The MLS playoffs are officially set. In the East we have the New York Red Bulls vs. San Jose Earthquakes and the Columbus Crew vs. our own Colorado Rapids. In the West, the Los Angeles Galaxy vs. the Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake vs. FC Dallas. Here's how I personally think the four first round series' will go down.
New York Red Bulls vs. San Jose Earthquakes: This will probably be one of the most fun gang of games to watch. San Jose is being led by that spitfire and Golden Boot winner (!) Chris Wondolowski, who has over half the teams offense all on his own with an astonishing 18 goals and an assist to boot and has been making such a fantastic run of form this season that some San Jose fans are even suggesting he should be a dark horse candidate for MVP. Combined with their new DP Geovanni, San Jose is looking to make some playoff noise.
New York is hitting a small slump in their fantastic run of form since acquiring a gang of new players earlier in the season including former Rapid Mehdi Ballouchy, international star Thierry Henry, Rafa Marquez and their own Rookie of the Year candidate defender Tim Ream. You can't forget their original #1 superstar Juan Pablo Angel either. This team has weapons all over the field and the best defense in the East to boot.
This series is going to come down to Chris Wondolowski, no question. Nobody on the Earthquakes besides him have more than three goals to their name. If the Red Bulls contain him, they win this in a landslide.
UZ'S PREDICTION: Red Bulls win, 4-2 Aggregate final
Columbus Crew vs. Colorado Rapids: Colorado comes into this set of games with a point to prove and the talent to prove it with. Since attaining Macoumba Kandji and Brian Mullan at the trade deadline for Mehdi Ballouchy, Colin Clark and some draft picks and cash, the Rapids have been on a torrid run of form, showing results against some of the best sides in the league en route to their first playoff berth since 2006. Conor Casey and Omar Cummings have 25 goals between them and have established themselves as the best duo of strikers in the game right now.
Columbus unfortunately has seen their long and competition filled season take its toll on them. After not only 30 games of MLS but a continuing CCL run and a trip all the way to the Open Cup finals only to lose to Seattle they have been worn out and slumping harder than you would hope a playoff team should be. Blowout losses to Seattle at home and dropping results against the Chicago Fire haven't helped their image, also needing a goal from their keeper of all people to draw against the middling Toronto FC.
This one got a lot less interesting earlier today as Columbus goalkeeper Will Hesmer was reported to have a fractured shoulder. He will miss the playoffs and the already tired and depth-starved Crew will have a hell of a battle on their hands now against a hungry, talented and well rested Rapids squad.
UZ'S PREDICTION: Rapids win, 5-2 Aggregate final
Los Angeles Galaxy vs. Seattle Sounders: This one is going to be great. Seattle has played some of the best football in the league in the later half of the season, storming from a point where it looked like they wouldn't even make the final eight to a top four finish in the tough Western Conference. They have plenty of talent all over the field and a great fight-back mentality along with the biggest fanbase in the MLS. Qwest Field is going to be rocking that night.
Los Angeles will never not be a contender as long as they have the services of Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle up top for them. The duo again led LA to the top of the West and to a Supporters Shield this season with 58 total points. David Beckham seems to have found some of his famous form again coming back from injury as he picked up a lovely goal in the last game of the season against FC Dallas and Donovan Ricketts and his defense are steady if unspectacular.
Seattle and LA are going to play probably the most exciting out of all of the playoff match-ups, I expect two very high scoring flashy games from these two teams. In the end, I give Seattle and their great recent form their second semi-finals berth in two years.
UZ'S PREDICTION: Sounders win, 5-4 Aggregate final.
Real Salt Lake vs. FC Dallas: This potentially exciting match up may have been ruined by Dallas' awful form recently. FC Dallas has played solid but unspectacular football all season long, leading to a league high 14 draws. They've been able to pull ties out of thin air all season but that won't help them in the playoffs. Their talents include Jeff Cunningham and David Ferriera up top and a fairly stifling defense, but their final two games of the season were both losses to fellow playoff teams and they are ice cold going into the postseason.
Real Salt Lake begins their title defense as arguably the best team in the history of the league. They're simply impossible to beat at Rio Tinto stadium and boast one of the greatest defenses in MLS with Nat Borchers, Jamison Olave and goalkeeper Nick Rimando leading the way to a spectacular +25 goal differential for the defending champs.
This won't go well for Dallas. Their smoke and mirror tricks for getting draws out of losses simply won't work when games cannot end in a draw and that - along with the fact that RSL is simply a superior side by far - will work out wonderfully for the defending champions.
UZ'S PREDICTION: RSL win, 3-1 Aggregate final.
So in my little prediction world your MLS semi-finalists are Real Salt Lake, Seattle, Colorado and New York. Your predictions?