Mixed Messages: Who will win the MLS Cup?
Greg Lalas, editor in chief
There is so much talent spread out among all eight teams in these playoffs, I’m at a loss to make a prediction. But, that’s the assignment. And so, I’m going with the LA Galaxy. Say what you will about RSL’s consistency, Dallas’ offense-defense balance, Seattle’s hot hand, New York’s DP power, Colorado’s attacking prowess, Wondo’s wondrousness, and Columbus’ veteran knowhow, the Galaxy have players precisely capable of winning when the game matters most. Like they say, never get involved in land war in Asia, and never bet against Bruce Arena when revenge and trophies are on the line.
David Agrell, new media editor
My head says RSL, but my heart says San Jose. However, my gut is calling for the Rapids — and I'm going with my gut on this one. Had it not been for a few moments of insanity late in Saturday's game vs. RSL, the Rapids would be heading into the playoffs having earned wins against each of the league's elite in recent weeks. Smith's Rapids are impressive at both ends of the field: The Cummings-Casey connection is brutally effective, and the defense looks sharper than earlier in the season. Also, they're in the weaker East bracket and they open their postseason against a sputtering Crew. I understand all the hype surrounding LA, New York, Seattle and Salt Lake, but this just feels like Colorado's year. Could we be looking at a Rocky Mountain Cup final?
Simon Borg, content producer
New York have arguably the easiest road to the final of any playoff team. Which is why they won't make it. Instead, Colorado will be crowned East champs and will meet FC Dallas, who will emerge from a grueling West bracket. And so a new MLS Cup champ will be crowned after what will prove to be a heavily scrutinized and hotly debated postseason, with much discussion surrounding the playoff format and the neutral site finale.
Nick Firchau, new media editor
Real Salt Lake players are no longer concerned with somehow making MLS fans outside of LA or New York take notice. They moved past that with last year’s MLS Cup and an impressive run at the Supporters’ Shield in 2010, despite balancing a CONCACAF Champions League schedule that all but shredded Toronto FC and pushed the Columbus Crew to the brink of a late-season collapse.
Now enter the challengers. The Galaxy have probably been the best team over the past two full seasons and will certainly make it interesting again, despite the exhaustion of Landon Donovan. The Red Bulls are a wonderful story but aren’t quite there yet. And the Seattle Sounders need one more year of maturity. The Rapids? Their collapse against RSL was a microcosm of a season of impressive results coupled with curious flops.
So we come back to RSL. They’ve been the most consistent team this year, and are probably the most cohesive and the deepest team in the postseason. They’re the embodiment of that simply wonderful Al Davis creed: Just win, baby. They win ugly, they win pretty, they win early and they win late. And this year, they’re going to win it all. Again.
Jonah Freedman, managing editor
RSL look unstoppable, the Galaxy look formidable and the Red Bulls look like they've got even more potential. But I can't stop thinking about the team that keeps proving me wrong. When Schellas Hyndman was hired away from SMU as an MLS head coach, there was no way I figured he'd succeed. With a disorganized bunch of underperformers, there's no way I figured FC Dallas would be in it for the long haul. With inconsistent play, there's no way they'd string together more than half a season without tasting defeat.
Again and again, the Hoops have proven me dead wrong on all counts. They're well-coached, they're greater than the sum of their parts and they will run and run you to death. They've got power in guys like Daniel Hernandez and Ugo Ihemelu. They've got speed and skill in guys like David Ferreira and Brek Shea. They've got heart in guys like Dax McCarty, Kevin Hartman and Eric Alexander. And they've got a little attitude from players like Jeff Cunningham, Atiba Harris and Jackson.
So their 19-game unbeaten streak is now a two-game winless streak? Go ahead, bet against them. That's just what they're hoping you'll do.
Fidencio Enriquez, new media editor
The time has come for the season’s top eight teams to collide and, at the end of it, when the smoke has cleared and the dust has settled, Seattle will remain standing.
The Sounders are a streaky team, and once they get going, they’re pretty hard to stop. They’ve got great finishers in Fredy Montero and Blaise Nkufo, speed on the wings with Steve Zakuani and Sanna Nyassi, a scrappy holding midfield formed by Osvaldo Alonso and Nathan Sturgis, and the veteran leadership of goalkeeper Kasey Keller.
Their test of fire, however, will be the LA Galaxy, who beat the Sounders twice in league play. Should the Rave Green prove victorious in the two-legged series against the season’s best squad, there’s no reason why the MLS Cup can’t join the US Open Cup in the Emerald City.
Edgar Acero, associate editor, FutbolMLS.com
Real Salt Lake have been, by far, the best team throughout the year and should take the MLS Cup. They didn't lose their form midseason the way LA did, and they didn't tie most of their games like FC Dallas. They are a team that fights to the end, as demonstrated against Colorado (twice). Seattle will provide somewhat of a surprise by eliminating the Galaxy, a team that is far from being the demolition machine it was at the beginning of the season.
So RSL will face New York in the final. The Red Bulls will top San Jose simply because Chris Wondolowski cannot beat a solid RBNY defense by himself. And because of their offensive prowess, Colorado should handle Columbus, a team that is simply not what it used to be. But the Red Bulls are better than the Rapids to the man.
Kristel Valencia, editor, FutbolMLS.com
NY – SJ: Despite of the catastrophic last regular season defeat (4-1 against the Wizards), there is no doubt that Wondo’s Quakes deserve to be in the playoffs. However, the Red Bulls’ momentum—and full roster of quality—Henry, Ángel, Márquez, Richards, Ream, Lindpere—are in a great moment.
CLB – COL: The Crew’s winless streak at the end of the regular season was concerning, but Sunday's 3-1 win over Philly gives Columbus some tranquility. But the Rapids are the better team, capable of defeating the Crew both at home and away.
LA-SEA: Seattle’s the hottest team in MLS right now and their strength is in the attack: Nkufo, Montero & Co.. But defensively, they are vulnerable. The Galaxy struggled at the end of the regular season, but when Donovan, Beckham and Buddle fuse together, they are unbeatable.
RSL-DAL: David Ferreira has been the standout of an impressive Dallas season. But RSL are still the class of the league.
For the Conference finals, New York will lift the Eastern Conference Championship and will meet RSL in the MLS Cup final.