Chris N (follow on Twitter: @ChrisTSC)
Wed 4 November 2009

Football Americana: Conference semi-finals, first leg

The regular season is over and the playoffs are the order of the day in Major League Soccer. Surprise qualifiers Real Salt Lake made themselves known in the first leg of their tie with Supporters Shield winners Columbus Crew, while all four conference semi-finals were even matches with little to separate the sides. Excitement was not in short supply.

The 2009 post-season got underway at Qwest Field, where expansion club Seattle Sounders could only secure a goalless draw with Houston Dynamo. Houston had some great early chances but had Brian Mullan to thank for clearing off his own line in the 14th minute. Shortly afterwards, Dynamo goalkeeper Pat Onstad chest-barged Fredy Montero and the Colombian went to ground in embarrassing fashion. Both were cautioned for their efforts.

Montero's better side emerged in the second half and he created some space for himself on the hour only to fire wide. The stars of the evening were the goalkeepers, Onstad and Kasey Keller, who kept the ball out with the exception of Nate Jaqua's disallowed goal in the 77th minute. Onstad had stopped after hearing a whistle, but the advantage should certainly have been played.

Only a late goal could separate the teams at Rio Tinto, Real Salt Lake gaining the edge over Columbus Crew. The Crew created lots of chances but most were struck right down the throat of RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando, and Robbie Findley's sliding finish made them pay.

Gritty New England Revolution looked in trouble at Gillette Stadium against Chicago Fire. Chris Rolfe pounced on an error by Matt Reis to put the Fire in front in the 17th minute, but the Revs came from behind to win 2-1. Emmanuel Osei flicked in a header to equalise in first half stoppage time and the talismanic Shalrie Joseph got the winner 15 minutes from the end, prodding in to end a goalmouth scramble. Both teams hit the woodwork but New England take a slight advantage into the second leg.

The most promising game of the weekend delivered the goods, providing four goals in the Carson superclasico. Chivas USA opened the scoring far too easily in the fourth minute, Maicon Santos finding the corner past a flailing Donovan Ricketts. Mike Magee equalised for LA Galaxy ten minutes later, again beating the goalkeeper too easily after pouncing on terrible defending. Landon Donovan put the Galaxy in front thanks to hilariously shambolic defending by Chivas, but Chivas got the all-important leveller. Maykel Galindo raced onto a stray backpass to secure parity for Chivas.

At the halway point, it's advantage Houston, RSL and New England, but only very slightly. Each game remains in the balance and the second legs should be absolute crackers. I think Houston will have a little too much nous for Seattle but I think RSL might cause Columbus some problems. New England will fancy their chances at Toyota Park and I think LA Galaxy have a superb opportunity to win the MLS Cup. They will beat Chivas if they're on their game, but it won't be easy.

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