Another Game 2 tonight
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What happened?: Logan Ndenbe scored his second goal of the series (and his second professional goal) just before halftime and Daniel Sallói finished off a breakaway opportunity as eighth-seeded SKC rolled to a Round One upset over first-seeded St. Louis CITY SC.
So, did we learn anything?: Sporting KC are as scary as any team in the West right now. They didn’t bulldoze St. Louis like they did Game 1, but they still controlled the match from start to finish. They were simply the better team.
That’s been true for a while now. And I don’t mean “better than St. Louis,” I mean “better than the rest of the West.” No team in the West has been better on points per game since the end of SKC’s 10-game winless streak to start the season. I know we keep harping on that, but it’s important to qualify the fact this isn’t a fluky upset generated by sending the MLS Chaos Machine into overdrive. This is one of the league’s best teams taking down a St. Louis side that spent all year outrunning their underlying numbers like the main character in a horror movie. The monster always catches up, right?
That being said, any takes declaring St. Louis’ season some kind of failure after this loss are absurd. They came into the season with no expectations and the league’s second-lowest payroll. It doesn’t matter how they got there or how it ended, the fact they finished with the conference’s best record makes this one of the single-most remarkable performances in MLS history. They’ll likely take a step back next season. But 2023 has been an unprecedented success.
Which has to make this even sweeter for SKC. They’ve done something just as remarkable here. However, it’s not going to get easier after taking down the top seed. SKC will be on the road the rest of the way. In MLS, no matter how well you’re playing, that means the odds are stacked against you. Then again, they only need three more wins. What’s three more wins to a team that’s pulled off one of the great safety rolls out of a fall in MLS history?
What happened?: Denis Bouanga sent home a penalty and LAFC advanced to the conference semifinals. It didn’t come without controversy though. The call that sent Bouanga to the spot will be hotly debated for a while and moments throughout the game built to a crescendo that eventually led to Whitecaps head coach Vanni Sartini to the locker room a few minutes early after earning a red card.
“At the end, we didn't have a fair chance, to be honest,” Sartini said. “Because today unfortunately the referee had a bad game."
So, did we learn anything?: LAFC are moving on all the same. The Whitecaps failed to score in Game 2 and gave up four set-piece goals in Game 1. That isn’t going to get the job done, even if they have some legitimate grievances from last night.
LAFC have survived a tough opening test against a very good team. Now, they’ll wait to see if they’re heading to Seattle or hosting Dallas in the semifinals. They’d obviously rather be at home, but they have the juice to go on the road and beat anyone in the West. This group isn’t as impressive as last year’s, but don’t let that fool you. They have what it takes to make it back-to-back MLS Cups.
Real Salt Lake went into their Game 1 game against Houston missing multiple starters, including DP forward Chicho Arango and starting center back Justen Glad. It went about how you’d expect for a team whose final two months of the season were already defined by their struggles without starting midfielder Pablo Ruiz. Houston had 78% possession and out-created RSL 2.0 xG to 0.5 xG.
Tonight, there’s a chance Arango and Glad are back. It’s not a certainty. But there is a chance. If they are back and look something like themselves, then the path to a win for RSL is clear. They just need to play their game, take advantage of being at home and they should be able to go punch for punch with Houston. If neither can go or Arango in particular isn’t available, then it’s going to take something a little more special. Maybe RSL can turn to Diego Luna again to put in another excellent performance?
No matter the personnel, there should be significant resources focused on slowing down Hector Herrera in this one. Herrera led the league in the middle and attacking third in a metric from American Soccer Analysis called “Touch Percentage.” Basically, no player had a larger percentage of his team’s touches in the final two-thirds of the pitch. Herrera’s abilities as a conductor were on full display in Game 1 as he compiled over 130 touches and the Dynamo overwhelmed RSL. They’ll have to find a way to make him matter a little less tonight.
Most importantly though, RSL are at home. In MLS that’s all that matters most of the time. Houston will have to deal with the altitude of Sandy, Utah and whatever unseen forces are at play that give MLS teams the biggest home-field advantage in the world. It won’t be surprising if they even this up. But it’s fair to wonder if they can make the most of the opportunity after they were overrun in Game 1.
- An outraged Vanni Sartini said the Vancouver Whitecaps “didn’t have a fair chance” as they exited the playoffs.
- LAFC advanced with eyes toward an MLS Cup repeat.
- Sporting Kansas City have swept St. Louis CITY and are asking an important question: “Why stop now?”
- St. Louis CITY's dream season struck midnight in the playoffs.
- The New York Red Bulls recognized there are "greater expectations" after another playoff heartbreak.
Good luck out there. End the party in style.