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MLS playoffs: Top story lines for the post-season

Oct 28, 2013, 7:30 AM EDT

Seattle Sounders v Los Angeles Galaxy - Western Conference Championship - Leg 1 Getty Images

Ten quick stories to follow through Major League Soccer’s 18th post-season:

1. Can the Galaxy become the league’s first three-time defending champion?

No team has won three MLS Cups consecutively through 17 previous MLS seasons – and here is LA, standing on two in a row. So much of the Galaxy’s chances will come down to the health of DP center back Omar Gonzalez and DP attacker Landon Donovan, both dealing with injuries. By the way, we’ve heard a lot lately about Mike Magee and about Marco Di Vaio and others … but the Galaxy’s Robbie Keane (pictured) is the best player in the MLS playoffs.

2. Will Landon Donovan’s ankle hold up?

The LA Galaxy star says his ankle, injured back in September, needs about six weeks to completely heal up. But he is soldiering through it. So can the league’s all-time leading scorer make it through the post-season? And what of his effectiveness? Seems like he’s one more ankle knock away from being the “Little Donovan” we saw through parts of 2012 and early 2013, not the “Big Donovan” we saw through so much of the summer.

3. For New York, with Supporters Shield in pocket, a bigger prize awaits

Congrats to the New York Red Bulls, who needed 18 years, 13 managers and hundreds of players to lay hands on the club’s first major trophy (Supporters Shield). While the debate rages about where Supporters Shield compares to MLS Cup on the continuum of league-related accomplishment, perhaps we should also consider this: only six Supporters Shield winners have gone on to win MLS Cup.

4. Red Bull leaders Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill

New York’s first two goals Sunday in an impressive 5-2 win over Chicago said it all: one absolute beauty from the stylish Thierry Henry, and one textbook scrapper via Dax McCarty (that dude should be nicknamed “Scrappy”) and impassioned grinder Tim Cahill. That is the perfect picture of this team’s useful blend under manager Mike Petke of substance and style.

5. Can the Seattle Sounders turn it around?

Seattle’s flailing fall, the team’s stunning late collapse, has been the story of October around MLS. The Sounders will tiptoe quietly into playoffs on the anti-momentum of a seven-game winless streak.

But the phrase most often repeated around MLS through the years is surely this: “You just have to get there; anything can happen in the playoffs.” Sounders manager Sigi Schmid sounded pretty sensitive recently as he defended his team for having arrived safely into the post-season, regardless of having backed in.

Yes, Sigi … you did get in. And credit for that. And now …

source:  6. And can Clint Dempsey contribute to any turnaround?

Clint Dempsey (pictured, left), the league’s highest paid man, a splashy summer addition at CenturyLink Field, was nine games into his second MLS go-round before finally getting a goal last Sunday. Who could have imagined it would take so long? But he did break that doggone seal … so can that be a springboard for more?

7. Are we forgetting about Kansas City?

New York swiped a bunch of the final day headlines, and everyone is all aflutter over the Timbers’ evocative turnaround tale. But can Sporting Kansas City, fronted by U.S. internationals Matt Besler and Graham Zusi, really be so far behind? The team is, after all, 7-1-3 over all competitions since a little dip in mid-August. And lessons have presumably been learned over two close post-season calls of the last two years, right?

8. The compressed playoff schedule

It takes eight months to get into the MLS playoffs. They end for two teams just three or four days later. Within 11 days, six of 10 teams will have been eliminated. That’s too quick! Surely there’s a better way to extend the drama.

9. How will the refereeing hold up?

Refereeing in MLS is a hot topic pretty much every week, so there’s no real reason to expect any difference now. I mean, Pierluigi Collina isn’t coming through the door here, right? MLS officiating keeps slowly improving, but mark this down: There will be a highly controversial moment that helps decide a series. Probably more than one.

10. The dark horse in Utah

How can Real Salt Lake be a dark horse? Jason Kreis team won a league championship not so long back (2009). And they were U.S. Open Cup runner-up this year. Still, RSL has lots of young parts, and they just aren’t as fashionable as a championship favorite. Still, Kreis’ team only finished behind the Timbers (everyone’s favorite now) by a single point.

(MLS Week in Review for Round 35)

(MORE: MLS Eastern Conference playoffs are set)

(MORE: MLS Western Conference playoffs are set)

(MORE: MLS playoff schedule and TV times)

  1. rphillish - Oct 28, 2013 at 2:45 PM

    Some one in LA’s midfield, like Zardes or Rogers, needs to really step it up if the Galaxy are going to get a three-peat. Also, if the Red Bulls can win the MLS Cup, then Petke just edges out Porter for Coach of the Year.

  2. talgrath - Oct 28, 2013 at 5:49 PM

    “Only” six winners of the Supporters Shield have taken the MLS cup, six of eighteen is statistically significant. MLS is a parity driven league, you have a salary cap (albeit with the wiggle room of three designated players) that is fairly unforgiving and most years we see a different set of teams fill those playoff brackets and in different spots. Given that the field includes 8 previously and 10 teams now, if the Supporter’s Shield wasn’t an indicator of quality we would expect to see them only win slightly more on the average of a number picked at random from 8, if we saw any difference at all; instead, we see a massive 33%, if you only include the playoffs since MLS went to the 10 teams with wildcard format, you get 50%. And in fact, this is approximately what we see in other parity-driven leagues, the NFL has had 23 1st seeds win the Super Bowl since 1975, or about 2/3rds, but the NFL has two 1st seeds and doesn’t determine a single number one, if you halve that to get a “true” league 1st, you’d get about 1/3rd of the games won by the NFL “true” 1st seed. I know a lot of soccer fans aren’t used to parity, the EPL and La Liga certainly don’t have it, but in a parity driven league the 1st team doesn’t always win. Winning the Supporter’s Shield statistically gives you a 1 in 3 chance of winning the cup, which is better than any other seed, that’s huge, even more now so that the higher seed gets to play the MLS Cup final in their stadium.

  3. tomofbrooklyn - Oct 29, 2013 at 5:06 PM

    Please note that, in the regular season’s last match, credit for the second Red Bull goal, originally given to Tim Cahill, was later credited to defender Ibrahim Sekagya. It was a crazy scrum though, and, of course, Cahill was in the middle of it. Five goals by five different Red Bulls shows a real team effort going into the playoffs.

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