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Major League Soccer Playoffs, Leg 1, Review: All Series Very Competitive

Red Bulls, Rapids, FC Dallas and Galaxy all carry one-goal leads into second leg of playoff series.

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It would be less than honest to say the first round was either predictable or totally surprising.

The Colorado Rapids did, indeed, look like a better team than their higher-seeded opponent. The New York Red Bulls do, in fact, appear to be in a class above the San Jose Earthquakes. That the Supporters' Shield winning Los Angeles Galaxy take a 1-0 lead back to the Home Depot Center is hardly surprising.

But who among us can really say they saw FC Dallas scoring two goals and carrying actual momentum into Rio Tinto Stadium?

The reality is, all four series head into their second legs with very much still to be decided with no team having the combination of looking dominant and having the score to show for it.

Historically speaking, one-goal leads, in and of themselves, have not been particularly relevant. Of the 13 MLS series that have finished the first leg with a one-goal margin (since 2003 when MLS went to two-game aggregate), seven of the teams that were trailing came back to win.

Taking one-goal leads home, though, has a little more cache. Six of those seven teams that came back hosted the return leg. The only team to lose at home in the first leg and still win the series was the 2006 Colorado Rapids.

Sitting Pretty: Red Bulls Take Care of Business on the Road

Heading into their first playoff series since rejoining MLS in 2008, the Earthquakes were considered the biggest first-round underdog. Although they didn't play like a team that was just happy to be there, they gave little reason to believe they are capable of overcoming a 1-0 deficit on the road.

Frank Yallop tried to change things up a little by flip-flopping Chris Wondolowski and Geovanni — playing Wondolowski at forward and Geovanni at right wing — to little avail. While Geovanni was able to create some scoring chances, the Red Bulls bottled up the Golden Boot winner effectively.

Jon Busch continued his stellar play in goal, but could do nothing on Joel Lindpere's 56th minute strike.

From an offensive standpoint, there aren't a tremendous number of options available to Yallop. Aside from moving Wondolowski back to wing, this team just lacks any offensive depth. The Earthquakes are essentially stuck with the prospect of hoping Wondolowski continues to carry the offensive load.

The Red Bulls have no such concerns. They managed to leave town with a lead despite giving a 17-year-old his first ever start and missing Tony Tchani and Thierry Henry, both of whom could be back for Thursday's game.

If the Red Bulls weren't the heaviest favorite to advance out of the first round, it's obvious they are now.

Second leg: at New York, Thursday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Uncomfortable dominance: Rapids take tenuous one-goal lead on road

For long stretches of their first leg match with the Crew, the Rapids were the far superior team. Conor Casey and Omar Cummings found ample room to roam and the Crew were obviously struggling to catch their breath at altitude. Facing a backup goalkeeper, it seemed merely a matter of time before the Rapids broke through.

A Pablo Mastroeni goal in the 23rd minute had the appearance of opening the floodgates, but nothing followed. For all the pressure they created, the Rapids never really challenged Crew goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum. Only two of their 15 shots were on frame and no one aside from Casey or Cummings really did much to generate offense.

The biggest problem the Crew face isn't the deficit as much as it is figuring what to do with their personnel. Steven Lenhart and, more surprisingly, Guillermo Barros Schelotto were both pulled in the 68th minute, obstensibly because of ineffectiveness. Schelotto will almost certainly be back in the starting 11 on Saturday, but Andres Mendoza is a likely replacement for Lenhart.

Whoever Robert Warzycha chooses to start in the second leg will need to give a better performance. The Crew never created much sustained pressure, despite using a more offensive-minded lineup in the first leg than many had expected. Emilio Renteria was the only truly offensive player that didn't play and his availability for the return leg is still unknown.

Gary Smith would be well served by doing less tinkering with his lineup than he did in the first leg. After inserting Mac Kandji for Well Thompson and switching to more of a 4-3-3 in the 75th minute, the offense slowly ground to a halt. The fluid midfield play practically disappeared and Kandji was responsible for several turnovers as the Crew were able to turn the momentum.

Second leg: at Columbus, Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, Telefutura/Regional TV

Surprise, Surprise: RSL Loses Game and Playmaker

Winning on the road has never been a RSL calling card. But this year, Jason Kreis had at least figured out how not to lose. Only two teams lost fewer games on the road this year than the Lakers, as they often played a more conservative style and played for the tie. Four times they played to a scoreless tie on the road and two other times it was 1-1.

Whether it was on purpose or not, the keep-it-simple approach didn't last long. Fabian Espindola gave RSL the early lead with a 5th minute score and the game opened up from there. While entertaining, that could not have been Kreis' intention.

That played right into the Hoops' strengths. They were able to equalize in the 44th minute and took the lead in the 88th minute. In the meantime, they managed to goad RSL playmaker Javier Morales into a pair of undisciplined yellow cards. Lacking two defensive starters — George John and Heath Pearce were both held out of the starting lineup — the Hoops were hardly in a bunkering mood.

Luckily for the Lakers, they have the greatest home-field advantage in MLS history (25-match home unbeaten streak) and have proven to be one of the league's deepest teams (23 players used during CCL and MLS play). Even without Morales, they've gone 4-1-1.

FC Dallas, though, should have their full complement of players on Saturday. Pearce and John should be healthier and Kevin Hartman didn't look especially rusty in his first game back after missing the last six. Their only notable absence will be Atiba Harris, who was given a straight red in the first leg, but he'll be replaced by the comparably skilled Brek Shea.

Leg 2: at Salt Lake, Saturday, 10 p.m. ET, FSC

Just Like They Drew It Up: Galaxy Head Home With 1-0 Lead

Bruce Arena may not like playing on turf much, but he's got the slick surface to thank for his team leaving Seattle with a 1-0 lead.

The Galaxy coach spent a significant portion of his postgame press conference railing on Qwest's field and then acknowledged that Edson Buddle's goal would not have been possible on grass. Go figure.

Arena's annoyance was clearly more based on the Sounders superior ability to sustain pressure. The Sounders definitely had the better of play, especially in the first half, but came away with nothing to show for their efforts. They forced Donovan Ricketts into a season-high eight saves that featured a couple impressive parries.

More frustrating for the Sounders was a complete inability to take advantage of Eddie Lewis getting his first start of the season at left back. Lewis had only started once all season and had never gone more than 48 minutes in one game. But the 36-year-old former American national team player was able to handle the speedy Sanna Nyassi just fine.

The physical nature of the game also seemed to take its toll on the Sounders' attacking players, specifically target forward Blaise Nkufo. The Swiss international has struggled to adapt to the lack of space he's been able to find in MLS and his frustration has rarely been more apparent than on Sunday, as he won fewer and fewer 50/50 balls as the game wore on and he was almost completely ineffective in the second half.

The lineup the Sounders rolled out on Sunday has been their most successful one, so it's unlikely there will be any significant changes. If there is one change, though, it would likely be the insertion of Designated Player Alvaro Fernandez into Nyassi's position.

The Galaxy will no doubt be hoping to have at least one of Gregg Berhalter or Todd Dunivant back for Sunday's rematch.

Leg 2: at Los Angeles, Sunday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN