The ten MLS teams who clinched a playoff spot via one of the six conference berths or one of the four wild card spots could have been predicted early in the season before the results even began to add up. All of these clubs have strong management, aggressive plans and an eye for talent.
Here’s a rundown on the strengths of the ten competitors who hope to walk away with the 2011 Philip F. Anschutz MLS Cup trophy at the Home Depot Center, a four-time host.
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1. The LA Galaxy 67 pts. 20 GD
The LA Galaxy won the Supporters Shield for the second consecutive year and are aiming for their third MLS Cup Championship. Landon Donovan leads the team with 12 goals and David Beckham is second in MLS with 15 assists. In only four games Robbie Keene has scored two goals and added an assist and Juninho has pulled four brilliant goals out of nowhere. All in all, the Galaxy are a balanced, top flight squad and a strong contender to feature in the Western Conference Championship and in MLS Cup.
2. Seattle Sounders 63 pts. 20 GD
The Sounders have a strong attacking force with Fredy Montero (12 goals), Alvaro Fernandez (9 goals), Mauro Rosales (5 goals) and with Osvaldo Alonso and Rosales as creative playmakers. The Sounders will face tough competition in LA and Real Salt Lake though, and may not have what it takes to reach the Western Conference Championship.
3. Real Salt Lake 53 pts. 8 GD
Creative playmaker Javier Morales is back from injury to lead his team through the playoffs and the Conference Championship. Nick Rimando can defend the net right through MLS Cup, Fabian Espindola (11 goals) and Alvaro Saborio (12 goals) are always dangerous, and midfielders Will Johnson and Kyle Beckerman can control the midfield.
1. Sporting Kansas City 51 pts. 10 GD
Sporting Kansas City flourished from their rebranding from the Kansas City Wizards and from their gorgeous new soccer specific stadium, LIVESTRONG Sporting Park. During the first half of the season, SPKC languished on the road while LIVESTRONG stadium was constructed, but became a threat after settling into their new home to finish at the top of the Eastern Conference.
Omar Bravo is one of best forwards in MLS and only one of three SPKC players to score nine goals, the others being Kei Kamara and Teal Bunbury, and Graham Zusi notched five goals. There’s no doubt coach Peter Vermes did a tremendous job with this team throughout the season. Although it’s unlikely SPKC will win MLS Cup, it’s not impossible for them to win the Eastern Conference Championship as an underdog.
2. Houston Dynamo 49 pts. 4 GD
The Dynamo sneaked into the playoffs and probably will slip out without anybody noticing. MLS fans will be treated to watching assist leader Brad Davis work his magic and maybe Will Bruin and Brian Ching make a statement.
3. Philadelphia Union 48 pts. 8 GD
The Union is another team that could win the Eastern Conference Championship and goal scorer Sebastien Le Toux is on form to make it happen, scoring the majority of his 11 goals in the latter part of the season. MLS Cup seems out of reach for this young, surging team though.
Wild Card Race
1. FC Dallas 52 pts. 3 GD
FC Dallas is an exciting team to watch and with his 11 goals, Brek Shea is one of the most talented young forwards in the League. Still, FCD’s form has fallen off recently and without injured playmaker David Ferreira, they may be one of the first teams to exit the playoffs when they host the New York Red Bulls this Wednesday.
2. Colorado Rapids 49 pts. 3 GD
Coach Gary Smith has done a remarkable job with the Colorado Rapids’ fairly average bunch of players, but after last year’s ugly MLS Cup versus Schellas Hyndman’s upstart FC Dallas at BMO Field, nobody wants to watch that again. Competent yes, exciting no, and hopefully the Rapids will be quickly dispatched.
3. Columbus Crew 47 pts. -1 GD
The Crew could also be one of the first teams to depart the playoffs, having struggled mightily and exercised luck to get in. However, they face the Rapids in Thursday’s Wild Card match so they could advance.
4. New York Red Bulls 46 pts. 6 GD
Although the Red Bulls barely squeaked into the playoffs, they’re one of the top contenders for 2011 MLS Cup. Luke Rodgers, Thierry Henry (14 goals), Luke Rodgers (nine goals) Joel Lindpere (seven goals) and Dane Richards (seven goals) are a formidable attacking presence, superior to any other in MLS. However, the Red Bulls are a fairly moody team and may or may not choose to rise to the occasion.
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