling 3-1 to the LA Galaxy in the second leg of their Western Conference Semifinal series. That result gave the Galaxy, the reigining MLS Cup holders, a 3-2 aggregate victory.
LA came into Buck Shaw Stadium and put on a masterclass, posting a three-goal lead before halftime, thanks to a brace from Robbie Keane and a well-worked goal from Mike Magee. WATCH THE HIGHLIGHTS.
Galaxy boss Bruce Arena was more than bullish postmatch: “We've been the best team in this league since July. We actually were very comfortable we could come in here and win.”
Keane's sublime brace was just the latest impressive performance from the Irish striker, who scored 13 goals in the final 19 matches after returning from the European Championship in June. Speaking about finally beating San Jose after not winning any of the four previous encounters, Keane kept it simple. “It’s when it counts isn’t it? Today counted.”
While Keane was in red-hot form on Wednesday night, the Quakes' 27-goalscorer Chris Wondolowski had an off night. Despite being a near-lock for league MVP, Wondo held his hand up: “I know right off the bat I had three very good chances. I missed all three, and I let the team down.”
The Galaxy now play in the Conference Championship for the fourth year in a row, as Arena’s men face either Real Salt Lake or the Seattle Sounders, who will complete their semifinal series on Thursday night at Rio Tinto Stadium (10 pm ET, NBC Sports Network, live chat on MLSsoccer.com). But more on that game later.
The East saw the Houston Dynamo record a 2-1 aggregate win over Sporting KC to reach their fifth Conference Championship game in seven seasons. Remarkable. The Dynamo were defeated 1-0 on Wednesday night at a packed Livestrong Sporting Park, but they held on just long enough to get the series victory.
Houston's head coach Dominic Kinnear praised his players and staff for yet another clutch display in the postseason: “Five conference finals in seven years is something the team should be proud of."
And despite being knocked out of the playoffs at home to Houston for the second-straight season, Sporting captain and ‘keeper Jimmy Nielsen is proud of his teammates efforts this season. “We did everything in our power to come back in this series. We can leave with our heads held high."
Seth Sinovic’s 64th-minute goal (WATCH HIGHLIGHTS HERE) gave the Sporting faithful hope but Peter Vermes’ side couldn’t convert sustained pressure into a crucial second goal that would have taken the series to overtime.
Seventy-one percent of the possession tells it own story. But only registering four shots on frame from 20 was Sporting’s undoing. SKC boss Vermes reflected on a frustrating end to an otherwise impressive year for Kansas City: “We created some chances, just missed a few opportunities. It's unfortunate, but I'm proud of the players.”
So who are Houston’s opponents in the Eastern Conference Championship? Well, we all have to wait a little longer to find that out.
New York and D.C. United tried to sort things out as scheduled on Wednesday night; however, Mother Nature refused to play along. A blizzard slammed the New York area hours before kickoff, just days after Hurricane Sandy has already had an impact on this series.
Despite the best efforts of the ground staff at RBA, the game was called off due to concerns of “jeopardizing the safety of the athletes.”
Check out this incredible picture posted on Twitter by MLS Insider as both teams warmed up in the snow.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber even got a shovel out to try and prepare the stadium, but MLS officials eventually made the decision to reschedule the match for Thursday night (7:30 pm ET, NBC Sports, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
Sporting News' Brian Straus had this from D.C. United's outlook, as their coaching staff and players were left “baffled” at the game being postponed.
But the United players did climb over the advertising boards and went into the crowd to personally thank over 700 traveling fans that had packed into a section of Red Bull Arena. Classy touch from Ben Olsen’s men.
While D.C. had a problem with the postponement, Red Bulls boss Hans Backe called it a “very easy decision," citing the slickness of the field and the magnitude of the match.
So now there will be two MLS Conference Semifinal second-leg showdowns on Thursday evening, with the huge tie between RSL and Seattle at Rio Tinto. The series is hanging precariously in the balance, after a 0-0 stalemate in the first leg on Friday in Seattle.
The Seattle Times asked Sigi Schmid how his team talk will sound before the crucial clash with RSL. Schmid got all political. “Sometimes that changes on the afternoon as I think about it. (Tuesday) was filled with election news, so maybe it will have to do with the election."
Will Schmid have star striker Eddie Johnson? Maybe. He remains a game-time decision.
On the other side of the fence, RSL are hoping for a full roster to pick from with several injury concerns returning to practice on the eve of the season-defining match. Watch this update from Rio Tinto.
With the MLS playoffs dominating the US soccer scene, there was some significant news concerning the USMNT on Wednesday. Jurgen Klinsmann’s men were given their schedule for the Hexagonal after the CONCACAF draw took place in Miami. Will the US be hosting Mexico in another chilly winter encounter in Columbus?
Back to the US quickly, and NASL side Minnesota Stars finally have a new owner, which should safeguard the club's future after they came agonizingly close to winning their second straight NASL championship in 2012.
The Montreal Impact came close to an playoff spot in their first year in MLS. Instead, they are in Italy for a winter tour. They will face Bologna on Thursday, and Impact striker Marco Di Vaio spoke about his “emotional return” to former club Bologna.
For American Exports, things were probably emotional for US defender Michael Parkhurst on Wednesday, after his FC Nordsjælland side got on against Italian giants Juventus in the UEFA Champions League.
Elsewhere in the UCL, Celtic pulled off one of the greatest nights in their history, by defeating Barcelona 2-1 at a raucous Celtic Park. The result was too much for legendary singer Rod Stewart to handle: He wept with joy.
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