By Grady Bruch, Senior Sports Analyst
FC Dallas vs Portland Timbers
FC Dallas is the number one seed coming out of the west this season, and you can see why in their general dominance of their conference. Dallas tied for the most points in the MLS with the Red Bulls also finishing the season with the same number of points (60). That dominance has not transferred over to the playoffs. Dallas survived the challenging Sounders after tieing Seattle in aggregate score. The Sounders had a very good overtime but couldn’t find the back of the net and Dallas took home the win in penalty kicks, winning 4-2. 20 year old Dalla goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez, saved 2 of the 4 PKs he faced while his counterpart Stefan Frei saved a grand total of 0 PKs. Although FC Dallas has been an exciting team to watch so far in the playoffs, they haven’t been their regular selves lately. Many can blame this on the team's lack of leadership and experience. The roster has an average age of a little over 24 years old. This lack of experience has likely played a huge role in the team's playoff problems. FC Dallas is a club that tends to spread the wealth among goals. Leading goal scorer Fabian Castillo has only 9 goals this year. That puts him in 23rd in goals scored in the MLS and behind Didier Drogba who only played 11 games this season. The lack of a, go to guy, could be a problem down the stretch if they’re ever in need of a goal late. It also shows the unselfishness of the team and that everyone contributes to the goal tall.
Portland has been another exciting team to watch so far in the MLS playoffs. Portland started their campaign off with a thrilling 11 round PK shootout in which they won 7-6 seeing their opponents, Sporting Kansas City, hit the post 3 times with the game on the line (including one shot which hit both posts and missed). Next round the Timbers dominated the Vancouver Whitecaps, shutting out the Whitecaps in both games. The Timbers have relied heavily on Fanendo Adi for goals this season. Adi has found the back of the net 16 times this season while the next closest is Darlington Nagbe with 5 goals. Portland most important attribute will be its defending as the Timbers only give up 1.09 goals per game which is 4th best in the MLS.
Both these 2 teams lead the MLS in clean sheets with 13 each this season, making it even harder to chose a winner out of these 2 teams. FC Dallas is an all around solid team; but lack of experience and no clear go to goal scorer could be a problem if Portland hangs around in both games. Portland is a very good defensive team, but the attack has been generally lacking the whole season. Someone other than Adi is going to have to score if Portland is to move on to the final. In the end, Dallas has too many playmakers for Portland to handle and Portland just doesn’t have the ability to find the back of the net. I believe Dallas will be moving on to the MLS Cup Final.
Final Aggregate score- 3-1 FC Dallas
New York Red Bulls vs Columbus Crew
Possibly the easiest job in the United States is to be Bradley Wright-Phillips. Anyone would take 600 thousand dollars a year to tap the ball in the net and clip their heels like a happy leprechaun once they’ve scored. I’m not saying Wright-Phillips is a bad player; in fact it’s quite the contrary. It’s just that his teammates are just that good at handing him easy shots, and there's nobody better in the MLS at converting shots than Bradley Wright-Phillips. The New York Red Bulls have the most goals of any team in the MLS and almost average 2 goals per game. The Red Bulls defending isn’t too bad either as they are top 8 in the MLS for goals against average. It isn’t easy to find a problem with the Red Bulls which is likely why they are heavy favorites to win the MLS Cup. The only possible achilles heel of the New York Red Bulls is the weak right flank. Although Lloyd Sam is a good goal scoring right midfielder, he isn’t exactly on the field for his defense abilities, and considering the worst starter on the Red Bulls is right back Chris Duvall, that could be an area that Columbus could exploit.
The Columbus Crew have gotten this far because of 1 man. That man is the MLS leading scorer Kei Kamara. The star striker from Sierra Leone has found the back of the net 22 times this year and hasn’t showed any signs of slowing down. The Columbus Crew have been a force to recon with on the offensive side with the second most goals as a team this season. The Crew lead the MLS in assists this season with 66 assists. The Crew are definitely one of the most fun teams to watch in the MLS. Being one of the most exciting teams in the MLS can be a blessing and a curse. The blessing is having an amazing offense. The curse is their absolutely atrocious defense. The Crew have given up the 6th most goals this season in the MLS with 58 goals against. The Crew’s defense has been the clear problem for the Crew the whole season. The offensive abilities of the Crew have kept them above water. But, when you play teams who can exploit defensive deficiencies, you’re in for a long game.
This game will be an absolute shootout. The top 2 teams at scoring should make 2 extremely entertaining games. If you like amazing skills, super fast counter-attacks and tons of goals, then this is the game for you. The big difference in this game is the defensive ability of both teams. The Crew have a joke of a defense while the Red Bulls have a rock solid back line. Columbus can’t afford to give up 2 or more goals at home. If Columbus is going to move on, it will be on the shoulders of Kei Kamara. Every goal the Red Bulls put past Steve Clark, Kamara is going to have to match it. With that, it’s pretty obvious what the Red Bulls need to do to win. That is, to stop Kamara. If Kamara is held to 1 goal in the 2 games then the Red Bulls should be moving on to the final. I expect Kamara to keep them alive for a little but eventually the Red Bulls offense will pound in too many goals for Kamara to match, and the New York Red Bulls will move on to the MLS Cup Final.
Final Aggregate Score- 4-2 New York Red Bulls