MLS Playoff Weekend: Exploring the Conference Finals

After a thrilling weekend, the final two teams in the race to the MLS Cup have been decided. This Sunday the LA Galaxy will play host to the New England Revolution in a game that will crown the new MLS Cup champion and conclude the 2014 season.

Fortunately for Major League Soccer (and all us writers), this past weekend has been full of compelling storylines and captivating narratives that we all get to talk about. It has also set the stage for an exciting final, chock full of stories of its own to explore.

For me, this has been one of the most entertaining playoff races in quite some time and, as a neutral, I found myself discovering more and more reasons to pull for each of the four teams. Although two of the four teams have been eliminated, there are still plenty of questions left to be answered and many story arcs left to be resolved. Here are some of my favorite talking points that have developed from these Conference Finals. 

New England Rejuvenation

Jay Heap’s New England Revolution has won over the hearts of many fans and are looking less and less like the underdog they were labeled as going into the playoffs. How have they pulled off this Cinderella run to the final? Well, the almost inhuman machine that is Jermaine Jones has certainly been an important piece to the puzzle. The Revs are an incredible 13-1-1 with Jones on the team, but there is something else interesting going on in New England.

Look out LA.
Look out LA.

Lee Nguyen, Teal Bunbury, and Charlie Davies were all once full of potential and seemed destined to become integral parts of the USMNT’s future. Their international potential was never realized and their careers seemed to stagnate. Now Nguyen is back in the National Team picture and is a strong MVP candidate in MLS. Davies is leading the league in postseason goals and is getting his name thrown into the conversation for a January National Team call-up. Bunbury is thriving in a new position out wide and is re-establishing his career.

I don’t know what they are drinking over in New England, but it certainly has revitalized these once promising talents. (Freddy Adu and Brek Shea, call your agents)

Tale of Two Legends

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Landon Donovan and Thierry Henry have been two of the league’s best players this season and may be the two most talented in MLS’s history. While we will not get the fairytale LA/New York final that seemed to be written in the stars, we should consider ourselves lucky that we at least get to see one of the two legends play one more time.

With the impending Donovan retirement looming over this year’s playoffs, it only seems fitting that his last game is an MLS Cup Final. It is almost impossible to describe how important Landon’s career has been for American soccer and his influence will last for generations. It seems poetic that Donovan’s swan song will be at the StubHub Center in font of his home fans, playing for his sixth MLS Cup. I dare you not to get emotional.

Unlike Landon, Henry has yet to publicly reveal his intentions to retire and has instead left his future unclear. However, it is likely that the French legend has played his final soccer game and New York’s 2-2 draw with New England will be the last time Thierry will grace the field in a competitive match.

Trouble With the Treble

The Seattle Sounders will have to settle for two trophies in 2014. With the Supporters Shield and the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in their trophy cabinet, Sigi Schmid’s Sounders failed to be the first MLS team to make a clean sweep. Instead, they bowed out in the Western Conference finals thanks to a Juninho away goal.

Sounders fans will undoubtedly be disappointed with another Conference Finals exit, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Seattle back next year with a chance for redemption.

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