The Conference Semis are set.
In nippy conditions last night in Commerce City, the Colorado Rapids froze the Columbus Crew out of the playoffs at the first hurdle for the second year running. Omar Cummings scored his first playoff goal to seal a 1-0 wild card match and book a date with Sporting Kansas City in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, which kick off Saturday (7:30 pm ET, Fox Soccer). Watch highlights here.
The Jamaican international's roommate, Kosuke Kimura, set up the goal. After Brian Mullan found him in the box, the Japanese fullback looked up and "Omar was standing there, just chilling by himself." A quick pass and shot and Colorado were one up in the seconds before halftime.
Cummings celebrated by Tebowing – kneeling in prayer à la Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow.
Robert Warzycha sent strikers Jeff Cunningham, Emilio Rentería and Tom Heinemann into the fray in the second half, but Drew Moor and his Rapids defense held firm. “To be honest, I thought they would come out and put a little more pressure on us,” Moor said. (VIDEO)
So did Warzycha — according to Opta, Columbus only put one shot on frame. “To be honest with you, we didn't create too many chances.” (VIDEO)
Colorado coach Gary Smith wondered if the Crew lacked a mental edge. Columbus slipped into the wild card slots on the last day of the season and had to play at altitude in below-freezing temperatures. “My main thought was, they probably weren't expecting an extra game.” (VIDEO)
Maybe Rapids owner Stan Kroenke wasn't planning on a wild card match, either. Kroenke was in London, attending an annual general meeting for Arsenal, a club he also owns, and making plenty of press waves in England by speaking on the record.
Kroenke may say little to reporters, but Adrian Hanauer certainly doesn't shy away. The Seattle Sounders GM generously obliges any hack in need of a quote. With the playoffs expanded to 10 teams, the format took some finagling. The setup has come under scrutiny, and Hanauer thinks the league will be reexamining it next year. "There's a competition committee meeting coming up real soon. That'll, I'm sure, be on the agenda."
Meanwhile, Seattle's Western Conference Semifinals opponent is Real Salt Lake. The two-legged tie kicks off Saturday (10 pm ET, ESPN2/ESPN Deportes) at Utah's Rio Tinto Stadium, which pleases RSL coach Jason Kreis: “That probably plays into [an RSL advantage], having the first game at home. It allows us to be more aggressive in our play and get a good start.”
With Seattle leading the league in scoring and RSL known for their slick attacking play, it's unlikely either team will park the bus. Still, soccer fans in Utah might want to pay attention to where they park their cars. Fans attending RSL matches at Rio Tinto have received parking tickets despite no warning from poor street signage, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.
Another heavyweight playoff matchup pits the league's two highest-profile teams – the LA Galaxy and the New York Red Bulls – against each other in the other Western Conference Semi (Sunday, 3 pm ET, ESPN2/ESPN Deportes). One of LA's Designated Players might miss the opening leg, though there is some confusion as to his injury. Robbie Keane is listed as questionable with an adductor strain, but he told Irish journalists that it's a torn thigh muscle.
More clear is the steady progress made by the Philadelphia Union. The franchise will play its first playoff match Sunday against Houston (5 pm ET, ESPN2/ESPN Deportes), with CEO Nick Sakiewicz saying the goal was to qualify in its second year. Another sign of improvement is television viewership. According to Sakiewicz, the Union saw a 100 percent increase from the first year to the second.
The expansion Portland Timbers didn't make the playoffs their first year, either. However, the players aren't on holiday just yet. “The teams, the successful ones, are training up until the MLS Cup,” coach John Spencer said. As such, Portland will continue to train into November as well.
Apparently, no one in the Timbers organization is resting. General manager Gavin Wilkinson will spend the next month scouting Colombia, Ghana, Togo and Europe. Club owner Merritt Paulson tweeted: “My apologies to the Wilkinson family ... GW to spend 21 of the next 30 days on a global scouting trip.”
Several other teams also begin the process of rebuilding for a playoff push in 2012. Over in Chicago, the Fire need, according to defender Cory Gibbs, "minimal tweaking. Minimal tweaking." In San Jose, the Earthquakes have a list of 60 names management will look at closer in the offseason.
And Toronto FC will hope a core of young talent can develop. Several teenagers forced their way into the starting lineup, which surprised even themselves. They “fought for the minutes that we got. But it was also unexpected," 20-year-old Ashtone Morgan said.
Also with the aim of pushing on after an impressive season is Bill Hamid, who worked his way into the US national team setup. The D.C. United goalkeeper will train for a week with West Bromwich Albion during the offseason.
Hamid's D.C. teammate, Golden Boot winner Dwayne De Rosario, performed well enough in his few months with the club to enter the MVP discussion. Still, some are questioning United's verbal commitments to bringing the Canadian back next season. This piece in The New York Times wonders if DeRo will be worth the coin heading into his mid-30s.
DeRo has had his contract disputes in the past, but he's a saint compared to Carlos Tévez. The latest in his hugely publicized ordeal is that the Professional Footballers' Association refused to support Manchester City's four-week penalty for the Argentine international allegedly refusing to play against Bayern Munich. The fine has been cut in half.
Sticking with Man. City, manager Roberto Mancini personally e-mailed everyone at the club to warn against complacency following a 6-1 derby drubbing of Manchester United last weekend.
City appear ready to break into European soccer's elite. However, when the playing elite gather for the 2014 World Cup, Brazil might not be prepared. "Brazil is not ready," said Pelé. "Not yet, it is not ready.”
For fans ready to watch soccer on an MLS-less Friday, check out Freiburg tussle with Bayer Leverkusen in the German Bundesliga on ESPN3.com at 3 pm ET or tune in for High Point against Virginia Commonwealth in college ball on Fox Soccer at 7 pm ET.
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