I've already taken a brief look at the Fire-Revolution first round series, but haven't spent any time on the three other Conference Semifinals going on around the country in the next couple of weeks. That's about to change though. Click after the jump for a quick rundown of the 'other' first round series.
**Eastern Conference Semifinals**
**Columbus Crew vs. Real Salt Lake**
How they got here -- Columbus
The Crew were the first MLS team to clinch a spot in the playoffs and qualified with the Eastern Conference's first seed. Supporter's Shield winners for the second consecutive year, the Crew will be looking to defend their 2008 MLS Cup Championship with a win in this first round series against RSL.
How they got here -- Real Salt Lake
After a flurry of late results went their way, Real Salt Lake snuck into the playoffs just ahead of their Western Conference rival the Colorado Rapids. With just 40 points, RSL is the low team on the playoff totem pole, but they'll be looking to pull the upset of Columbus -- against whom they are 1-1.
Keys to the series --
The Crew will come into the two-leg series as the heavy favorites but don't count out RSL. They have a solid core of players with Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales and Robbie Findley headlining a group that tallied the most goals out of any team in the playoffs.
The Crew does boast some great talent of their own though, with Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Robbie Rogers and Frankie Hejduk providing solid play in every area of the field.
I think this series comes down to two things: RSL's defensive play and the result of the first game. If Salt Lake can come out and get the win at home this Saturday -- and they had the league's best home record this year -- than anything could happen in Columbus. If they leave Utah with a loss or a draw they're in big trouble. They had a horrendous road record all year and Columbus is always a tough place to play.
Should RSL win the first match though, their defense will have to come up big in the second leg. Columbus has solid attacking depth and they will come out flying if they are behind on aggregate going into the second game. RSL's defense would have to stand up tall in that one.
I think this one will be close but that Columbus will prevail. After all you don't win two Supporter's Shields in a row by accident and I think the Crew will show why they're the defending champs with a series win. I'll say the first game is 1-0 RSL and the second game is 3-1 Crew.
**Western Conference Semifinals**
**L.A. Galaxy vs. Chivas USA**
How they got here -- L.A.
The Galaxy ended the regular season as the Western Conference's top seed with 48 points. Qualified for the postseason by virtue over their 1-0 win over the Fire on October 2nd.
How they got here -- Chivas USA
Chivas finished in fourth place in the West after ending the regular season with 45 points. Chivas did scuffle a little bit down the stretch, going winless in their final three games.
Keys to the Series --
Every playoff series has an 'X-factor' and the man in this series isn't David Beckham or Landon Donovan (we know what we'll get from those two...) but rather Chivas USA midfielder Sacha Kljestan. At the beginning of the year the mercurial Kljestan was pegged to be the next big thing for U.S. Soccer. He was playing well on the national team and had been a big-time contributor to Chivas for several seasons. But 2009 was a big disappointment for Kljestan. He never quite found his rhythm for club or country and struggled throughout the year.
That said, the 24-year-old Kljestan did start to pick it up towards the end of the regular season (he has 2 goals and an assist in the last month) and if he can make Chivas's task a whole lot easier by playing two solid games.
I'll say that Kljestan's disappointing year continues and Chivas USA falls to the Galaxy. I'm predicting that L.A. goes through with a sweep -- winning the first match 1-0 and the second 2-1.
**Houston Dynamo vs. Seattle Sounders**
How they got here -- Houston
Contenders for the Supporter's Shield all season long, Houston ended the year in second place in the Western Conference with 48 points. Houston did play a packed schedule towards the end of the year (courtesy of the CONCACAF Champions League) so they could enter the postseason a bit fatigued.
How they got here -- Seattle
The expansion Sounders finished their successful first season in third place in the Western Conference. Boosted by the best attendance in MLS, the Sounders finished the season with 47 points.
Keys to the Series --
A big factor in this series will be whether or not Houston midfielder Ricardo Clark is able to play. Clark, who has only played in 2 of the Dynamo's 5 games in October, is listed as doubtful with a left knee sprain and hasn't played since October 18th. Clark would be a big loss in the middle for the Dynamo and that would play a big factor -- especially in the hostile Qwest Field. Clark can slow a game down very nicely and that should be something that Dom Kinnear and Houston will be looking to do in what should be a supercharged-Seattle environment.
Besides the Fire-New England series, this is the first round matchup that intrigues me the most. I think the teams matchup pretty evenly and there should be some exciting play (and crowds...) in both matches. In the end, I see Seattle continuing their dream season and bouncing the Dynamo from the playoffs. I'll say that both games will finish 2-0 (each team winning at home) and that Seattle moves on in penalty kicks.
That's all from me for tonight but I'll be back bright and early tomorrow morning with more coverage of the Fire-New England series.