MLS Playoffs: Handicapping & Whose Your Favorite?

The MLS playoff schedule was set late Sunday night (it’s down below here).

We’ll review with a thorough handicapping later this week, but for now…here’s our quick odds, brief summary and the schedule.

Please lend your voice to the odds and we’ll republish on Wednesday or Thursday:

Evans for Seattle (and previously for Columbus)

TSG’s MLS Playoff Odds:

Seattle Sounders: 3 to 1* (pending Rosales injury update)

Los Angeles Galaxy: 4 to 1

Real Salt Lake: 6 to 1

Philadelphia Union: 7 to 1

Sporting KC, FC Dallas: 8 to 1

Colorado Rapids: 10 to 1

Houston Dynamo: 14 to 1

New York Red Bulls, Columbus Crew: 15 to 1


TSG’s Pick (may change by Thursday): Seattle

TSG Skinny: There are a just few basic things you need to reach the MLS Cup Finals after journeying through its playoff gauntlet. They are: veteran leadership in the back, team speed, bite in the midfield and a playmaker who can create against the best.

Casey: Showing Houston the door...

It’s not hard to see.

Last year, FC Dallas had the savvy veteran leadership of Kevin Hartmann in the back while their opponents, Colorado, had Drew Moor. Dallas brought David Ferriera as their playmaker while none other than Conor Casey actually made himself a beast in the final game. (Say what you will about Conor Casey, but he seems to have a knack for theatrical on a big stage.)

Dallas featured Dax McCarty, Brek Shea as the speed in its midfield while Daniel Hernandez provided the bite. Conversely, it was of course the pairing of Jeff Larentowicz and Pablo Mastroeni in the midfield for the Rapids.

The champs the year prior were Real Salt Lake with, of course, Javy Morales as their playmaker, who was backed by the bite of Kyle Beckerman and flanked by the speedy Will Johnson.

Veteran Nick Rimando was in the cage with vets Nat Borchers and Jamison Olave ahead of him.

In 2008, Frankie Hedjuk was the voice of reason on the Crew’s backline, Brad Evans and Brian Carroll provided the moxie in midfield, Eddie Gaven was on the flank with always-crafty playmaker of Guillermo Barros pulled, or played if you prefer, the strings in his swan song as Columbus earned their White House visit.

The Crew's championship maestro...

2007 featured a repeat for the Dynamo, who of course had the very veteran Pat Onstad in goal fronted by vet Eddie Robinson.

Houston was ridiculously lethal in the midfield with Brad Davis, DeWayne DeRosario and a young Stu Holden. The former two being the playmakers. Ricardo Clark and Brian Mullan provided the stick in the center.

Get the picture?

Right now, Seattle is on the TSG pedestal as the team to beat. They’ve got the emotional charge of playing for Steve Zakuani and Kasey Keller–with Keller being that savvy vet in the back.

They’ve got Sigi Schmid’s proclamation at the end of last year that “this group’s time is limited,” meaning a sense of urgency. Osvaldo Alonso and Brad Evans are humming and snuffing out chances in the midfield. Perhaps they are this year’s version of Mastroeni and Larentowicz.

There is concern about the ability to remain consistently focused as well as Mauro Rosales being healthy* (* a report circulating suggests an MCL strain in the Chivas game this past weekend), but the stars seemed aligned as Fredy Montero has played hold-up for the work of Rosales and Alvaro Fernandez.

Can’t get over the fact that the Galaxy may be heading into the playoffs with a less than 100% Robbie Keane. Chad Barrett and Adam Cristman can’t take possibly this team to the promised land and as much as Mike Magee has stepped up his game, he’s not going to scare opponents.

That said, I worry about the midfield of the Galaxy. Beckham has been pure with his passing, even outstanding at times. Juninho has been brilliant….at times, but where’s the playoff bite on the inside there.

Additionally who is the keeper? The Galaxy have played brilliantly behind Josh Saunders. Is he ready to step up or will the overrated Donovan Ricketts be back between the wickets at the risk of upsetting the chemistry in the back?

Come the Western Conference playoffs, the Galaxy will likely be staring at the aforementioned Seattle or  they’ll face the likes of Kyle Beckerman and Will Johnson (or Andy Williams) and Real Salt Lake.

Not that you are, but don’t out RSL. They know how to handle the playoffs as witnessed by their 2009 run as well as this year’s CONCACAF Champion’s League run. RSL is the type of side that once they have a singular focus as put a very volatile 2011 season behind them could be deadly if (and only if) there forwards are on form. That’ll be the key for them.

How far can LeToux up top carry the Union?

On the other coast, Philadelphia with a defense a class or two above last year’s team. Their own midfield still struggles at times, especially to manufacture chances and they’ll need to find ways for Sebastian Le Toux not to get bottled up. Can Danny Mwanga–who at least statistically took a step back this season–step up. How about you, Freddy Adu?

Sporting KC comes in next and they’ve got the strong defensive line and probably the best forward assortment for Peter Vermes to choose from. Their midfield will face a major test and that leaves it up to Graham Zusi to make the playoffs his true coming out party, while Roger Espinoza plays Dema Kovalenko in shutting down counters (as will often happen) without getting too many cautions.

The Houston Dynamo’s strength will unfortunately be their weakness. No team is better at set pieces–maybe the Galaxy–than the Dynamo. That said, the Dynamo will struggle as teams stronger up top take the game to them and push the action in their own half. They just don’t have enough dangerous players at forward to avoid their midfield–especially MVP…..candidate Brad Davis–from being collapsed on.

