David vs. Goliath Ending Awaits MLS Cup 2008
By Jeff Kassouf
The Eastern Conference finals and the Western Conference finals of Major League Soccer’s 2008 MLS Cup playoffs could not be more opposite in nature.
In the East, the Columbus Crew, Supporter’s Shield winners, will take on the Chicago Fire in a matchup of the conference’s two top seeds. Arguably, they are the best two teams left in the playoffs. Meanwhile, Real Salt Lake will host the New York Red Bulls at the brand new Rio Tinto Stadium in a matchup of the three and four seeds in the West, both pulling off upsets in the opening round.
Inevitably, MLS Cup has the makings of American soccer’s version of David vs. Goliath.
Columbus was the best team throughout the regular season, garnering 52 points, and Chicago was the league’s third-best team with 46 points.
For Real Salt Lake and the New York Red Bulls, things were not as easy. Both teams booked their tickets to the playoffs on the final weekend of the season, and New York had to rely on a DC United loss after getting embarrassed 5-2 in their final game by Chicago.
Both games are real toss-ups. Chicago and Columbus tied 2-2 in both of their regular season meetings, and both cruised through the second leg of their respective matchups. Real Salt Lake and New York were both underdogs, though the Red Bulls were impressive in making the two-time defending champion Houston Dynamo look unprepared.
Regardless of who wins each series, however, MLS Cup 2008 will have a similar look to Super Bowl XLII, where the New York Giants upset the undefeated New England Patriots. Both RSL and New York will be significant underdogs to league heavyweight Columbus or the red-hot Chicago Fire.
Really, they should be.
Through the play of MVP candidate Guillermo Barros Schelotto and a solid supporting cast, the Columbus Crew has not slipped from their season-long top form. Chicago is finding ways to score through guys that are not named Blanco or McBride, and are backed by Goalkeeper of the Year Jon Busch.
Also do not forget that Columbus was 13-0-0 at home during the regular season, and improved that mark with their second leg win over the Wizards Saturday. If you recall, a certain New England Patriots team entered Super Bowl XLII undefeated. This time, though, the upset is less likely.
Chicago also went through the regular season as a favorite, and only improved their play with the addition of Brian McBride and the improved form of players like Chris Rolfe and Wilman Conde.
New York certainly pulled off the biggest and most surprising upset on Sunday when they took down the Dynamo, but the Red Bulls’ consistency is in serious question. They will have to accomplish another win against all odds after going 1-8-6 on the road during the regular season. Real Salt Lake was 8-1-6 at home during the regular season, and won its first leg home game against Chivas USAface.
Regardless of and statistics, the Eastern Conference champion will be heavily favored in MLS Cup. Sports have a tendency to produce surprise results at the most critical moments, but Chicago and Columbus are simply too dominating.
Columbus 1 – 0 Chicago. These are two teams that can certainly produce goals, but they are also teams with stellar defenses. The difference will be the probable league MVP Schelotto having one brilliant, game-changing moment. It will be a game of near-chances for both teams.
Real Salt Lake 3 – 1 New York. Though the most high-powered offenses are in the East, New York is a team that will score but also concede quite a bit. The Red Bulls are particularly vulnerable with the young Danny Cepero in net. The game should be an open one full of chances, with Yura Movsisyan and Robbie Findley wreaking havoc on New York’s back line.
MLS CUP 2008: Columbus 2 – 1 Real Salt Lake. Although the best matchup for Major League Soccer’s publicity would probably be Chicago vs. New York – two major markets and major rivals – the cup will be won by a small market team who has never won a title. The glory run for Real Salt Lake has to end somewhere, and it will be a good building point for the future. The Crew, a flagship franchise of MLS, will finally win a title.
Jeff Kassouf is a staff writer for The New Paltz Times and a freelance writer who covers soccer, and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org