SB Nation

SB Nation Soccer News | November 3, 2014

MLS Playoff rewind

Revs look the best, away goals work and D.C. collapses

The MLS Playoffs already have a favorite, while a rule change had its intended effect. Unfortunately for D.C. United, things aren't going as well.

Columbus
2-4 Recap
New England
Real Salt Lake
0-0 Recap
LA Galaxy
New York
2-0 Recap
DC United
FC Dallas
1-1 Recap
Seattle
3 Things
  • Away-goals tiebreaker has intended effect

    Back in 2003 someone convinced MLS officials to adopt a two-legged playoff series format. Up until then, the conference semifinals had been played as a best-of-three affair, a format that may have been unique in the world of club soccer. But while it may not have been very "authentic" -- whatever the hell that means -- it did give a genuine advantage to the higher seed.

    Ever since then, the MLS playoffs have been a veritable crap shoot, with lower seeds winning more than 40 percent of the time. (Nevermind that higher seeds only advanced at a slightly higher rate in the old format…)

    This year, MLS added another wrinkle to their two-legged series: Away goals are now the first tiebreaker. Like moving away from best-of-three series, this was done at least in part to enhance the league’s "authenticity," despite many leagues moving away from such a tiebreaker. There was also some lip-service about it "promoting an attacking style" because aren’t all changes any league in the world made with this in mind?

    Silly as that all may sound, it’s hard to complain about the actual results.

    Granted, there’ve been just four games, so there’s nothing remotely scientific about anything at this point, but those matches were all pretty entertaining. The 10 goals scored was the second most the first legs of the conference semifinals had ever seen. But last year, without the new tiebreaker in place, the teams combined for 11 goals, so let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves as to why.

    Still, they were mostly entertaining games and the road teams attacked plenty. The Sounders and Revolution -- the two road teams that got the best results -- actually outshot their hosts. Even the LA Galaxy, who managed just three shots, actually generated some pretty good scoring chances in their scoreless tie with Real Salt Lake.

    What will really be interesting is the second leg, when these away goals really start to come into play. While it’s not true that "away goals count double", there are specific circumstances where one goal can have that effect. Is it fair? Nah. But these are the playoffs, and the point here is generating excitement. And let’s face it, a late result-flipping away goal is a lot more fun than watching teams go to penalties.

  • The Revs are the best team in MLS

    It's easy to forget about the New England Revolution. They haven't been especially good in a while, they play in front of few fans and they haven't really had any great players. But that all changed this summer, and after their meeting in the Eastern Conference semifinals, you can bet the Columbus Crew will remember them.

    The Revs went to Crew Stadium and laid a 4-2 beatdown on Columbus in a game that wasn't as even close as the score suggested. New England dominated the midfield, Charlie Davies looked better than ever, and even their sometimes-shaky back line did a halfway decent job. They absolutely bossed the game, using their intense press through the midfield to turn the Crew over and get back to running at their defense.

    New England dominating has become the norm of late. They are 9-1-1 since signing Jermaine Jones. Not only are they very good, but they have legitimate stars in Jones and MVP candidate Lee Nguyen, who scored a goal on Saturday. They're also starting to build a fan base, with more than 30,000 fans showing up for their final regular season game.

    Now the Revs head home for the second leg, where a good crowd should sway them, in case their two-goal advantage, Jones and Nguyen in the midfield, and a ton of confidence thanks to their red-hot form isn't sufficient. They look nothing like the forgettable Revs of years past. They are memorable in every aspect, and damn scary if you're any other team in MLS.

    Right now, you would be hard-pressed to make a case that they aren't the best team in MLS. The Sounders may have won the Supporters' Shield, the Galaxy put up the most points since June and D.C. United won the East, but no one is playing better than New England and no one looked as good this weekend. They are incredible.

  • DC collapses

    No, a 2-0 hole is not impossible to overcome, especially not when you’re playing at home. And, sure, D.C. United has won 10 games this year by at least two goals.

    But such a result was not supposed to happen, not in the Eastern Conference semifinals and certainly not against their biggest rivals. United put together the best record in the Eastern Conference and already qualified for CONCACAF Champions League for a second-straight season -- after failing to do so in any of the tournament’s first six years -- mostly on the strength of their defense. That defense was nowhere to be found on Sunday against the New York Red Bulls.

    It wasn’t just the two goals the Red Bulls scored. It was the sheer number of chances that were created, and how easy those goals came to pass.

    On the Red Bulls’ first goal, United somehow failed to mark Bradley Wright-Phillips as he made a far post run from about 50 yards out with no one so much as looking at him funny. Credit Thierry Henry with a clever back-heeled pass, but there’s simply no excuse for failing to mark a guy who’d already scored 29 goals this season.

    Henry also had a great pass over the top to set up Peguy Luyindola’s goal, but again United just fell asleep. Despite having plenty of defenders in position to do something about it, Luyindola got a good 10 yards behind the closest defender and beat Bill Hamid rather easily.

    The Red Bulls were credited with 17 shots and 13 "chances." Of those, there were at least 10 good looks on goal and Hamid had to make five saves. There were probably months this year when United didn’t give up 10 good looks. Heck, DC only gave up three goals in their last five regular-season games and only once in their last nine had conceded more than one.

    DC United is actually a bit lucky not to head home in an even bigger hole. So, maybe that’s what they take from this. United engineered the biggest turnaround in MLS history this year -- 43 points better than in 2013 -- and now they must perform a similar feat in a single match. To see them go out with such a whimper would be a shame.

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