What a wild ride the first rounds of the MLS Cup Playoffs were. Two weeks ago, Hair Balls gave our predictions for that round, and we went a perfect 4-4, sort of. We guessed the winners right, but were a bit off on the aggregate scores.
The next round of the playoffs are the conference finals, to be played in Los Angeles and Chicago. Like the previous round, we'll give some small insight into both series, as well as predictions. The conference finals in MLS are a single game, winner take all. If the game is tied after 90 minutes, they go to two 15-minute overtimes, then a penalty shootout if a winner hasn't been decided.
WESTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
Houston Dynamo vs. Los Angeles Galaxy
Tonight (ESPN2, 10 p.m.) is the first time English superstar David Beckham plays in the conference finals. He has a shot with a victory to put the Galaxy in the MLS Cup, something they haven't done since 2006. Even with his fame, the key to a Galaxy victory tonight will rests on the shoulders Landon Donovan.
Landon Donovan has been the face of the Galaxy franchise for several years now. Since their last championship in 2006, Los Angeles hasn't tasted the playoffs. Outside of Donovan, not many other players are playoff tested, although Beckham has played on Manchester United and Real Madrid teams that have won plenty of championships.
Standing in their way to the MLS Cup is a Dynamo team that is the most playoff-tested team in the league. After their humiliating loss last year to the New York Red Bulls in the first round, the Dynamo are back in the conference final. However, this year will be different for the Orange, because this year they play the final on the road.
The Galaxy went 1-0-1 against the Dynamo during the regular season, but the Orange are back in championship form. Even though the Dynamo beat an expansion team by a single goal in the first round, Seattle's defense was better and more experienced than the Galaxy's. Look for the veterans on Houston like Brian Ching, Brad Davis, and Stuart Holden to take advantage of Los Angeles' back line. Prediction: Houston 2-1
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EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
Real Salt Lake vs. Chicago Fire
The Chicago Fire are the oldest team in the playoffs, which means it is a battle-tested team. Stars like Cuacthemoc Blanco and Brain McBride are capable and hungry to help their team advance to the MLS Cup. Although the Fire were not a good team at home this year, they have played better at Toyota Park the last month and a half.
Saturday night (Fox Soccer Channel, 7 p.m.), they play a team in Real Salt Lake that is, in contrast, the youngest team in the playoffs -- probably the youngest team in MLS. That doesn't mean RSL has no experience in big games. Last year, they played in the Western Conference Finals against the Red Bulls.
Kyle Beckerman will manage the midfield play for RSL, where he'll try to control an up-tempo pace that gave the first-seeded Columbus Crew fits. Although the smart money will be on the Fire to win this game, something tells me RSL has one more bit of magic left in them. Prediction: RSL 3-1