Capacity crowds braved the late November cold this weekend in Kansas City and Portland to watch Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake advance to the 2013 MLS Cup on December 7th in Kansas City.
1) Baby it’s Cold Outside.
All concerned will be hoping that it warms up at least a little bit in Kansas for that 4pm start, the temperature at the start of Saturday’s match was an MLS record coldest 22 degrees.
Kansas City also set an attendance record, drawing 21,650 fans to fill Sporting Park well past the stadium’s 18,500 capacity. Those fans were handed a bit of a shock when the Dynamo opened the scoring in just the third minute, through Honduran international Boniek Garcia. Garcia took a pass from Houston assist maestro Brad Davis and got a fortunate carom off of SKC defender Matt Besler for the goal.
SKC rebounded quickly, pressuring the Houston defense into some indecisive play. C.J. Sapong took advantage of a “you get him, no you get him,” moment between Houston center back’s Bobby Boswell and Eric Brunner, and the game was back level in the 14th minute.
Both teams had come out playing aggressively after a dull 0-0 draw in Houston two weeks ago, but it was clear that Houston badly missed midfielder Ricardo Clark and striker Will Bruin. Bruin was replaced by Cam Weaver, and his brutal miss in the 30th minute would prove costly.
Clark’s absence was even more telling, Houston badly missed Clark’s energy and tackling, not to mention his recently improved passing game. Without Clark’s presence, Graham Zusi and Benny Feilhaber enjoyed the freedom of pitch and Feilhaber gave another one of his, “why isn’t this guy on the U.S. MNT displays.”
Zusi and Feilhaber combined brilliantly through the center of the park on the SKC winner, with Feilhaber chipping a lovely pass to Dom Dwyer. Dwyer, who was a record setting sensation when on loan this season to Orlando SC, controlled calmly in traffic, before taking his chance with aplomb.
That would be enough for Sporting Kansas City to see off their old nemesis Houston, the Dynamo eliminated SKC from the playoffs the past two years.
2) Real Salt Lake Dominate Portland – Win 5-2 on Aggregate
RSL did the heavy lifting with a 4-2 victory over Portland on November 10th. All that remained for RSL was to come into Portland’s Jeld-Wen Field and give a composed performance to make that two goal advantage stand up.
That task became easier for RSL in the 29th minute when Robbie Findley pounced on a rebound from a Luis Gil blast that Donovan Ricketts could not handle. Interestingly Findley became the second 2010 U.S. MNT whipping boy at the center of weekend play in the MLS playoffs. Houston’s Ricardo Clark, by not playing because of injury, and of course Findley, who scored a goal in each leg of RSL’s Conference Championship victory.
After Findlay’s goal RSL were never in danger of losing their advantage. Portland never looked like scoring one goal, let alone three, and Real Salt Lake move on to the MLS Cup versus Kansas City.
3) League Announces Award Nominees
MVP is the big one and the candidates are Robbie Keane (L.A. Galaxy), Marco Di Vaio (Montreal Impact), and Mike Magee (Chicago Fire). Rookie of the Year : Deshorn Brown (Colorado Rapids), Dillon Powers (Colorado Rapids), and DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders). Goalkeeper of the Year : Jimmy Nielsen (Sporting KC), Donovan Ricketts (Portland Timbers), and Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake). Defender of the Year : Matt Besler (SKC), Jose Goncalves (N.E. Revolution), and Omar Gonzalez (L.A. Galaxy). Coach of the Year is between Jason Kreis (Real Salt Lake), Mike Petke (New York Red Bulls), and Caleb Porter Portland Timbers).
My pick for MVP is Magee, he turned a dismal Chicago season around after being traded from the Galaxy. MLS just announced that Powers has been selected as MLS Rookie of the Year. My pick was Yedlin, although Powers is a worthy choice. Besler and Gonzalez are recent winners of Defender of the Year, New England’s Goncalves, a well travel Portuguese is not as well known to U.S. soccer fans, but is the favorite for the award after an excellent season, and the pick here.
Caleb Porter’s work in making Portland worthy of the adulation they receive from the Timber Army will likely earn the first year man the award, while Kreis’ fine work in getting RSL to the final is likely to be taken for granted. My pick is Petke, who led the Red Bulls to the Supporters Shield. No, the Shield is not the top prize in MLS, but Petke is the first Red Bulls/Metro Stars coach to win anything in their history.
The New York franchise had 13 coaches before Petke. Among them, the two best American coaches ever, Bob Bradley and Bruce Arena, former national team coaching vagabond Bora Milutinovic, who also coached the U.S. MNT and and Brazilian World Cup winning coach Carlos Alberto Perreria.
So yeah, Petke gets my vote.
4) Irish Mike Magee?
Somehow Mike Magee has never been capped by the U.S. MNT. Even this year, when Magee left L.A. as the Galaxy’s leading goal scorer and turned around Chicago’s season. Jurgen Klinsmann has been happy to hand chances to overlooked MLS vets like Brad Davis and Brad Evans, but no call has come for Magee. Now with Ireland’s new coaching duo of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane scouring the Irish diaspora for suitable soccer talent, what about Magee? Here is some of what Magee’s former teammate with L.A., Robbie Keane told the Irish Herald.
“Mike Magee is a lad who was with LA Galaxy for the last few years. He’s from Chicago, his family are there so he wanted to go back. They didn’t want to get rid of him.”
“His whole family is Irish. His grandfather or father. He’s not an international,” he said before suggesting that he would be interested in a call from O’Neill.
“I’d say he would. He definitely would like to but he’s probably waiting for that American call-up. How he hasn’t got it I don’t know.”
“If he (O’Neill) asked me about him, I certainly would but I’m sure Roy (Keane) and people would be fully aware of all the players available to them.”
5) Kreis’ Contact is Up
MLS Coach of the Year nominee Jason Kreis picked a pretty good year to get back to the finals. Kreis led RSL to the 2009 MLS title and has been strongly linked with a move to big money New York City FC, who are set to begin play in 2015. A championship wouldn’t hurt Kreis’ negotiating position any.