The MLS playoff schedule was set late Sunday night (it’s down below here).
We’ll review with a thorough handicapping later this week, but for now…here’s our quick odds, brief summary and the schedule.
Please lend your voice to the odds and we’ll republish on Wednesday or Thursday:
TSG’s MLS Playoff Odds:
Seattle Sounders: 3 to 1* (pending Rosales injury update)
Los Angeles Galaxy: 4 to 1
Real Salt Lake: 6 to 1
Philadelphia Union: 7 to 1
Sporting KC, FC Dallas: 8 to 1
Colorado Rapids: 10 to 1
Houston Dynamo: 14 to 1
New York Red Bulls, Columbus Crew: 15 to 1
TSG’s Pick (may change by Thursday): Seattle
TSG Skinny: There are a just few basic things you need to reach the MLS Cup Finals after journeying through its playoff gauntlet. They are: veteran leadership in the back, team speed, bite in the midfield and a playmaker who can create against the best.
It’s not hard to see.
Last year, FC Dallas had the savvy veteran leadership of Kevin Hartmann in the back while their opponents, Colorado, had Drew Moor. Dallas brought David Ferriera as their playmaker while none other than Conor Casey actually made himself a beast in the final game. (Say what you will about Conor Casey, but he seems to have a knack for theatrical on a big stage.)
Dallas featured Dax McCarty, Brek Shea as the speed in its midfield while Daniel Hernandez provided the bite. Conversely, it was of course the pairing of Jeff Larentowicz and Pablo Mastroeni in the midfield for the Rapids.
The champs the year prior were Real Salt Lake with, of course, Javy Morales as their playmaker, who was backed by the bite of Kyle Beckerman and flanked by the speedy Will Johnson.
Veteran Nick Rimando was in the cage with vets Nat Borchers and Jamison Olave ahead of him.
In 2008, Frankie Hedjuk was the voice of reason on the Crew’s backline, Brad Evans and Brian Carroll provided the moxie in midfield, Eddie Gaven was on the flank with always-crafty playmaker of Guillermo Barros pulled, or played if you prefer, the strings in his swan song as Columbus earned their White House visit.
2007 featured a repeat for the Dynamo, who of course had the very veteran Pat Onstad in goal fronted by vet Eddie Robinson.
Houston was ridiculously lethal in the midfield with Brad Davis, DeWayne DeRosario and a young Stu Holden. The former two being the playmakers. Ricardo Clark and Brian Mullan provided the stick in the center.
Get the picture?
Right now, Seattle is on the TSG pedestal as the team to beat. They’ve got the emotional charge of playing for Steve Zakuani and Kasey Keller–with Keller being that savvy vet in the back.
They’ve got Sigi Schmid’s proclamation at the end of last year that “this group’s time is limited,” meaning a sense of urgency. Osvaldo Alonso and Brad Evans are humming and snuffing out chances in the midfield. Perhaps they are this year’s version of Mastroeni and Larentowicz.
There is concern about the ability to remain consistently focused as well as Mauro Rosales being healthy* (* a report circulating suggests an MCL strain in the Chivas game this past weekend), but the stars seemed aligned as Fredy Montero has played hold-up for the work of Rosales and Alvaro Fernandez.
Can’t get over the fact that the Galaxy may be heading into the playoffs with a less than 100% Robbie Keane. Chad Barrett and Adam Cristman can’t take possibly this team to the promised land and as much as Mike Magee has stepped up his game, he’s not going to scare opponents.
That said, I worry about the midfield of the Galaxy. Beckham has been pure with his passing, even outstanding at times. Juninho has been brilliant….at times, but where’s the playoff bite on the inside there.
Additionally who is the keeper? The Galaxy have played brilliantly behind Josh Saunders. Is he ready to step up or will the overrated Donovan Ricketts be back between the wickets at the risk of upsetting the chemistry in the back?
Come the Western Conference playoffs, the Galaxy will likely be staring at the aforementioned Seattle or they’ll face the likes of Kyle Beckerman and Will Johnson (or Andy Williams) and Real Salt Lake.
Not that you are, but don’t out RSL. They know how to handle the playoffs as witnessed by their 2009 run as well as this year’s CONCACAF Champion’s League run. RSL is the type of side that once they have a singular focus as put a very volatile 2011 season behind them could be deadly if (and only if) there forwards are on form. That’ll be the key for them.
On the other coast, Philadelphia with a defense a class or two above last year’s team. Their own midfield still struggles at times, especially to manufacture chances and they’ll need to find ways for Sebastian Le Toux not to get bottled up. Can Danny Mwanga–who at least statistically took a step back this season–step up. How about you, Freddy Adu?
Sporting KC comes in next and they’ve got the strong defensive line and probably the best forward assortment for Peter Vermes to choose from. Their midfield will face a major test and that leaves it up to Graham Zusi to make the playoffs his true coming out party, while Roger Espinoza plays Dema Kovalenko in shutting down counters (as will often happen) without getting too many cautions.
The Houston Dynamo’s strength will unfortunately be their weakness. No team is better at set pieces–maybe the Galaxy–than the Dynamo. That said, the Dynamo will struggle as teams stronger up top take the game to them and push the action in their own half. They just don’t have enough dangerous players at forward to avoid their midfield–especially MVP…..candidate Brad Davis–from being collapsed on.
The New York Red Bulls have the talent to make a run, but they won’t.
WILD CARD ROUND
Wednesday (8pm)– (4) New York Red Bulls at (1) FC Dallas
Thursday (10pm) – (3) Columbus Crew at (2) Colorado Rapids
EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
Highest Remaining Wild Card vs. (1) Sporting Kansas City
(3) Philadelphia Union vs. (2) Houston Dynamo (1st leg is Sunday, 4pm, at PPL Park)
WESTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
Lowest Remaing Wild Card vs. (1) Los Angeles Galaxy
(3) Real Salt Lake vs. (2) Seattle Sounders (1st leg is Saturday, 10pm, at Rio Tinto Stadium)