The Major League Soccer conference semifinals are a two-game, home-and-away series with the lower-seeded team hosting the first leg. The winner is determined by aggregate goals over those two games. Should the results be split over two games and the teams level on aggregate goals, two 15-minute overtime periods following the second match will be played its entirety. If the score is still tied, the winner will be determined by a penalty kick shootout.
New York Red Bulls (17-9-8, 59 points) vs. Houston Dynamo (14-11-9, 51 points)
• TIME/TV: 2:30 p.m. Sunday on NBC
• IN THE REGULAR SEASON: The Dynamo had an up-and-down regular season. But against New York? Mostly down. In the three games against the Red Bulls this year (including two at home), Houston lost all three by a combined score of 9-1. During a New York win in Houston on Oct. 20, the Red Bulls’ Tim Cahill (11 goals) set the MLS record for fastest goal ever at just seven seconds.
• BOTTOM LINE: Form matters in the MLS playoffs, and no team is hotter than the Red Bulls. Since July 1, the Supporters’ Shield winners have lost just three times. Over the last eight games, the high-powered attack led by Thierry Henry (10 goals, nine assiststhis season) and Cahill have scored 20 goals. But, it’s hard to bet against Houston in the playoffs. Under Dominic Kinnear, the Dynamo has reached four MLS Cup finals (including the last two years) and have an astounding MLS playoff series record of 12-4. This New York team might be too strong, even for Kinnear’s playoff magic.
• PREDICTION: New York 2-0
Real Salt Lake (16-10-8, 56 points) vs. Los Angeles Galaxy (15-11-8, 53 points)
• TIME/TV: 8 p.m. Sunday on ESPN
• IN THE REGULAR SEASON: The Galaxy had the upper hand during the regular season with two wins (2-0 in Salt Lake in April and a 4-2 thriller at home in August). Salt Lake won the third matchup 3-1 at home in June. The teams are a contrast in styles. Salt Lake is the league’s best possession and scoring team behind Alvaro Saborio (12 goals) and Javier Morales (eight goals, 10 assists). The Galaxy tends to beat teams with a lethal counterattack behind the speed of Landon Donovan (10 goals, nine assists) and Robbie Keane (16 goals, 11 assists). The late addition of Panamanian goalkeeper Jaime Penedo saved the season for Los Angeles.
• BOTTOM LINE: These have been the most consistent teams in Major League Soccer over the last five years, as the only two teams to qualify for the playoffs ever year since 2009 when they met in the MLS Cup finals. This year was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Salt Lake, instead Jason Kreis had his team on the edge of the Supporters’ Shield race all season. The Galaxy had an uneven regular season, but can’t be counted out in chasing a third-straight MLS Cup. Bruce Arena has the most dangerous forward tandem (Donovan and Keane) in the league and should be too much for Salt Lake to handle in the first leg.
• PREDICTION: Los Angeles 2-0
| Charles Gooch, firstname.lastname@example.org