November 10, 2012
The final four
Eastern Conference Finals – First Leg
#2 DC United @ #5 Houston Dynamo, 4:00 pm ET (NBCSN)
The DC United team that edged the New York Red Bulls by a 2-1 aggregate score in the Eastern Conference semifinals will have a different look when they open the championship series against the Houston Dynamo Sunday at BBVA Compass Stadium. Right back Andy Najar, ejected from the first game of the semifinals for throwing a ball at the referee, will not factor into the conference finals at all, after having two games added to his suspension by the MLS Disciplinary Committee this week. Goalkeeper Bill Hamid, whose first-ever MLS postseason performance has been checkered at best, will be suspended for Sunday’s match after a red card tackle on New York’s Kenny Cooper on Thursday. And in a bit of good news, 2011 MLS MVP for former Dynamo star Dwayne De Rosario has been upgraded to probable after recovering from a sprained left knee and might see his first postseason minutes on Sunday, bringing some needed spark to what has so far been an energetic but unproductive playoff offense. United bring a nine-game unbeaten streak (6-0-3) into Sunday’s match, and they’ll need all the momentum they can muster to pull out a result at the Dynamo’s orange-painted fortress. Houston squeaked into the playoffs fifth in the conference standings, but as they did in last year’s run to the MLS Cup final, they seem to have peaked at the right time, already having taken out not only the fourth-seeded Chicago Fire in the knockout game, but also Supporters’ Shield runners-up and conference favorites Sporting Kansas City by a 2-1 margin in the semifinals. Second-year forward Will Bruin has three goals in as many postseason games, and goalkeeper Tally Hall has allowed only one postseason goal as the Dynamo have advanced to their fifth conference final in seven years. The Dynamo have not lost at home since June 2011, and won their two regular season home contests against DC by a 5-0 margin. The Dynamo also are dealing with personnel issues. Forward Calen Car is unlikely to play Sunday because of a hamstring injury. Explosive midfielder Ricardo Clark is battling an adductor strain and central defender Jermaine Taylor (knee) also remains questionable.
Western Conference Finals – First Leg
#3 Seattle Sounders FC @ #4 LA Galaxy, 9:00 p, ET, ESPN
The LA Galaxy were the highest-scoring team in Major League Soccer during the regular season, but their impressive goal-getting credentials were amassed against teams other than Sunday’s Western Conference Finals opponent Seattle Sounders FC. The Sounders took two of three from LA this season by a combined score of 6-0. But the Galaxy got the last word, ekeing out a 1-0 home win over Seattle in the season finale at the Home Depot Center. And speaking of ekeing, the Sounders scraped through their two-leg conference semifinal against Real Salt Lake by the slimmest of margins, with Mario Martinez scoring the only goal of the series in the 81st minute of Thursday night’s second leg at Rio Tinto Stadium. Martinez, a Honduran youth international who had played in just three games since being signed on August 1 and had publicly expressed a desire to be traded, was in the lineup in place of midfield general Mauro Rosales, who is still nursing a hamstring injury and is expected to miss Sunday’s match as well. Goalkeeper Michael Gspurning has been perfect through the playoffs so far, after allowing only two goals over his last seven matches, and Galaxy-killers Fredy Montero and Eddie Johnson (two goals each against LA this season) are both healthy for the championship series. Defender Marc Burch was a late scratch from the rest of the Sounders’ playoff campaign, and possibly beyond, after receiving a three-game suspension on Saturday night for using “unacceptable and offensive language” toward Real Salt Lake’s Will Johnson during the semifinals. The Sounders are especially fired up for the coming series, after an unfortunately-worded Wednesday night press release implied that the Galaxy had written Seattle off in the semifinals. The quote remains on Seattle’s bulletin board heading into Sunday’s match. Despite a disappointing fourth-place finish during the regular season, the Galaxy are trying to become the first team to win back-to-back MLS Cups since the 2006-07 Houston Dynamo, It remains to be seen, however, when or if the grind of rapid-fire Champions League, knockout round and semifinal matches will start to take its toll on the aging legs of team superstars David Beckham, Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan, who has made no secret of his desire to take a sabbatical from the sport after this season ends. The Galaxy certainly did not look fatigued last Sunday, however, when they roared back from a one-goal deficit to oust top-seeded San Jose from the postseason by 3-1 aggregate score. Keane had two goals and an assist, Mike Magee two goals and an assist, and Donovan two assists as the Galaxy obliterated the Quakes’ season-long unbeaten run at Buck Shaw Stadium.