Wednesday, November 3, 2010

MLS Playoffs: Semi-Final, First Leg

The Major League Soccer playoffs are underway and the first legs of the Conference semi-finals have been played.

The playoffs began at Dick's Sporting Goods Park, where Colorado Rapids began their outsider's raid on the Eastern Conference against second seed Columbus Crew. The form of these two sides meant that common wisdom made the Rapids the favourite, and Gary Smith's side got their 1-0 win courtesy of Pablo Mastroeni's finish from a low Omar Cummings cross. Though pleased with a first leg lead, Colorado could come to regret their profligacy in a match which saw them create all the best chances.

On Saturday, FC Dallas stamped their mark on the playoffs with a 2-1 home win over Real Salt Lake. It had all started badly for the Texans thanks to Fabian Espindola's brilliant fifth minute strike at Pizza Hut Park. Both teams demonstrated their attacking intent but it was FCD who got the second of the game, Jeff Cunningham slaloming through the defence to equalise just before the break.

David Ferreira hit the post in the 55th minute and in the 69th it was advantage Dallas after the sending off of Javier Morales. The Argentine got his second booking for a clumsy high boot and will be a big loss for Salt Lake in the second leg. The man advantage lasted just five minutes before Atiba Harris picked up a straight red card for an elbow. Eric Avila's (pictured) late winner was beautifully struck and gives Dallas a great chance to progress.

The form of San Jose Earthquakes had many tipping them for an upset against New York Red Bulls, but Hans Backe's men confounded the holders of that view by winning their away leg 1-0 at Buck Shaw Stadium. The man in form, Joel Lindpere, scored the crucial goal in California. The ball found its way to him near the edge of the box and he got his head down and drove it low across Earthquakes goalkeeper Jon Busch. The Quakes will be disappointed not to have taken any of their chances in the first leg. To make matters worse, golden boot winner Chris Wondolowski was booked for diving in the penalty area when San Jose had some useful possession, and the home side also hit the woodwork.

LA Galaxy also take an advantage back home after winning at Qwest Field against Seattle Sounders. The Sounders had a goal disallowed for offside before even 40 seconds had elapsed, and a superb Donovan Ricketts save from Fredy Montero kept LA level ahead of Edson Buddle's first half winner. The US international hit a cracking lob over Kasey Keller from long distance. There has been some debate about the freakish bounce off the turf and Keller's positioning, but Buddle should take the credit for a great goal.

LA, New York, Dallas and Colorado go into this weekend's second legs full of hope. The Red Bulls host the Earthquakes on Thursday night, Columbus play Colorado and Salt Lake play Dallas on Saturday, and Seattle travel to LA late on Sunday.

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