The MLS playoffs are set to begin this week without the
local team but there are plenty of Fire related stories to follow on the way to
MLS Cup in
on November 23. A closer look at each
first round match up provides more than a few reasons to watch.
MLSsoccer.com's Sam Stejskal and I compared notes on the upcoming playoffs and took a stab at picking the winners........
My Take: The Red
Bulls are the favorites but I get the feeling they can be had despite the MLS
hypesters praying that the biggest market in the country with three designated
players finds their way to
injury and Hans Backe is still toying with his line up even when everyone is
available. I'd still like to see what he
does with Juan Pablo Angel and Mehdi Ballouchy once Henry is fit.
Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowki. The
Earthquakes may not advance but they will give the Red Bulls all they can
handle. Aggregate Score: Red Bulls 3-2
Sam's Take: New York
scuffled a little bit down the stretch, but they have too much talent - with or
without Henry - to go down to the overachieving Quakes. The biggest difference will come in the
midfield; where Rafa Marquez, Joel Lindpere, Mehdi Ballouchy and co. should
dominate. Aggregate Score: Red Bulls 3-2
Fire Angle: The obvious interest here lies with San Jose
keeper Jon Busch. After being cut by the
Fire before the season, Busch caught on with
took over permanently. Tim Ward is a
starter at right back after being traded to San Jose for a 2011 draft pick. Former Fire draft pick Khari Stephenson has
also played well at times for
My Take: The Crew
have been running on fumes for a few weeks now.
Fixture congestion has been a problem and now starting goalkeeper
William Hesmer is out with a broken shoulder and Emilio Renteria is
questionable with a knee problem.
Guillermo Barros Schelotto looks to be finally showing signs of his age
but Robert Warzycha can't afford to attempt to rest him as he ridiculously did
during last year's playoffs. The Rapids are dangerous with Omar Cummings and
Conor Casey providing the firepower and seem to be the popular pick to pull off
the first round "upset". I think
but timing is everything in the MLS playoffs.
Sam's Take: Guillermo's got this one exactly right. The Crew are too tired, too out of form and -
in the case of Hesmer - too injured.
Fire killers Cummings and Casey - my favorite MLS strike duo - will provide
the flair up top while central midfielders Jeff Larentowicz and Pablo Mastroeni
shut down Schelotto in the back.
Aggregate Score: Colorado 3-1
Fire Angle: Another former Fire keeper is manning the net in
Colorado. Matt Pickens came back to MLS
last year after the Fire traded his rights to the Rapids for allocation money.
My Take: Both Western match ups are going to be fun to
watch. Despite losing out on the
Supporter's Shield I still believe the defending champions are the most well
balanced and complete side in MLS. FC
Dallas' long undefeated run during the season featured a ton of draws and a lot
of Jeff Cunningham goals. The Hoops lost
their last two games of the season against RSL and LA while the champions
haven't lost an MLS match since July 17 in
Despite dealing with the rigors of Champion's League play and getting a
Sam's Take: A shame that these two are playing in the first
round. David Ferriera has FCD clicking
but I don't think he'll be able to do enough to send Salt Lake - my pick to win
the MLS Cup - crashing out. RSL just doesn't
have any weaknesses. Real Salt Lake
Fire Angle: Dallas
expects to have Kevin Hartman back soon after missing time due to a knee injury
suffered in an unfortunate incident with Thierry Henry. Hartman was drafted by the Fire in the 1998
expansion draft but he was traded back to LA in exchange for Chris Armas.
also features former midfielders Andy Williams and Will Johnson.
My Take: The Galaxy
are a team built on playing tightly and relying on the counter attack. Since his return, Bruce Arena has played
David Beckham centrally with Juninho in midifield although he has employed
various combinations throughout the season.
Beckham may still be less than 100% and asking him to cover that much
ground seems like a gamble. The Sounders
have been on a roll of late despite losing to
combined score of 7-1 in regular season play I could see an upset here if
Galaxy at home. Aggregate Score: Los Angeles 4-3
Sam's Take: Seattle's been one of the hottest teams in the
league since (Sounders commenter alert!) trading Freddie Ljungberg to the Fire
in mid-July. Forwards Fredy Montero and
Blaise Nkufo are in synch, speedsters Steve Zakuani and Sanna Nyassi run wild
on the wings, and Osvaldo Alonso provides a ton of bite - and a good amount of
attacking knowhow - in the middle. All
that - plus the Qwest Field crowd - gives the Sounders the edge. They'll send the Supporters' Shield winners
packing. Aggregate Score: Seattle 4-3
Fire Angle: The Galaxy have hatchet man Dema Kovalenko on
the roster as a part time starter and former Fire academy player Michael
Stephens, a rookie of the year candidate who played an important role in LA's
early season success.
Montero and Nkufo.
Real Salt Lake 2 New York 2 - RSL wins in PK's for the
second straight year.
Conde Negotiations Continue......
Sam also spoke to Conde's agent and he revealed some interesting tidbits regarding the central defender's 2011 options. Among them an interest from River Plate, Maccabi Haifa, and an unnamed MLS team.
It sounds like Conde is still open to a return to Chicago but it also appears that he'll go to the highest bidder. The report last week regarding interest from Israel was factual, although the part about him trialing with the club this week was not.