MLS playoff wrap: Beckham in, Sounders out, goals lacking

Beckham

David Bechham leads Galaxy into MLS Semis; Photo by Cal Menda

The first round of the MLS playoffs are in the books and executives at ESPN and MLS are breathing a sigh of relief as David Beckham (oh, and the Galaxy) made it into the conference finals. The bad news is that the Seattle Sounders crashed out to an extra time goal by Houston’s Brian Ching, denying MLS a marquee Western Conference championship. Perhaps of greater concern, however, should be the dearth of goals in the three weekend matches.

Galaxy wins Battle of LA: Landon Donovan converted a second half penalty to give the Galaxy a 1-0 victory over Chivas USA and put them through 3-2 on aggregate. The move that led to the penalty was set up by a beautiful 60-yard Beckham cross-field pass. But that was the extent of the beautiful game at the Home Depot Center in a tense affair that was long on energy and short on creativity or finishing. Chivas went down in the first round for the fourth consecutive year and left their coach ruing a host of fizzled attacks, “We made poor decisions all night in the final third. They were there to be beaten, but we didn’t make the play and they did. It’s as simple as that.”

Sounders fall in Houston: It took 185 minutes for Houston’s Brian Ching (not Ching?!?) to finally open the scoring in the Sounders-Dynamo matchup. Neither team created much in either game, but when they did, they were both often undone by extremely poor finishing. Ching’s goal came off of an odd ricochet rather than a good buildup. While Sounders fans are suffering through the five stages of grief, they have a lot to be proud of in their first season and this playoff series exposed their main offseason need: better finishers. For Houston, the showcase game against Beckham and the Galaxy will be a chance for emerging star Stuart Holden to shine on a bigger stage. He has made some solid appearances for the national team as a substitute, but watching him play from the start in an MLS match, he is silky smooth (and probably headed to Europe).

Chicago’s counter-Revolutionaries: Chicago and New England met in the playoffs for a remarkable eighth time in Chicago’s 11 seasons in the league. A suffocating midfield presence stifled New England’s best player, Shalrie Joseph, and Cuauhtemoc Blanco scored in the 83rd minute for a 2-0 win to reverse a first leg deficit and put the Fire into the conference finals. One potential problem for the Fire is that Brian McBride limped off in the second half with what the team is calling a “stiff” knee. Whether he takes the field or not, the Fire will be counting on another raucous sell out crowd to spur them on as the battle Real Salt Lake for the eastern conference crown next Saturday.

But is it just me or were these games rather dull for the neutral fan? They weren’t embarrassing spectacles like Chelsea’s whiny bitches vs. Man U’s moaning gits, but there was little polish or zip. The first Sounders – Dynamo 0-0 game in Seattle was full of energy and enthusiasm. Yesterday’s game seemed like 22 guys going through the motions. This is not an attempt to criticize or debate the MLS playoff format (we’ll save that for another time). But one small thing that puzzled me this year was the very long gap between first and second leg games (Seattle-Houston was 10 days). I know some of these scheduling problems relate to venue sharing – but it just seemed like a lot of the passion was lost in the long delay between matches.

Regardless of the number of goals in these games, we look forward to the first MLS semi-final weekend to feature its most marketable star – and its a great weekend of soccer with the US team in Europe for two friendlies and World Cup playoffs in the Pacific, Africa, and Europe. Stay tuned.

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