After taking a few days to decompress from that horrific loss on Thursday night, when the DP heavy Red Bulls became the first team to bow out of the 2010 MLS Cup, here's an assessment of the first round.
Colorado-Columbus - Columbus almost made me look good, as I'd predicted that they would come through the series on the back of their playmaker Schelotto. I wasn't able to watch the game, so I dont know how right I was about him, but in the end Columbus could not keep Colorado from scoring as well, and the trip to the Eastern Conference final was decided by Russian Roulette: with the aggregate tied 2-2, Colorado took the series on penalties.
RSL -FCD - I had picked RSL, and was really surprised when they lost the first leg. They'd been steadily great, and FCD seemed like they were on a downward swing after a very consistent run. Even with the loss of the first leg I was reasonably confident they would make up for it at home, which has been a fortress for them. Unfortunately they couldn't get it done. and yet another silly soccer hairdo has seen its last action for the year. Thanks to my lack of FSC, I was unable to watch either game, so I dont have too much to say about either.
NYRB- San Jose - After a comprehensive performance in the first leg that fell short only in the fact that NY was not able to score more than once (thanks to Playoff MVP frontrunner Jon Busch,) NY was poised to trounce San Jose and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals in their destined path to their first MLS Cup. Someone should have told San Jose. The Quakes came out and took advantage of a NY side that didn't come to play at first, who played as if their tickets were already booked. Convey's early goal put them on notice, and after that they began to take the game to their opponents, but as I saw soooo many times this year, even with their offensive talents, they were unable to take full advantage of their opportunities.
Part of the credit has to go to Busch, who saved pretty much every damn shot in this game. Part of the blame has to go to Rafa Marquez, who not only failed to mark Convey on his early goal, but also miscued several shots from distance and one or two corners (as an aside, did anyone else notice how much Jon Harkes seems to dislike Marquez? He was killing him all night. He did mention the Coby Jones incident once, I wonder if that's what's behind it.)
New York dominated the game for most of the first half, and most of the second as well, getting a great performance out of the young Colombian Agudelo. Convey's second goal, for which he blew right by Tim Ream, came against the run of play, but NY found itself right back in the game when JPA headed home a cross from Agudelo that brought the crowd back into things. The same crowd was silenced when Convey's ball to Wondolowski was headed in for San Jose's third of the night a few moments later
It was only after this that Backe finally brought on the 5 million dollar man, Thierry Henry, but in his eight+ minutes he was unable to turn the tide, and the Red Bulls were upset by the lowly Quakes.
Some observations on this game: First, after the game, Alexi Lalas said: " this was an MLS result," and I agree wholeheartedly. My agreement is based in some part on the quality of the refereeing. I can't point to too many particular events, just a sense of bemusement that never left me through the match. It seemed like a card or two earlier could have prevented some shenanigans, but it is the playoffs so I guess the theory is to let some things go. The scenario I still don't understand was after NY had tied it, JPA had a break in on goal. Busch basically tackled him, preventing a goal, and was given a yellow card. The announcers said that the whistle had been blown, I am assuming because smoke was blowing onto the field. I dont recall the mention of an offside flag. Not that San Jose didnt deserve the win, but I just had a bad feeling about the officiating all game long.
The second was coaching. NY was not ready to play at first, and lapses like the one that allowed Convey's first goal should never happen in a knockout game. Obviously its the players fault but part of the coaches job is to mentally prepare them. Also, why did Backe wait so long to bring in Henry? Yes Agudelo was playing great, but according to the sideline reporter they were planning to take Angel off for Henry before Angel scored that header. So why not pull the trigger sooner? If you're not winning yet, then bring him in. As Steve Mcmanaman said after the game, if he's fit enough for eight minutes, he's fit enough for 28 minutes. Right after I argue that Backe should be coach of the year, he shows some questionable coaching decisions.
The third relates to DPs and future MLS player acquisitions. You have to wonder what the season would have been like if NY's marquee signings had been able to play at 100 percent for the part of the season that they were here as well as the playoffs. It's clear that European players underestimate the physicality of MLS, and this was made worse this year because the World Cup meant that most of these guys didnt get any sort of break before coming here. Other DP newcomers didnt have the same problems as Henry and Marquez this year, but the athleticism required to be a star in MLS seems to take most by surprise. Hopefully with this seasoning under their belt and a year with their stars at full fitness, next year will finally be the breakout year for NY. But I will be holding my breath, because we've heard that before.
LA - Seattle - LA was just better. They wanted it more, they came to play, they shut down Seattle. There was no one in a green shirt that looked even close to what you saw from Beckham and Donovan, not to mention the rest of the LA team. As the Seattle coach said himself "The game was too big an occasion for a couple of guys on our team."
What more can you add to that? Honestly it looks like LA as a team are on a mission to finally claim the cup for the anointed. Last year that mission was foiled by a PK shootout, and it seems like they are set to make amends this time. The main difference between last year and this year is this year you have an in-form Edson Buddle, to add some punch to the LA attack. His goals, with pinpoint service from Beckham in the second leg, were key to their win. Although anything can happen in this crazy format, you have to like LA's chances if they keep up this kind of play