Kick Off: Who has greater edge in playoffs, Houston or SJ?
So what position would you rather be in?
Would you prefer a 1-0 first leg road result with the second leg at home? Or perhaps taking a 2-0 first leg home win on the road for the return match? Those are the scenarios presented in two of the MLS playoff series that kicked off on Sunday.
First, it may not have been your typical wide open LA-SJ matchup, but it was the usual ending for the San Jose Earthquakes, who scored yet another stoppage-time goal to beat the LA Galaxy 1-0 in their Western Conference semifinal first leg (watch the highlights here / MLSsoccer.com editors break it down here).
LA Galaxy goalkeeper Josh Saunders faced the cameras (watch him here) after the match and took the fall for the free kick goal by San Jose’s Victor Bernardez, which skipped under the wall and under the Galaxy GK for the decisive goal: “My play was not acceptable. I'll take the blame for covering the goal.”
While MLSsoccer.com managing editor Jonah Freedman calls Saunders “perhaps LA’s weak link,” Landon Donovan and Bruce Arena disputed the foul called which presented Bernardez with the free kick opportunity: “If that’s a foul in this game, then there’s 100 fouls,” Arena said.
Regardless of the Galaxy’s opinion, the fact is that Bernardez now joins the Earthquakes’ “Goonies” club. Forward Alan Gordon gave the acceptance speech: “Hey, we’re all the Goonies, man. They’re all Goonies. Nobody’s left out of it.”
But LA aren’t scared of the Goonies. They sound pretty confident when they speak about Wednesday night’s second leg at Buck Shaw Stadium (11 pm ET, ESPN2): “There’s no reason why the guys in this room can’t go win a game in San Jose,” said Donovan. And those words were echoed word-for-word by David Beckham.
Arena did take a jab at the Earthquakes in his postgame comments: “A little bit of a fresher team came at us hard," he said. "You saw what they looked like in the second half. They were the ones falling on the floor, taking players out with cramps and all. Maybe the pace wasn't to their liking."
But San Jose manager Frank Yallop doesn’t necessarily disagree with Arena. Watch the reactions from the Quakes locker room, including a beaming Steven Lenhart and a frank assessment from Gordon who talks about “stealing a win away.” (VIDEO)
Wednesday could potentially mark the second-to-last game of the year at Buck Shaw Stadium, after MLS Commissioner Don Garber said that the MLS Cup final would not be held at the Quakes’ home stadium if they host the match.
And it could also be one of the final matches for MVP frontrunner Chris Wondolowski in his home city. He says he’s open to potential options abroad in the offsesason: “The door's always open, my ears are always open,” he told Goal.com. “I'll definitely weigh my options but I like where I am right now."
The No. 5 seed in the East, the Houston Dynamo, must like where they’re at: up 2-0 after the first leg of their aggregate goal series against the No. 1 seeded Sporting Kansas City (watch the highlights here / MLSsoccer.com editors break it down here).
While Houston forward Will Bruin had a goal and assist on the day, Adam Moffat’s sensational goal earned plenty of the plaudits. But Houston midfielder Ricardo Clark also received his due: “When you really pay attention, you appreciate him a whole lot more,” said one teammate.
Sporting manager Peter Vermes wasn’t so enamored with Houston’s style, which he called “tactical play.” He felt that the Dynamo fouled their way to their 2-0 win: “Even when our central defenders had the ball and were looking to play out, there was a foul from behind. That broke our rhythm, and that's why we couldn't play. At some point, the referee's got to step in and change that by giving a card, doing something.”
Houston manager Dominic Kinnear batted back that theory: “By no means are we looking to go out there to foul,” he said, while also noting that the BBVA Compass Stadium field “was terrible. … The ball’s bouncing quite a lot.”
Although Vermes sounded for a moment like he was giving a concession speech in one breath – “They're a good team. [The Dynamo] have a lot of experience. We're still growing as a team." – in another breath he wasn’t throwing in the towel: "I wouldn't use that word [disastrous]. There are many teams that have come back from this."
