Tension reigns in MLS title race
All four of Major League Soccer’s first round of play-off clashes are delicately poised on single-goal margins heading into the second legs this week. Heavy favourites Los Angeles Galaxy, led by superstar duo of David Beckham and Landon Donovan, edged the Sounders 1-0 in Seattle while a Thierry Henry-less New York Red Bulls take the same lead back home from San Jose. Title holders Real Salt Lake lost out 2-1 to FC Dallas in the most exciting game of the lot – and the only one to produce more than two goals – as Colorado Rapids edged out 2008 champions Columbus Crew 1-0 in Denver.
The Galaxy didn’t have things all their own way in their tense clash with the two-time defending US Open Cup winners in front of a vociferous crowd up in Seattle, but their one-goal lead should be enough to get the job done. The goal came courtesy of USA international Edson Buddle and was a thing of beauty. Turning on an awkwardly bouncing ball some 35 yards from goal, he hoisted a shot high into the Seattle sky and right over Kasey Keller to seal the affair. Whether or not it will be enough to hold up will only be known on Sunday, when the glamour boys take their field in Carson, California and look to end Seattle’s spirited charge with a more convincing display. “It was just one of those things,” said Keller about the goal. “This is one of those times you just have to applaud the effort.”
The New York Red Bulls, who spent big money this season in search of their first MLS title, managed a win on the road in San Jose missing their biggest star, Thierry Henry to injury. Even without the former France and Arsenal icon, the New Yorkers rarely looked troubled and Joel Lindpere grabbed an opportunistic winner early in the second half. One of the most organised teams in the league, the New York side should have no trouble adding to their lead when they take the series home to the East Coast on Thursday, even if – as coach Hans Backe suspects – Henry may not be ready to return.
The Columbus Crew were one of the most prolific attacking outfits in the ‘regular season,’ but they failed to get that forward-thinking approach on line in Denver in their first leg. The Rapids rearguard did a number on danger-man Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who was substituted with more than 20 minutes to go in the 1-0 loss. That said, the Crew’s home fans are nothing if not behind their boys, and the return leg on Saturday promises to be an interesting capper to a lively affair.
Real Salt Lake will also be eager to overturn their first-leg loss - which proved the most exciting match of the four - with Jason Kreis’ 2009 surprise champions heading for home on the wrong end of a 2-1 loss in Texas. The sending-off of Javier Morales is likely to make trouble in the second leg for the men from Mormon Country, but FC Dallas have their own problems with injuries to key players threatening their ability to hang onto the lead.
The second legs:
New York Red Bulls-San Jose Earthquakes – 4.11.2010
Real Salt Lake-FC Dallas – 6.11.2010
Columbus Crew-Colorado Rapids – 6.11.2010
LA Galaxy-Seattle Sounders – 7.11.2010