The MLS Cup Playoffs conference semifinal tie between the Los Angeles Galaxy and New York Red Bulls started on Sunday as the big market, big star tilt that would draw a lot of eyes. By the middle of the first leg, the attention had shifted to the pitch at Red Bull Arena, which had snow dumped on it the day before and was making it difficult for either side to string together passes. The final whistle blew and the talk was about whether the Red Bulls had a chance of making up a one-goal deficit in LA. A few seconds after, the two teams were pushing and shoving at midfield and the focus was on the bad blood between the two teams, soccer be damned.
After the final whistle, Rafa Marquez decided to do his best impression of a petulant teenager, or his best impression of Rafa Marquez, and he threw the ball at Landon Donovan. This upset Adam Cristman, who got in Marquez's face, the two teams started pushing and shoving, Marquez got punched by air and fell, then finally things settled down. Marquez was shown a red card, as was the Galaxy's Juninho and more punishment could come down from the league office to Cristman was starting the pushing and Teemu Tainio, who grabbed Juninho around the neck.
While the absences of Marquez and Juninho certainly favors the Red Bulls, it still looks unlikely that they could win in Los Angeles, which they have to do or be eliminated. The Galaxy didn't lose a match at the Home Depot Center all season and New York wasn't very good on the road, winning just twice during the regular season. Los Angeles was the best team in the league all season and put up the highest point total of any team in MLS since 1998 and New York struggled to get the final playoff spot. None of it looks too promising for the Red Bulls.
That's not to say the Red Bulls don't have a chance though. Los Angeles has had problems in the center of the pitch before and with Juninho out, they could have real trouble providing defensive cover. Chris Birchall put in solid work this season, but that was predominantly out on the wing and if he's asked to come inside and be the positionally aware central midfielder next to a roaming, defensive indifferent David Beckham, it could get ugly. Then there's Thierry Henry, Luke Rodgers, Joel Lindpere and Dane Richard, a quartet more than capable of scoring a goal or two, while Dax McCarty is at least an even swap, if not better than Marquez in the center.
Even those who think this one is in the bag for LA will have a reason to tune in now though. Who knows when another skirmish might break out? Birchall, Beckham, Rodgers and Henry aren't exactly known for their cool heads and while the biggest tool of them all - Marquez - is suspended, the drama of the playoffs could add some extra, non-soccer related fun that makes this one worth watching.