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Playoff predictions

Look for D.C. United to conquer MLS for fourth time, but first since 1999

Posted: Friday October 22, 2004 1:20PM; Updated: Saturday October 23, 2004 12:23PM
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With the MLS playoffs opening Friday night in Colorado, here are my predictions for the postseason. For more on MLS' key $150 million sponsorship deal with Adidas, click here.

Columbus Crew (East No. 1 seed)  New England Revolution (East 4)

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Season Series: Crew won 2-0-2
Points in last eight regular-season games: Crew 18, Revolution 10

What to look for: Columbus has a sick 18-game unbeaten streak going, and while 10 of those have been ties, I'm not about to think the Revs have what it takes to pull off the upset. The Crew have too many weapons in Edson Buddle, Kyle Martino and Jeff Cunningham (as a late-game difference-maker) and should win the midfield battle with ease. The only way New England keeps it close is through some creative magic by Clint Dempsey, Pat Noonan or Taylor Twellman, but I don't see Columbus choking. Not at this stage, at least.

The Pick: Crew

D.C. United (East 2) vs. MetroStars (East 3)

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Season Series: United won 3-1
Points in last eight regular-season games:  United 16, MetroStars 8

What to look for: These two teams are heading in opposite directions, as evidenced by United's clear supremacy in the regular-season finale. Jaime Moreno has come back from the dead to have a remarkable season, and Christian Gomez has been a revelation. Aside from a comeback win against the Revolution, the Metros have been unable to do anything this season unless Amado Guevara is at the top of his game, and he's not right now. Just a hunch, but my gut tells me D.C.'s Alecko Eskandarian will be the toast of the MLS postseason.

The Pick: United

Kansas City Wizards (West No. 1) vs. San Jose Earthquakes (West 4)

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Season Series: Tied 1-1-2
Points in last eight regular-season games:  Wizards 17, Earthquakes 7

What to look for: The Quakes have won two of the past three titles, and Landon Donovan is MLS' money player and he happens to own the Wizards. So why am I going with K.C.? Because Bob Gansler's bunch has been relentlessly consistent this year, locking down the back and finding a new hero every game: Josh Wolff, Davy Arnaud, Igor Simutenkov, Jack Jewsbury, Bo Oshoniyi, etc. Expect the Wiz's multipronged attack to pierce the Quakes' banged-up defense and take revenge for a bitter elimination in '03.

The Pick: Wizards

Los Angeles Galaxy (West 2) vs. Colorado Rapids (West 3)

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Season Series: Galaxy won 1-0-3
Points in last eight regular-season games: Galaxy 9, Rapids 12

What to look for: If the Rapids were healthy, I'd tab Tim Hankinson's outfit for an upset. But they're not. With various knocks slowing down Jean Philippe Peguero, John Spencer, Mark Chung and Darryl Powell, the Rapids don't come in at full strength. The Galaxy, meanwhile, finally have a full back line at its disposal. The only way offense-impaired Colorado wins this series is if Joe Cannon stands on his head in goal, and Carlos Ruiz won't let that happen.

The Pick: Galaxy

So there you have it: four picks, four favorites. So much for parity. Just to keep myself honest, though, and whet your appetite for the rest of the postseason, here are my picks the rest of the way:

EASTERN FINALS: D.C. United over Columbus
WESTERN FINALS: Kansas City over Los Angeles
MLS CUP: D.C. United over Kansas City

Through-balls

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• Gotta say I was crushed last week when I logged onto FIFA's World Cup qualifying scoreboard (a highly addictive page on matchdays) and learned that Iraq's World Cup dream was over. The Iraqis, who reached the under-23 Olympic semifinals, fell to Uzbekistan 2-1 at "home" in Amman, Jordan, eliminating Iraq from the competition.

• Props to American Chris Cleary for becoming the first Yank to score a hat trick in the FA Cup in Worksop Town's victory against Droylsden last week.

• We made sport of our friend Thomas Rongen's Spanish-speaking abilities last week, but in all seriousness we commend the Chivas USA coach's commitment to take Spanish courses between now and the beginning of next season. In fact, I'm convinced the USSF should make competence in Spanish a requirement for any "A" licenses it gives out in the future. Such a rule would do more than anything else to let Spanish-speaking Americans know that U.S. Soccer cares about them. (In case you're wondering, the same thing should apply to soccer journalists. And, yes, I do speak fluent Spanish.)

• Nice to see SUM pick up the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which should allow us to see more games of the region's showcase tournament next year on national TV. Speaking of TV stuff, I happened to pick up the cell number of Carlos Ramirez, the rapacious Salvadoran who was responsible for ripping off U.S. fans to the tune of $25 a pop for the pay-per-view broadcast of U.S.-El Salvador. Not surprisingly, Mr. Ramirez did not return my message.

• Comings and goings: First off, we want to take the time to thank Jeff Green, the longtime soccer producer for this Web site who is taking his considerable talents to CNN. Jeff has been in charge of the soccer content on this site, fighting the battles for resources, and he will certainly be missed.

Also, snaps for Trey Fitz-Gerald, who is leaving his duties as media-relations czar at MLS HQ to become the Senior Director of Marketing & Communications for Real Salt Lake. As Fitz-Gerald leaves New York, the league is welcoming a familiar face, Andy Swift, as its new Senior Vice President of Marketing & Communications. The widely respected Swift was the Dallas Burn president and GM from 2000-03.

Enjoy the playoffs!

Sports Illustrated senior writer Grant Wahl keeps you up to date with the world of U.S. soccer at SI.com.

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