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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Red Bulls elimminated and the craziness of MLS Playoffs

Photo credit: USA Today
For some of us, watching games late at night prior to a day full of work can sometimes be unfeasible. And yet, if for whatever reason you are unable to sleep, you can catch up on the #MLSPlayoff action.

First up was New York's latest bid to make it past the first round of the playoffs. Ever since the inception of Red Bull Arena, the Red Bulls have been unable to win in a playoff match. Last year it was Houston that took away their chance at advancing. Might the same happen this year even though the team was the best in league play and won the Supporter's Shield?

Answer, unfortunately, was yes. Whether it was Jamison Olave's absence or lack of clarity in the final touch, New York was unable to break through Tally Hall's masterful performance and Brad Davis's control of the midfield. An overtime clutch goal by Omar Cummings sent Houston to the next round and New York to continue looking for answers and suffer another setback.

Kansas City versus New England Revolution was a different type of match. It was second place versus third place. Establishment versus youth. Solidity versus experiment. New England pressed and made a statement when they tied the game halfway through the second half. It would have been 3-2 aggregate. But Kansas City had other plans.

Sporting KC was the better team yesterday. Better poise. More atmosphere. A Feilhaber, Nagamura, Zusi midfield that knows how to play attacking football. Deadly strikers in Bieler and Sapong. Peter Vermes played his game and delivered a statement win in overtime thanks to a sublime Bieler strike.

It was Graham Zusi's masterful runs along the flanks and Feilhaber's pinpoint passes that makes the difference for Kansas City. It is a team built around a great, hard working and underrated midfield. Kansas City also has an intimidating stadium that they have to learn to use to their advantage. Another shock loss to Houston like last year's would undo another great campaign just as it did for New York.

The playoffs highlight some of what opponents always argue against: unfair advantage to lower-seeded teams. Any slip-up can mean elimination, no matter how good your squad is. In the end, it is an American institution and for the rest of us the Supporter's Shield remains the true championship trophy and the MLS Cup might remain a cup competition a-la FA Cup. Then again, this counts as the star emblazoned above each team's jersey logo.

Will there be more surprises tonight? Salt Lake and Portland sure hope not. Portland needs to be more cautious in their approach and should try to score as many goals as possible and as early as they can. Seattle will not and cannot back down. Jeld-Wen could make the difference, as could Rio Tinto for RSL. Salt Lake needs to win by two goals while the Galaxy just need a tie. For Portland a tie will also do but being at home gives them a chance to make a statement just like KC did.

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