It took nearly seven months for six teams to get ousted from MLS Cup contention, and now we've got rid of four more teams in a manner of four days. We're now left with four teams who are very much alive in the chase for an MLS Cup title. And we've got a three-in-four chance of having a team win the MLS Cup for the first time as Columbus, New York and Real Salt Lake have not hoisted the Rothenberg/Anschutz Cup before... well, actually, nobody has hoisted the latter...
Anyway, here's my first look at the conference finals.
Columbus vs. Chicago
It's probably the final everyone wanted to see... well, everyone but Revs and Wizards fans. And really, this should be the MLS Cup final. Each team is built around a solid defense with a solid but not spectacular goalkeeper and has a veteran pulling the strings from the midfield with capable attackers up top.
Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Cuauhtemoc Blanco are two of the most creative players ever to play in MLS, and this game will be a treat on the respect alone. Then, you have Brian McBride returning to face his former team and all the feelings and emotions that will bring. I gotta believe McBride was highly thought of amongst Crew fans before joining Chicago and now he could become Public Enemy No. 1 in Columbus.
Whatever happens, this game should become a classic.
Real Salt Lake vs. New York Red Bulls
When these two teams opened Rio Tinto Stadium in October, few could have predicted that they'd meet there again, not six weeks later, for a ticket to MLS Cup. But that's what we've got as the winner of this game will advance to MLS Cup on Nov. 23. We'll have one of the sad-sack franchises from 2005-07 against one of the league's most pathetic franchises every playing for a shot at glory and redmeption and all that.
RSL has been far more consistent than New York and are really just hitting their stride. Even Jason Kreis acknowledged as much after eliminating Chivas USA, as he said RSL in May or June would have lost the game against Chivas after going down a goal. New York meanwhile was a surprise to even reach the postseason but now they are one step away from something they've never done, one step from playing for an MLS Cup title.
Both these teams can play the whoa-is-me card; each side can say "Nobody expected us to be here; whatever we do from now on is icing on the cake; etc." And while that much is true, now is the time to put all that behind and play like each side is capable of. There is no overwhelming favorite or underdog in this game so that sort of mindset won't work.
As far as predictions I have a site that pays for full-on match previews and predictions, so I'll abstain from making them. I will say that it'll be tough for both home teams to walk away with victories as each road team can make a strong case for winning the game.