AP Sports Writer
Seattle is trying to make MLS history. Los Angeles would love nothing more than to send Landon Donovan into retirement raising another trophy.
New England is the hottest team in the league entering the playoffs after the addition of midfielder Jermaine Jones. And New York’s Bradley Wright-Phillips gets two more games to try to add to his scoring barrage while questions linger about whether this will be Thierry Henry’s farewell to the MLS.
The MLS Cup playoffs get started in earnest this weekend with the first of the two-leg, aggregate-score conference semifinals. Seattle enters as the favorite after winning the Supporters’ Shield as the best team in the league during the regular season. But only twice in the past decade has the Supporters’ Shield winner gone on to win the MLS Cup title.
New this year to the MLS postseason is the introduction of away goals as a deciding factor. That tiebreaker has been a staple of the Champions League in Europe but has only been introduced into the MLS playoff structure.
“It rewards you for playing on the road and not just sitting back and trying to get a 0-0 result on the road and coming home. So you think about it a little bit more,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said.
Here are the conference semifinal matchups:
SEATTLE SOUNDERS vs. FC DALLAS
Seattle is trying to become the first team to win the U.S. Open Cup, Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup title in the same season. The Sounders were the first club since ties were introduced to finish the regular season with 20 victories. Getting to an MLS Cup title match would be the final step for Seattle. Seattle has advanced to the Western Conference finals only once in its five previous playoff trips. Seattle went 2-1 in the regular season against Dallas, including an important 3-2 comeback win on the road early. The Sounders beat Dallas 2-1 in Seattle in May, but dropped their last trip to Texas in September when David Texiera scored twice and an 88th-minute goal by Blas Perez capped the 3-1 win.
LOS ANGELES GALAXY vs. REAL SALT LAKE
Real Salt Lake is making its seventh straight playoff appearance, tied for the third-longest streak in MLS history and the longest since the league’s latest expansion. But RSL is facing a Galaxy squad set on making sure Donovan goes out on top and that was nearly unbeatable at home. Donovan, Gyasi Zardes and Robbie Keane combined for 45 goals and 35 assists as part of the most prolific goal-scoring squad in the league. The Galaxy’s 69 goals were four more than Seattle and 14 more than any Eastern Conference team. Real Salt Lake is led by World Cup veterans Kyle Beckerman and goalkeeper Nick Rimando and has gotten the best of L.A. two of the last three times they’ve met in the playoffs. RSL beat the Galaxy to win the 2009 MLS Cup title and knocked out the Galaxy in the conference semifinals last season.
D.C. UNITED vs. NEW YORK RED BULLS
It’s already been a special season for the Eastern Conference winners. D.C. United completed the single biggest turnaround from one season to the next in league history by earning 59 points after earning just 16 in 2013. Fabian Espindola, Luis Silva and Eddie Johnson combined for 29 goals and United has just one loss in the past two months. The task for United will be trying to slow down Wright-Phillips. After a record-tying 27 goals in the regular season, Wright-Phillips scored twice in the Red Bulls’ play-in game win over Sporting Kansas City on Thursday night. It also could be the farewell for Henry. His contract is up at the end of the season.
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION vs. COLUMBUS CREW:
While D.C. is the top seed in the East, New England is the hottest team in the league going into the postseason. Since the addition of World Cup standout Jermaine Jones, the Revolution have taken off. New England won 10 of its final 14 matches and came away with ties in two others. After losing 2-1 at New York on Aug. 2, the Revolution were in sixth place in the East with 26 points. They finished second with 55. Lee Nguyen is in the middle of the MVP conversation with 18 goals and five assists. But Columbus got the better of New England in the regular season, winning two of three.
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