If the opening round of the MLS playoffs was a manic under-card spread over two weeks, the Conference Finals are two prime time heavyweight title fights. In truth, Major League Soccer and the fans themselves could not have picked two better matches to take us into the MLS Cup.
First off, we get the Cinderella story New England Revolution taking on Thierry Henry’s New York Red Bulls. The Revs are the hip choice to win it all right now, led by their new World Cup hero field general Jermaine Jones and the resurgent attacking trio of Charlie Davies/Teal Bunbury/Lee Nguyen. NYRB have storylines as well, with Henry and perhaps Tim Cahill on their way out of town as soon as the playoff run ends. NYRB beat the Revs in both meetings this season, and head coach Mike Petke has never lost to New England in five meetings.
Of course, while the East features two hot teams with compelling stories, the West is the true battle of the titans. The L.A. Galaxy take on the Seattle Sounders at 5 p.m. Sunday at the Stub Hub Center. Donovan vs. Dempsey. Keane vs. Martins. There will be no shortage of star power on the field on Sunday. Can the Galaxy give Landon Donovan one last shot at another MLS Cup, or will Dempsey and Co. spoil his farewell tour?
New England Revolution vs. New York Red Bulls
(Sunday, 1:30 p.m. EST, Red Bull Arena, NBC)
This one has the potential to be a really exciting match. Both teams are stacked offensively, but neither offers a ton on defense. Logic dictates that New England would look to play a bit conservatively on the road, but I’m honestly not sure they know how. The Red Bulls are crafty and crushed New England in the regular season, but that was without Jermaine Jones. As hot as they are right now, I just can’t see the Revs losing this one.
Result: New England 2-2 New York Red Bulls
Seattle Sounders vs. L.A. Galaxy
(Sunday, 5 p.m. EST, Stub Hub Center, NBC)
There will be none of the conservative play we saw in the first round in this fixture. The Galaxy know that they will have to travel to Seattle in the second leg to play in front of 60,000 rabid, rave green-clad fans. They need to win here, and perhaps win big. I predict that L.A. will come out firing, and with Donovan and Robbie Keane playing the way they are right now, they simply outgun Seattle at home.
Result: L.A. Galaxy 3-1 Seattle Sounders FC