MLS playoffs: Upsets galore; Dallas' Ferreira is playoff MVP thus far
Salt Lake, Columbus, New York were all eliminated from MLS playoffs in upsets
After arranging all 3 FCD goals, Dallas' David Ferreira is looking like a playoff MVP
After losing in the first round again, changes are coming for the Columbus Crew
Five things we learned over two legs of the first round of the MLS playoffs:
1. Galaxy snap string of upsets: At least one of the high seeds stood up. The highest, in fact, as the Los Angeles Galaxy rescued the honor of the regular-season high achievers. Bruce Arena's bunch operated at full capacity against Seattle, expanding on last week's forceful night with another one Sunday -- a committed, professional, alert and tactically spotless effort.
But the other high seeds, well, they have a little explaining to do. Real Salt Lake, Columbus and New York were eliminated in upsets.
Real Salt Lake's loss to Dallas probably represents only a misdemeanor offense; the defending champs fell to a team that was a bugger to beat all year. But Columbus has issues, which Colorado expertly exploited. And the best DPs money can buy couldn't help New York overcome scrappy San Jose. The Red Bulls actually took a lead into Saturday's return leg in New Jersey but flopped big time.
The higher seeds' failures will add another talking point to owners' meetings coming up in Toronto, where the playoff structure will be up for inspection. The first-round, home-and-away format provides little advantage to teams that were superior through the entire regular season (i.e., the higher seeds).
At least the higher seeds get an edge now, as Los Angeles and Colorado will play host to this weekend's conference finals. Suggested MLS playoff motto if the league retains the current format: "Our high seeds get an advantage -- they just have to stick around for a while to enjoy it!"
The owners will also surely discuss the wacky geography of it all. Really, San Jose and Colorado playing this week for the, ahem, "Eastern Conference" championship? Hmmm. Surely commissioner Don Garber and the owners have had enough of that silliness.
Say what you will about a deeply flawed playoff structure, but it did provide pulsating theater, with three of the series wrapped in tension right down to the final kick.
Los Angeles was always in charge against Seattle, but the others where thrillers. San Jose-New York was in the balance all the way as Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski finally did for the Earthquakes what Thierry Henry couldn't for New York -- finish from in close at the moment of truth.
Colorado's classy Conor Casey-Omar Cummings combo hooked up yet again to send the Rapids-Columbus series into a mini-game and then into penalty kicks. And RSL, the defending champs, tried mightily but couldn't push one more past FC Dallas to extend that first-round affair.
2. Galaxy rise, Seattle runs and hides: Colorado was generally better than Columbus. Dallas-Real Salt Lake could have fallen either way. Same for New York-San Jose. But this Galaxy-Seattle series was a head-scratcher.
Not because the Galaxy looked so well prepared and performed with purpose and precision. That's a product of wily veterans and a coach who has been there. Rather, it was Seattle's lack of fight and lack of response after last week's meek-as-a-mouse outing that was simply stunning.
Everyone around that club has questions to answer, including the coach. Sigi Schmid made no lineup changes after last week's humbling 1-0 loss at home. Alvaro Fernandez was brought on at halftime, and to good effect. But, truly, if a team's second DP (Fernandez) isn't starting in a do-or-die playoff contest, then someone did something wrong somewhere along the personnel chain.
And tactically, it was checkers versus chess out there! Any series in any sport is about response the next time out; it's about improving what needs attention. Then the other guy responds to your response, you counterpunch and so on. Only the Sounders didn't appear to change a thing, failing epically to get their speedy flank players into positions where they could exploit favorable matchups.
Schmid also doesn't look good with his postgame whining about L.A.'s first goal. He felt that "clever" ole David Beckham hoodwinked referee Baldomero Toledo by taking a telling corner kick from his preferred right side. But Toledo clearly pointed to the right -- which means Beckham did just as instructed. If the Sounders weren't paying attention, well, that's their problem.
But don't let a corner kick in question be a red herring. The Sounders simply got whupped by a team that rose to the occasion. L.A.'s commitment over 180 minutes exposed Seattle's personnel shortcomings. The Sounders' center backs weren't good enough; their fullbacks couldn't pose enough offensive thrust; passing through the midfield was muddled and slow; Fredy Montero continued to slump; Blaise Nkufo was always lurking too far from goal; and the outside midfielders, particularly Sanna Nyassi, just weren't shrewd enough to get the ball in good spots.
L.A. isn't perfect, but the Galaxy hid their deficiencies in a way Seattle never came close to doing.
"We played well and we're going to need more of that kind of effort next week against Dallas," Arena said.
3. The playoff MVP so far: The best place to start culling a list of potential playoff MVPs? Easy -- begin with the achievers most responsible for big upsets. Because if you show me a big playoff stunner, then, almost without exception, I'll show you a memorable performance or two. Sure enough, we've seen a couple so far.
Take the Earthquakes. You wouldn't be wrong to tab Bobby Convey as San Jose's Man of the Moment. The former U.S. international, now doing the right things on the field to resurrect an international career that has long been on ice, ruled the night at Red Bull Arena with two huge goals and an equally massive assist.