SANDY, UT - OCTOBER 29: Javier Morales #11 of Real Salt Lake celebrates with fans their win over the Seattle Sounders during the second half of an MLS play-off 1st leg soccer game October 29, 2011 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. Real Salt Lake won the game taking a 3-0 lead into the second game. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
Hey sure why let the fun of power rankings end just because the regular season is over? We had 4 huge matches this weekend between teams with something to fight for, perhaps the biggest surprise for me was the fact that three of the matches had the home team lose. So let's see how I see the team ranking, starting with #8
No team other than RSL had more of a home field advantage that Colorado (heck with the weather they might even have had more of an advantage), but the physical play of Sporting KC and some untimely injuries hurt them as they lost their opener 2-0. Just one shot on goal, less than 50% of the possession and only 71% completed passes aren't going to be good enough for a home match in the playoffs. Now they face a tough task of getting a win at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park, where SKC were 9-2-6 in regular season action.
7. Philadelphia Union
While the 2-1 scoreline leaves them with a realistic chance to get a result on Thursday, I thought they played a very flat match and were out hustled and out worked by Houston for the vast majority of the match. While LeToux's goal was a great answer to the early Dynamo goal, it fell short in the end as Calen Carr would get the game winner. I can't fault the work rate or attempts of the Union, but this match looked a lot more one-sided than the score or the stats reflect. I expect a much more aggressive start in Houston.
the rest of the rankings after the jump:
I should put them at #8 for their antics after and during the match, for a team with such a big time coach and so many world class players they sure seem like a bunch of punks at times. I think it says a lot about this team when 5 of their 17 shots were from Rafa Marquez, with him in the midfield instead of on the back line I think this team plays worse. The reality is that they failed to take advantage of their chances, so despite having almost 60% of the possession, a 17 to 8 advantage in shots, they couldn't get it done. However by keeping the score to 1-0, they leave themselves perhaps in the best position of any losing team to pull off a road upset and advance. Beating LA at the HDC is something no team was able to do this year, so a huge task for NYRB.
Despite losing by the biggest margin, I thought the Sounders actually were better than a few teams that won their matches (LA and Sporting KC), still I have to rank them #5 due to the 3-0 loss at Rio Tinto. I am not sure if it was injuries, over confidence, or fatigue from a very busy year, but I thought they played an attacking style that simply ran into a RSL defense that stopped them before they could get off quality shots. I expect they will play a very aggressive match on Wednesday but they will need to not only score at least 3, but keep RSL off the scoreboard.
I thought they played a match where they tried to and succeeded in using their physicality on and off the ball to beat down the Rapids, and without Pablo to match their physicality the Rapids seem a bit intimidated on both sides of the ball. Sporting kept the Rapids to just 1 shot on goal and under 50% of the possession, both huge things for a road team. Can this young team keep their composure and eliminate the defending MLS Cup champions at home on Wednesday?
They did exactly what they needed to do, they didn't allow the Red Bulls to build anything positive early in the match. Their early goal then allowed them to do what they have done very well this year, protect a lead, they were 16-0-4 when scoring first this year in MLS action. Despite the post match antics, I think it will take something very, very special from the Red Bulls if they are going to pull off the upset of LA. The Galaxy simply don't make many mistakes, and they are very good at taking advantage of mistakes that others make.
When I started watching their match at Philly, I was simply impressed by how they were playing, smart, aggressive, and in control. They know what their strengths are and they play towards that and two of those strengths are Brad Davis (my MVP of the year) and Brian Ching, both know what it takes to do well in the big games. I think going home where they were 10-3-4 this year will mean that they should be able to advance on to the Eastern Conference Final.
Was I surprised that RSL got the win at home? Not really. Was I surprised that they were able to get a 3-0 win and dominate the match as much as they did, yes I was. I expected a tight match but it seems RSL getting their stars on the field at the same time in front of a good home crowd was enough to motivate them to play the style that RSL fans got used to over the end of 2010 and start of 2011. It was a complete effort by everyone on the pitch and the only downside are the injuries to Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers (both of whom who traveled with the team to Seattle). The playoff experience on the roster lets them know that they haven't accomplished anything yet and still need to finish out this round on Wednesday, but if they can play like they did Saturday night, well things could go very well for them.
So there you have my thoughts on how the teams did after the first leg, if any of you are in Vegas stop by the TI sports book and let me know the odds on the second leg matches.
OFF MY SOAPBOX