The 2014 MLS season officially has been whittled down to the remaining four teams. Two from the west and two from the east. And the teams and match ups for the semi-finals are really interesting. There are some great story lines, some fantastic players and some really talented teams. Here are a few of my thoughts on all of this:
LA Galaxy v Seattle Sounders
This is such a marquee matchup for so many reasons. First and foremost, these are the two best teams from the regular season. At least what’s their records indicate. Seattle clipped the Galaxy at the very end of the season to win the Supporter’s Shield. These two teams finished the season by playing against each other twice. And now they find themselves playing against each other again. Two more times. The last couple of regular season games with these two got pretty chippy. And I will make one prediction that I put at like a 99.9998% chance of happening. These games and this series will be very intense. I don’t know who will win, but I do know this is going to be a pretty heated series.
You can’t talk about this series without focusing in heavy on Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey. The former poster boy of US Soccer and the current poster boy of US Soccer. The former captain of the US National Team and the current captain of the US National Team. Landon Donovan has five MLS Cups under his belt. Clint Dempsey has yet to win any (granted he has been out of the league for a long time). And these are just surface level.
How about that LA offense though? Landon, Robbie Keane and Gyasi Zardes. That is a scary offense. Nuff said.
Robbie Rogers is another great story. Converting from midfield to defender has completely rebuilt his career. He is a fantastic defender and was rightfully rewarded with a long term contact from the Galaxy. Robbie v Deandre Yedlin could be a fun matchup to keep an eye on.
And quite possibly the biggest story of them all – Landon is retiring at the end of this season. So this is it. Can he and the Galaxy make it to MLS Cup? Can they win the whole damn thing and send the kid out on top? If the Galaxy do win the chip, I want to see Landon give a post match speech on the field, then do the mic drop and bounce.
There’s the Sigi Schmid situation. Former coach of the Galaxy. He won one MLS Cup with the Galaxy. Could have won more. Lost to Landon and San Jose in 2001. Can he redeem that? Can he be the manager of three separate MLS Cup champion clubs?
Does Ozzie Alonso play? If he does, is he fit enough to make his normal type of impact? If he doesn’t, how much does this change the game? The health and fitness of Alonso could be the deciding factor in this one.
And lastly, this series features probably the two most successful American born and bred coaches. And I’m not just talking about MLS. Both Bruce and Sigi had very successful careers at the collegiate levels. They have both parlayed that into success at the professional level. If you look at two MLS coaches, you won’t find two that know the league, the system and American players any better than these two.
NYRB v New England. New York v Boston. That’s almost as much as you need to say about this. For American sports, you won’t find a much better rivalry amongst cities than New York and Boston. So we can just start right there.
Let’s chat about BYRB real quick. They have my dude Thierry Henry. The smoothest cat in the league. The greatest import of talent that the league has seen. The things he has done in his career, and his ability to still bring that quality, is on a different level. But – is this the end of the road with Thierry and NYRB? Is this the end of his playing career?
How about Bradley Wright-Phillips? This cat can’t stop scoring goals. It’s just what he has done all season. So why think that will change now? Thierry Henry and Bradley Wright-Phillips is a scary attacking duo.
If NYRB is bringing in a high powered offense, then New England is bringing a classy midfield. MVP candidate Lee Ngyuen is running shop around this league. My dude has 18 goals. From a midfielder. Lee Nguyen means serious business. Add Jermaine Jones to this midfield, and well the numbers don’t lie. Since joining the Revs post World Cup, they have gone on a rampage. I believe their record since Jones joined is 9-1-1. Do the math. That’s frightening. Sometimes playoffs in sports is all about peaking at the right time. It’s hard to argue that the Revs are peaking at just the right time.
One story that I really like about the Revs this year is the resurgence thats one players are seeing in their careers. Guys who had big expectations early in their careers and then saw those careers stall for whatever reason. And now seeing their careers back on track. I love that.
I mentioned Lee Nguyen above. This dude at one time was playing for PSV Eindhoven. After leaving the Dutch side he moved on to smaller and smaller clubs eventually landing in Vietnam. The kid was off pretty much everyone’s radar. Not anymore. He’s even worked himself back into the US National Team mix. How about Teal Bunbury? He’s doing the same. After a couple of tough seasons and a bad injury, Teal is back at it and New England seems to be a pretty good home for him. And lastly, how about Charlie Davies. This one is extra special for us to see Charlie back doing his thing. Charlie is one of my favorite people in professional sports. He’s just a really good dude that has gone through an incredible amount. To see him back, scoring goals, celebrating and dancing. That makes me smile. I couldn’t be any happier for him.
We’ll wrap this up with the coaches too. Whereas the LA v Seattle series features the OG generation of MLS coaches, this series features the next generation of MLS coaches. Jay Heaps and Mike Petke played in this league for a long time. They get what it’s like as players in MLS. They’ve both made the transition from MLS player to MLS coach. This story (the one of MLS players jumping to MLS coaches) is one of the greatest stories in the league. At least in my opinion.
One conference final features old school coaches, and the other new school coaches. Which means MLS Cup will pit these two generations of MLS coaches against one another. And we’ll talk more about that before MLS Cup.
I’m going to end this by being clear and saying the following. This is probably the best MLS conference finals in years. Just look at some of the players that will be involved. Landon, Robbie Keane, Clint Dempsey, Ozzie Alonso, Obafemi Martins, Jermaine Jones, Charlie Davies, Lee Nguyen, Bradley Wright-Phillips and Thierry Henry. That’s legit!
And these conference finals feature four massive markets in LA, NY, Seattle and the Boston area. Big market teams playing in MLS Cup is a good thing for the league and the sport. And if we want eyeballs and lots of attention on MLS Cup. Just imagine LA v NY in the final. Landon v Thierry. Landon definitely retiring. Thierry possibly retiring. That story, would write itself…