Monday, November 09, 2009

Football Americana: Conference semi-finals, second leg

The second batch of Major League Soccer playoff games saw some tense football, great goals and short tempers. At the end of it, four teams progressed to the two conference finals. But did David Beckham and Cuauhtemoc Blanco make it?

On the 5th November, the King was dead. Columbus Crew were behind 1-0 on aggregate against Real Salt Lake and, despite quickly setting about overturning the deficit, the champions were ejected from the playoffs at the first hurdle.

By the 35th minute, a double from Guillermo Barros Schelotto had turned the series on its head. The first came from a 50-yard free kick which bounced in at the far post, the second from a much crisper strike into the bottom corner.

From there on in, it was all RSL. Javier Morales poked in the aggregate equaliser just a minute after Schelotto's second and Robbie Findley's spot kick levelled matters on the night in first half stoppage time. Andy Williams gave Schelotto a taste of his own medicine, firing in a low cross which found the net to put the game beyond the Crew with quarter of an hour remaining. Real Salt Lake advance.

New England Revolution took a 2-1 advantage to Toyota Park where they faced Chicago Fire on Saturday. Edgaras Jankauskas hit the crossbar for the Revs but it was Chicago's John Thorrington who opening the scoring in the 34th minute, finishing neatly after Marco Pappa's pull-back.

The Fire really took the game to New England and got a deserved winner with a little over five minutes remaining. Almost inevitably, it was Cuauhtemoc Blanco who secured himself at least another MLS game before his return to Veracruz. Having hit the crossbar minutes earlier, Blanco kept his composure in the area and found the top corner to send the Fire into the Eastern final.

Referee Alex Bruce courted controversy with 20 minutes remaining, failing to punish Revolution sub Mauricio Castro after he appeared to blast the ball into the crowd having been asked to leave the field to deal with a cut. Chicago Fire advance.

The tension was apparent at Robertson Stadium on Sunday, where Houston Dynamo and Seattle Sounders reached the 180-minute mark without a goal between them.

But it didn't take long once extra time had begun. Mike Chabala had been running up and down the left flank all day and it paid off when Brian Mullan kept his deep cross alive at the back post, allowing Brian Ching to crack in a brilliant volley.

James Riley of the Sounders was red carded in the last minute for a dangerous tackle but in truth Seattle had not looked like scoring the crucial equaliser regardless. Houston Dynamo advance.

After witnessing the circus-like defending in the first leg, supporters will have been forgiven for expecting a goalfest in the Superclasico at Home Depot Center. But one goal was enough to see LA Galaxy safely through to the Western Final and send Chivas USA crashing out.

The nervy defending still revealed itself on occasion, but thanks to some brilliant goalkeeping from both Zach Thornton and Donovan Ricketts it was a penalty which won the game for LA.

Mike Magee was fouled after a quick move featuring breathtaking passes from David Beckham and Landon Donovan, and it was Donovan who stepped up, gave mindgame-playing goalkeeper Thornton the eyes and won it from the spot. The end of the match was marred by an ugly confrontation which appeared to be sparked when Chivas coach Preki headed towards Dema Kovalenko at the final whistle. LA Galaxy advance.

So the conference Finals are set, and in the West we have a right old humdinger. On Friday, Houston Dynamo travel to Carson to face LA Galaxy at Home Depot Center. And in the East, Chicago Fire host Western side Real Salt Lake on Saturday.

The two finals will be played over one leg only, and the winners will play for MLS Cup on November 22nd in Seattle. My money remains on the Galaxy.

For more great writing by Chris Nee, visit TwoFootedTackle.com.

2 comments:

redduffman said...

Fire all the way.

Elliott said...

The Beckham pass was stunning, the Donovan pass subtle, and the Magee first touch stupefying. Still, it was nice to see a cheeky penalty kick by Landon in a pressure situation.

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