Sunday saw the 2013 Major League Soccer regular season campaign come to a thrilling conclusion. Only two of the five Eastern Conference play-off spots were confirmed heading into the final weekend, and while the five Western Conference sides were already determined, the final seeds were anything but sorted.
Once the dust settled Sunday evening, the MLS play-off picture came to light and the five teams in each conference learned their post-season path to the MLS Cup:
Eastern Conference Western Conference
1. New York Red Bulls 1. Portland Timbers
2. Sporting Kansas City 2. Real Salt Lake
3. New England Revolution 3. LA Galaxy
4. Houston Dynamo 4. Seattle Sounders
5. Montreal Impact 5. Colorado Rapids
The MLS play-off first round features a one-off play-in game between the fourth and fifth seeds in each conference, which will be played on Wednesday and Thursday this week. Next weekend, New York Red Bulls will battle either Houston Dynamo or Montreal Impact in the east’s semi-final, while Portland Timbers will play Seattle Sounders or Colorado Rapids in the west.
The second and third seeds already know their opponent heading into their conference semi-final at the weekend, as Sporting Kansas City are set to meet New England Revolution in the east and Real Salt Lake will size up LA Galaxy in the west.
The winners of the home-and-away semi-final will meet in the conference finals – another two-legged contest – to determine who will compete for the 2013 MLS Cup.
The weekend’s fixtures finalised the lingering play-off positioning questions with a flurry of activity. On Saturday, Timbers secured first place in the west with a convincing 5-0 win over struggling Chivas USA, Diego Valeri providing an early brace to set Portland on track to an easy victory.
Sporting Kansas City made a strong bid for the MLS Supporters’ Shield, awarded to the team with the most points during the regular season, with a 2-1 win over Philadelphia Union. Lawrence Olum scored in the second minute of stoppage time to secure all three points for Kansas City.
With five games contested on Sunday, there was still much to play for during the league’s last regular season day. And with a chance to overtake Sporting Kansas City atop the Eastern Conference table, New York Red Bulls hosted Chicago Fire on Sunday and put five past goalkeeper Sean Johnson en route to a 5-2 win for Mike Petke’s men, securing the Supporters’ Shield and first place in the east in the process.
Vancouver Whitecaps, whose chances of post-season action were already eliminated before heading into the weekend, beat Colorado Rapids 3-0 to keep Rapids fifth in the west.
While the British Columbian outfit couldn’t sneak into the play-offs with the win, Camilo’s hat-trick brought the Brazilian to 22 goals scored during the regular season campaign - one more than Fire striker Mike Magee – to claim the MLS Golden Boot prize for 2013.
New England Revolution return to the play-offs after a three-year hiatus, courtesy of Stoke-City bound striker Juan Agudelo whose goal in the 28th minute gave Revolution a 1-0 victory over Columbus Crew. The win sealed third place for the Boston-based side, setting up an eastern conference semi-final match-up with Sporting Kansas City.
Houston visited D.C. United needing a win to keep their hopes of securing the fifth and final Eastern Conference play-off spot alive. Houston got the job done with a 2-1 win over the Black and Red, and with Chicago’s 5-2 loss to New York later in the afternoon, the Texas side punched their play-off ticket.
Clint Dempsey scored his first goal for Seattle Sounders in the 30th minute, but Republic of Ireland captain Robbie Keane levelled matters 12 minutes from time. The 1-1 draw means Galaxy will head straight to the weekend’s Western Conference semi-final first leg against Real Salt Lake, while Seattle host Colorado Wednesday in the west’s four-five play-in match.
Landon Donovan played 90 minutes for LA but didn’t find the back of the net, keeping the American international level with Jeff Cunningham’s all-time record of 134 regular season goals. After the match, FIFA.com spoke with the Galaxy No10 about the upcoming play-off match with Real Salt Lake. "We have a real hard game against the team I think has been the best team in the league over the last four or five years," Donovan said.
"Both teams attack, so it should make for a really exciting series. I think a lot of times in the play-offs teams bunker in and be safe but we know they like to play when they come to LA, and when we go there it'll be the same. It's going to come down to who makes more plays."
When asked about coming so close to breaking Cunningham's record but coming up short, it was clear where Donovan's focus was: "It doesn't even cross my mind. I just want another ring."