Houston Dynamo (Photo by Eric Christian Smith/Getty Images)
Adam Moffat #16 of the Houston Dynamo celebrates his goal in the 19th minute with teammates Jermaine Taylor #4 and Will Bruin #12 during the first half of a MLS Eastern Conference Semifinal against Sporting Kansas City at BBVA Compass Stadium on November 4, 2012 in Houston, Texas.
MLS Rankings: Playoffs edition
Drama and excitement rippled through the first legs of the MLS conference semifinals this weekend. Goals were at a premium – the four matches yielded five goals total – as the combatants tried to keep hope alive ahead of the second legs in midweek. All eight teams remain alive at this stage, but some sides enjoy a better chance of going through than others do at this point. FOX Soccer went through and ranked the teams from most likely to progress to least likely to secure a conference final berth. Read on to find out where each team landed after the weekend:
#8: Sporting KC
The Eastern Conference favorites dug themselves a two-goal hole heading back to LIVESTRONG Sporting Park. While the deficit is an issue, the greater problem comes from the performance in the 2-0 defeat to Houston at BBVA Compass Stadium. Sporting lacked the necessary sharpness in possession (on a chewed up field, admittedly) and watched the influential Roger Espinoza struggle to impact the match. Every player must improve in order to repair matters in midweek and snatch a first victory over the Dynamo in five attempts this season.
#7: LA Galaxy
One poorly conceded goal in second-half stoppage time transformed a manageable 0-0 home draw with San Jose into a disastrous 1-0 defeat on Sunday night. Los Angeles will rue its lack of sharpness in the final third and wonder how the tie might have changed if Robbie Keane's second-half drive had hit the goalframe just a few inches lower. Now the defending champions must travel north to overturn a one-goal deficit in their third game in seven days. It is foolish to count the Galaxy out at this stage, but the task ahead is a difficult one even for this seasoned group of campaigners.
#6: Seattle Sounders
Seattle can thank Nick Rimando for the mountain it has to climb at Rio Tinto Stadium on Thursday night. A 0-0 home draw isn't the worst result, but the Sounders desperately needed a goal or two to take to Utah as they try to reach the Western Conference final for the first time. Seattle boss Sigi Schmid must hope Michael Gspurning can replicate Rimando's heroics and Eddie Johnson returns from his abductor strain to give the Sounders a realistic shot of defeating RSL.
#5: D.C. United
United should have finished Saturday night with a lead in the series based on the run of play at RFK Stadium. Instead of creating an advantage to bring to Harrison on Wednesday, United settled for a 1-1 draw after exchanging own goals during the second half. Ben Olsen will need his side to display more composure – a quality that has deserted United at times this season – to bolster its second leg chances after Andy Najar harmed his side with a senseless second-half red card in the first leg.
#4: New York Red Bulls
New York somehow escaped from the District with a 1-1 draw after a poor first-leg showing against D.C. United. If the Red Bulls submit a better performance in the second leg and work Kenny Cooper (restored to the starting XI for the second leg, surely?) and Thierry Henry into the match more frequently, then they should find a way to progress to the Eastern Conference final.
#3: Real Salt Lake
Nick Rimando stood on his head on Friday night to send RSL back to Utah after a 0-0 draw in Seattle on Friday night. Rimando's heroics place the Claret-and-Cobalt in a fairly comfortable spot in the series, but Jason Kreis and his players will also note that this position – second leg at home, favored to win the tie – hasn't treated them particularly well in the past. RSL must involve Álvaro Saborío early and often to ensure this series does not add to the current trend.
#2: San Jose Earthquakes
Victor Bernárdez's fortunate stoppage-time winner placed the Earthquakes in control of their series with Los Angeles on Sunday night. A one-goal lead doesn't mean a whole lot in a series where both teams can score plenty of goals on a given day, but it does provide a modest cushion for the return leg at Buck Shaw Stadium on Wednesday night. Expect Frank Yallop's side to adopt a more aggressive approach after exhibiting a measured deportment at the Home Depot Center.
#1: Houston Dynamo
Dominic Kinnear's side leaned on its ample experience to maintain its hex over Sporting Kansas City with a 2-0 victory on Sunday afternoon. The victory will give the Dynamo a nice cushion to take to LIVESTRONG Sporting Park on Wednesday night, but the job isn't done yet. Houston must once again frustrate Sporting and interrupt the rhythm of the contest to ensure the solid team performance at BBVA Compass Stadium does not go to waste. One point to watch for the Dynamo: is Jermaine Taylor healthy enough to feature in midweek after limping off with a left knee injury during the first-leg triumph?