Perhaps the best two days of Major League Soccer’s season is upon us, as the first round of the playoffs wrap up with all four series in the balance
Last weekend’s first legs did not produce any true blowouts, and all 90 minutes will be likely needed this weekend to produce the final four clubs in MLS.
While all four series remain up in the air, some of the trailing clubs have bigger mountains to climb this weekend. The MetroStars are chief among those that have a deficit to make up, and they have to win at least by two goals away at RFK Stadium against D.C. United in order to force extra time.
Kansas City has the same arrears against the San Jose Earthquakes, but at least they can depend on their strong play at Arrowhead Stadium in order to prolong the team’s season. Both Columbus and Los Angeles have 1-0 deficits to make up at home, and will try to avoid the upset traps New England and Colorado respectively have laid for the series favorites.
Start with the two number one seeds; in the East, the Crew will try to overcome Avery John’s strike in the first leg at home. New England is set to remain with the same starting 11, but likely without the services of wingback Chris Wingert (knee injury) and with Simon Elliott carrying an ankle knock, Columbus is less than full strength going into a must-win match.
“We know what New England is all about,” forward Kyle Martino said to the Columbus Dispatch. “The only way to get back is to match that. That’s what the playoffs are. You’ve got to go all out.”
“It’s a whole new look, a whole new season,” he said. “All we accomplished during the season is behind us.”
In deeper than the Crew, Kansas City must beat the defending champion Earthquakes soundly by opening up their usually tight play in the back in order to chase the goals they desperately need. However, Bob Gansler should have veteran goalkeeper and team captain Tony Meola available despite his nagging Achilles tendon injury. The duo of Davy Arnaud and Josh Wolff, so strong in the regular season, will need to avoid repeating their ineffective impact of last weekend by trying to exploit the Earthquakes’ backline with pace.
At RFK, D.C. holds all the cards Saturday against the MetroStars. Up two goals, Bob Bradley knows his side has everything to do in order to prevail. While Peter Nowak is unlikely to later a winning lineup, his former coach and opposing manager Bob Bradley could alter the MetroStars into a more attacking side. Craig Ziadie, suspended for the first leg, is set to replace Tim Regan at right back.
“We go down there to win,” said Bradley. “If you get that first goal, as the game moves along, then you know exactly what it takes. Soccer is a funny game. Tonight I thought the breaks went a little their way, but hopefully we can turn it around next week.”
Perhaps the team that has the most riding on success this weekend is the Galaxy; Los Angeles jettisoned cup-winning manager Sigi Schmid despite a strong record in order to give Steve Sampson control of the squad. But Los Angeles has struggled mightily as of late, especially in attack. Colorado will go into the Home Depot Center willing to soak up pressure with a goal lead on aggregate, and the Galaxy desperately needs its name stars, like Carlos Ruiz, to step up their play.
Original Article written by Aris Ohanessian