By Jeff Kassouf
The 2007 MLS Cup Playoffs are officially upon us, and the biggest name in the league will be watching them from his couch. So, if you are just a casual fan looking for a player (and maybe in turn, a team) to latch onto, here are some players who are X-Factors: If these guys can find a way to live up to their potential, they might be hoisting the trophy come November 18th.
Chicago Fire: The Fire managed to sneak into the playoffs on the final day of the season off of a goal from reserve John Thorrington, a.k.a. Mr. No-Name himself. If they can continue to get production from guys not named Blanco, they might be able to find success against DC United. Forward Chad Barrett will need to find some success up front to help out. Barret finished with seven goals and two assists in the regular season, and he and the Fire have a big task ahead of them.
DC United: It seems like the Supporters’ Shield Winners are unstoppable, but they can’t afford any slip-ups like the final game of the season against Columbus. Giving up three goals to a team that didn’t even make the playoffs will not get it done, so Goalkeeper Troy Perkins is going to need to maintain that stellar 1.10 Goals Against Average between the pipes.
New England: With all of the firepower that the Revs have on the attack, Adam Cristman gets lost in the crowd. Most would think of Taylor Twellman, Steven Ralston, or Shalrie Joseph when it comes to scoring goals for New England – heck, even Michael Parkhurst is scoring from midfield. But, don’t count out Cristman, who had a solid rookie season (four goals, four assists, and caused plenty of havoc for defenses).
New York: Is there anybody in the league that is faster than Dane Richards? I would love to know. The Jamaican international had two goals and six assists during the regular season, but ask any opposing outside back and they will tell you it felt like he did a lot more than that. He will need to continue to get around the corners and provide service.
Chivas USA: Lawson Vaughn has provided a spark for Chivas USA in the back, but the fiery defender needs to make sure that he keeps himself on the field throughout the playoffs. He is already missing Chivas’ playoff opener against Kansas City due to a red card picked up on the final weekend of the season.
FC Dallas: Ray Burse, Jr. is still a bit of an unknown, but he has come up with some big games when called upon. The youngster’s Goals Against Average is an even 1.00, but he has only played in six games. How he handles the pressure of the playoffs will be huge for The Hoops.
Kansas City: Jack Jewsbury is one of the few examples of an outside back with an attacking ability in Major League Soccer. While it’s true that defense comes first, Jewsbury has a cannon of a shot and has managed two goals and three assists from his overlaps out of the back. He will need to get it done on both ends of the field to help Kansas City, the lowest ranked playoff seed, find success in the playoffs.
Houston: Everyone knows the Dynamo’s big guns – Ching, De Rosario, Ngwenya – but what about Stuart Holden? The Houston native had some great outbursts during the season, stepping up to the spotlight in some nationally televised games. If he is able to continue to get up and down the flank and add to those five goals and five assists from the regular season, Ching and others should be reaping the benefits.
MLS Cup Prediction: Houston over D.C. for their second straight 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