There was plenty of “it’s only halftime” talk coming out of the Sporting KC locker, where players admitted it would taken an “amazing” feat to advance to the Eastern Conference Championship: “I don’t think I’ve been on a team before that’s [overcome a 2-0 deficit], but it’s happened before. This is what we play for – to make amazing things happen.”
Maybe Sporting’s US national team midfielder Graham Zusi takes things a little too far in his outlook: “There’s not one person on our team that doesn’t think we can come back and win this next game 3-0, 4-0, 5-0.”
We’ll see if Sporting KC are helped out by an injury to Houston central defender Jermaine Taylor. More news is expected today on his left knee, but it’s no small matter when he leaves a match: “He's a man's man. He doesn't say a whole lot. He goes about his business in the correct way,” Kinnear said. “For him to let me know that he was struggling, you definitely believe him.”
Both D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls had their struggles in a wild first leg of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series which finished 1-1 at RFK Stadium on Saturday night (watch the highlights here / MLSsoccer.com editors break it down here).
It was an event-filled match featuring two own-goals in the same game for the first time in playoff history. D.C.’s Andy Najar was sent off for throwing the ball at the referee, his teammate Chris Pontius missed a penalty kick and goalkeeper Bill Hamid fell into his own net with the ball. All three United players had some explaining to do in this article.
And although they now need to win at Red Bull Arena (including potentially via penalty kicks) on Wednesday night (8 pm ET, NBC Sports Network), D.C. United are upbeat: “I always felt good about how we match up against them, and tonight just proved it right,” D.C. captain Pontius said after the first match.
D.C.’s club president echoed those sentiments: “I’m sure New York feels pretty good about going home,” Kevin Payne told The Washington Post, “but we feel good about how we played and how we match up with this team.”
Lots of confident talk coming out of D.C. United. The manager Ben Olsen insists that the Red Bulls are “a beatable team.”
But both teams may have to deal with a Nor’easter that’s on its way to New York which could make the second leg at Red Bull Arena “windy, rainy and cold.”
Home field is suddenly a big deal in the other Western Conference Semifinal which stands at 0-0 after the first leg at CenturyLink Field between Seattle and Real Salt Lake (watch the highlights here / MLSsoccer.com editors break it down here).
The series now shifts to Rio Tinto Stadium (Thursday at 9:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE): “When you walk away 0-0 in the away match and you get to go home to decide it, it feels like a pretty decent advantage to me right now," said RSL manager Jason Kreis.
Seattle star forward Eddie Johnson is expected to be fully recovered for the match, but ESPN analyst Alexi Lalas reported yesterday that he hasn’t yet participated in a full training since injuring his hamstring. Sounders manager Sigi Schmid says that EJ’s first practice will take place today.
What’s for sure is that failure won’t be taken lightly in Seattle if the Sounders are eliminated again in the postseason: “Certainly, if these playoffs don't go well for us, we will take that into account and try to figure out what's going to change that in the future," says GM Adrian Hanauer.
What? Still hungry for more soccer? Well, today you’ll have to settle for West Bromwich Albion vs. Southampton from the EPL (ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes, 3:00 pm ET) and Getafe vs. Real Betis from Spain’s La Liga (beIN Sport, 3:30 pm ET).
Well, all the playoff stories may have buried the major news story that unfolded in Montreal early Saturday morning when manager Jesse Marsch left the Impact by mutual consent.
And here's a look at who just might replace Marsch in Montreal.
Interesting developments at D.C. United: Jason Levien, who is one of the club’s part owners and charged with helping the team in its quest for a stadium, is reportedly set to become the new CEO and managing partner of the Memphis Grizzlies in the NBA.
Some news about the Portland Timbers: According to reports from Poland, right back Kosuke Kimura is on trial with Wisla Krakow. (POLISH)
And finally, an article that made the rounds over the weekend that will be of special interest to Philadelphia Union fans. The BBC World Service speaks to Freddy Adu about his career trajectory and he reveals a detail about his first year: “A lot of the guys in the locker room resented [me]. It was right in your face,” he said. “They would yell at me for the dumbest reasons."
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