The New York Red Bulls have the talent to make a run, but they won’t.



Wednesday (8pm)– (4) New York Red Bulls at (1) FC Dallas

Thursday (10pm) – (3) Columbus Crew at (2) Colorado Rapids


Highest Remaining Wild Card vs. (1) Sporting Kansas City

(3) Philadelphia Union vs. (2) Houston Dynamo (1st leg is Sunday, 4pm, at PPL Park)


Lowest Remaing Wild Card vs. (1) Los Angeles Galaxy

(3) Real Salt Lake vs. (2) Seattle Sounders (1st leg is Saturday, 10pm, at Rio Tinto Stadium)

20 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by John on 2011/10/24 at 10:54 AM

    Rosales supposedly out 4 weeks after re-tearing the MCL tear. FYI.


  2. Posted by Albert on 2011/10/24 at 10:58 AM

    So many proof-reading errors! Missed words and typos galore. Good article though.


  3. Posted by Andy on 2011/10/24 at 11:10 AM

    Have to give an edge to LA given their record this season, but I’d have preferred a few more FU victories from a team that far ahead in the standings.


  4. Posted by crow on 2011/10/24 at 11:19 AM

    With Mwanga not at full speed still, Adu has to step up. His touch and decision making has been poor and his set piece delivery has been putrid the last few games. Running out of time to figure it out Freddy!


    • Posted by SoB on 2011/10/25 at 11:29 AM

      Very true about Freddy, but Mwanga played last 45 against the cancer drinks (err Red Bull) and looked quick, though rusty.


  5. Posted by laurie on 2011/10/24 at 11:20 AM

    Better not be true. If it is, twitter hasn’t heard it yet, and twitter knows all.

    Also, who is this “Osvaldo Perez” of whom you speak. Osvaldo Alonso might be surprised to know he has competition. 🙂


  6. Posted by dth on 2011/10/24 at 12:00 PM

    I have like zippo feel for what’s going to happen. LA, I assume.


  7. Posted by Ufficio on 2011/10/24 at 12:54 PM

    If someone would lay me 8 to 1 odds on KC, I’m pretty sure I’d jump all over it.


  8. Yeah with Rosales out, gonna pull for the Boonboorees in this


  9. Posted by joe on 2011/10/24 at 4:15 PM

    I agree that Seattle has the best chance assuming *. I just don’t agree with the wild card team results. Conor Casey isn’t available for the Rapids and with the dreadful run of form from both Dallas and Colorado this past month, I don’t see them getting past a New York and Columbus who had to fight to stay alive. Both wildcard survivors will lose in the semi’s. I think Houston will get past Philly, but KC has the best overall team from the east. They are playing well at the right time, have some veterens in Kimara and Nielson, strong mids, good forwards and decent defense. Not good enough to beat the top four from the West but all the other teams from th east have huge question marks. I also don’t like how RSL kinda limped into the playoffs, however the return of Beckerman should help significantly. RSL’s issue will be scoring goals with no playmaker or target man. The question for Seattle and Seattle will be who is the most healthy. LA needs a healthy Landon, I don’t think Keane is as big a deal since most of the year JPA was a non factor. Seattle has a hot Montero hot Ochoa, and Fucito to wear down the defense up top. I don’t think Rosales will be available so Evans will have to be the major distributor from the mid. All the other pieces are tried and true and there isn’t a hotter team in the playoffs. Everyone should be thankful that Chicago didn’t make the playoffs or I world be calling them the East champs.


  10. Posted by Kevin on 2011/10/24 at 6:56 PM

    As far as your Houston analysis, I think as far as the East goes the only team playing better right now is KC. Saying that we dont have potent strikers is a fair assessment but when 17 different players score for one team, is that really a bad thing? Other thing is that many people will tell you that Costly has been playing well but not putting them away. Hes a very streaky striker and now that he’s got that monkey off his back and some confidence he might just catch some people off guard. This team is reminiscent of Houston of the past with Boswell providing veteran leadership, Moffat providing bite in midfield, Davis and increasingly camargo playing creator, and Cruz providing speed. Cruz resembles at times a raw foolish Mullan.

    I predict Houston getting by Philly but KC might give us some fits with their speed. Two things I try to remember is that anything can happen in playoffs but with an optimistic outlook I also like to think that Houston has only ever lost once on aggregate… I say that to leave out the conference final in 2009…


  11. Posted by DougS on 2011/10/24 at 8:14 PM

    John – how do you know that Rosales re-tore his MCL in the morning when he was scheduled for an MRI in the afternoon? Are you a time-traveller? I hope for the sake of the Sounders that you are a mere mortal making an unsupported statement.


  12. Posted by Kay20 on 2011/10/24 at 10:29 PM

    I agree with someone above – Landon is far more important to the Galaxy than Robbie Keane. 100% healthy Landon = the team that for the most part put away the Shield this season.

    You have that 100%, LA is the favorite as that is the team that was steamrolling competition earlier this year.

    But it’s an absolute shame that it can’t be an LA/Seattle final – that’s what it should be.


  13. […] Shin Guardian gives the Union 7 to 1 odds at winning the MLS Cup. That puts the Union as the 4th most likely team to win, behind Seattle, LA […]


  14. Picking an LA – KC final, giving it to Sporting based on difficulty.

    LA has to go through New York (they will beat Dallas) then one of Seattle and Salt Lake.

    Tired midfield and lack of quality depth will expose LA. If the season is a marathon, the playoffs are a sprint. KC over LA.


  15. […] changes in the little schematic we put together last […]


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