My Not Keeping My Mouth Shut Could Cost Me 400 Smackers

>> Tuesday

Back in July, my girlfriend who presently lives in Washington, DC, home of this year's MLS Cup Final, asked me if I was going to fly out to visit her anytime this fall. I told her probably not. Law school is a real bitch and I don't want to fuck things up in the first semester and get myself behind the eight-ball early with a slow start. I did however mention that should the Chicago Fire make it to the MLS Cup Final, I would be looking to make the trip.

I mean, what were the chances? At the time, the Fire were playing their worst soccer in the history of the club, and had gone through three coaches in a month. They had just been bushwacked 4-0 at home by Houston Dynamo on national television, and showed little signs of life. It was a mark good enough for a 4-8-4 record (16 points), and last place in the Eastern Conference.

But just like the deadbeat dad in Angels in the Outfield who was forced to eat his words after he promised his son they'd be a family again if the Angels won the pennant, I am looking at having written a check that my checkbook can't cash. My Fire went on a tear in the second half of the season, going unbeaten in 12 of their last 14 league games. They'll start their Eastern Conference Semi-final with top seed DC United on Thursday night at Toyota Park, only three wins away from the final. Airfare from St. Louis Lambert International to Washington Reagan the November 18th weekend is close to 300 bucks. Throw in a game ticket plus food and booze and could become an expensive proposition real fast. Good for me, good for the Fire I guess, but probably another reason in the long list of reasons why it's not a good idea to bet hundreds of dollars on a league with as much parity as MLS.

But I got 5 out of 8 playoff teams right, 3 of my 4 SuperLiga spots correct, and even picked two first-round playoff series (Dallas vs. Houston, DC vs. Chicago) right on the money back in April.

So now we're down to the final 8. These teams will square off in a two-game, home-and-home, total-goals, extra-hyphenated series. Basic premise, if team A wins the first game 2-1, but team B wins the second game 2-0, then team A is fucked because they lost 3-2 on aggregate. Ties are broken with extra time and penalty kicks if necessary.

#1 DC United vs. #4 Chicago Fire
#2 New England vs. #3 New York
#1 Chivas USA vs. #4 Kansas City
#2 Houston vs. #3 FC Dallas

First with DC and Chicago. You can see both these games on ESPN2 the next two Thursday nights. Chicago has been the hottest team in the league since the All-Star Break, going 6-2-6 against a slate of opponents that was probably the second-hardest in the league. The backline has been bolstered by the addition of Wilman Conde, and has only allowed 10 goals in their last 14 league matches. However, the offense has continued to sputter, finding net only 18 times in those games. Over the same timespan, DC's defense has allowed 13 goals since the break, but in contrast to the Fire has found net 30 times. DC are backed by Golden Boot (League's leading scorer) Luciano Emilio. The Brazilian has scored 20 goals; the first 20-goal-scorer in MLS in 5 years (Carlos Ruiz, 24 goals, 2002). However, DC has shown some trouble with Chicago's backline. The two teams met twice in the second half of the season, a 0-0 draw at RFK and a 1-1 draw at Toyota Park. Fire keeper Matt Pickens set a club record for shutouts this season with 10. The defense is much improved, and while DC has been the gold standard for MLS this season, I think Chicago's back line may be able to hold out long enough to make it interesting and make the Black-and-Red faithful sweat a little. DC ultimately has a lot more talent and should be the favorite, but Chicago is a DANGEROUS 4-seed. Historically, Chicago has been DC's bugaboo in Cup play, going 5-0-1 against United. The black-and-red have yet to score a goal on the Fire in knockout competition. I'm not picking this series because I just don't know.

New England vs. New York
New England coach Steve Nicol has taken the mantle of "almost, but not quite" away from Red Sox fans and New England and placed it squarely on his own team. They made it to MLS Cup 2002, only to fall to the LA Galaxy 1-0 in extra time. They then made it to MLS Cup 2005, only to lose again to the Galaxy by the same scoreline in extra time. Returning to the Final in 2006, they managed to score, but were equalized by Brian Ching's header minutes later as Houston Dynamo eventually won on penalty kicks.

New England partially redeemed their losses by winning the U.S. Open Cup earlier this season, and now take on New York, a team that has only won one playoff series in 11 years in the league. However, with Golden Boot runner-up Juan Pablo Angel, New York may finally have the talent needed to take the next step. However, they've kind of backed into the playoffs, with only two wins in their last 10 games, including some embarassing draws against Los Angeles and Salt Lake. New York also went 0-2-1 against New England this year. New England's offense is prolific. Second only to DC United in terms of goals scored. New York is right behind New England in third, but has a leaky back line that surrendered the 4th most goals in the league this ear (1.5 a game). I see New England pushing through and continuing the heartbreak for New York.

Chivas USA vs. Kansas City
Really no preview necessary. Kansas City finished 5th in the East. Had the format been the same as last season, they wouldn't make the playoffs. However, under MLS's new playoff format, since the East's 5th-place team had a better record than the West's 4th place team, KC moves over to the Western conference for the playoffs. There they'll meet a Chivas USA team that has been on fire all season. The loss of leading scorer Ante Razov may hurt, but I see Chivas moving on here. Kansas City has been in freefall over the second half of the season, while Chivas USA has burnished their championship credentials, winning the Western Conference title, and the Los Angeles Derby.

FC Dallas vs. Houston Dynamo
The Texas Derby foes meet in the playoffs for the first time, with Houston looking the favorite, sporting the league's best defense at 0.77 goals allowed per game. Houston went 3-0-1 against the Hoops this season in league play. For Dallas, "Beckham Rule" signing Denilson from Brazil has been a total bust. His insertion into the Dallas lineup has caused nothing but problems and distractions. He only has one goal...on a penalty kick. Houston should move on. Their backline is too strong and they have enough offensive firepower to win. I see them playing to defend their MLS Cup title in Washington in late November.

I'm looking at a Houston vs. DC/New England/Chicago final, and maybe I'll be there, or maybe I won't go broke. Who knows?


Matt 8:12 PM  

When you're out in DC, be sure to visit the shrine erected near my birthplace. It's a 1/16th replica of my cock - tourists know it as the Washington Monument (to my cock).

Vinnie 9:16 PM  

So are you going to D.C. or not? Get to the fucking point in less than 500 words or you're out the door!

Anyway, I still kicked your ass in my pre-postseason MLB predictions by calling 3 of 4 LCS teams and both World Series teams (a year removed from a postseason where I may or may not have gone 0-4 in my LCS predictions). Yes, I am 83.3% awesome.

Oh, right... Go MLS!

Mike 12:10 PM  

If the Fire make it to the final (Not unheard of. The 2002 LA Galaxy won the MLS Cup as a 4 seed.), I will have a real hard time saying no to a trip to DC for the Final.

Anonymous,  2:33 PM  

I'm voting for a KC-Chicago Final just to mess with your head.

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