Hot Topic Soccer Insider
Previewing the MLS playoffs
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Each of the eight playoff clubs is a legitimate contender, a fact both good and bad for MLS.
The competition is wide open and should provide intriguing matches at every stage leading to MLS Cup on Nov. 22 at Qwest Field in Seattle. But this season's parity -- the difference between first and 12th place in a 15-team league was just 10 points, no club won more than 13 of 30 matches, none had a goal differential better than plus-10 -- also means the playoffs lack a gold standard or evil empire.
Reigning champion Columbus or re-emerging Los Angeles, which employs the league's high-profile duo of David Beckham and Landon Donovan, fill that void to some extent. But without a significant gulf in records and roster strength, none of the first-round outcomes is likely to cause a stir. It also doesn't help that home-field advantage barely exists in the first round: the higher seed hosts the second leg of a two-game series decided by total goals and, if necessary, overtime and penalty kicks.
Nonetheless, MLS is thrilled to have Beckham, the English megastar brought to the league in 2007 to appeal to a broader audience, finally making his playoff debut. It's also excited about teams that share a stadium, Los Angeles and Chivas USA, facing one another. And the fact that the playoff field includes expansion Seattle -- which set the league record for attendance at 30,897, almost double the MLS average -- is a boost to the league's image in the nationally televised playoff opener Thursday.
No. 1 Columbus
vs. No. 4 Real Salt Lake
Schedule: Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, 6 p.m.; Nov. 5 at Crew Stadium, 8 p.m. (ESPN2).
Records: Crew 13-7-10, 49 points; RSL 11-12-7, 40.
Of Note: Despite securing its second straight Supporters' Shield (most points), the Crew lost three of its final four matches. After scoring just nine away goals, a victory for Real in the home leg is essential.