Semifinals: Leg One

It's hard to know what to say, exactly about this past weekend's MLS Playoffs matches.

It's easy to claim that they were "surprising". No highly seeded team could manage a win over a lower seed and, in fact, the only match that even had a winner saw the lower seed come way with the result.

On the other hand, you can hardly use the word "unexpected" for, as few and far between as the goals were in those four games - amounting to an anemic-looking 5 in total - it was an absolute golazo bonanza compared to the 3 which were netted in the first weekend of last season's playoffs, and only just equals the 5 total goals struck in the same weekend of 2005.

(And for those of you who are grumbling about the attendance numbers, I'd point out that the second weekend of the semifinals is usually much better, for solid reasons: The first game is played in a town whose team has often just squeaked into the playoffs, often did it with a losing record and, frankly, casual fans don't believe anything good is going to happen.

I'd also add that except for the situation in New England - limping into the playoffs on 6 straight losses, coupled with an overabundance of games, has undoubtedly stretched both the patience and the disposable incomes of a goodly portion of their fanbase - everybody else did about as you'd expect. KC sold all the seats they had and NYRB drew about their average despite falling backwards into the tournament. For their part, you'd expect Salt Lake to be a little more excited about making the playoffs for the first time ever, but 14k + isn't all that shabby.)

In any case, the first weekend is normally a snoozer anyway, as the higher seed just wants to get out of there and take the series home without having to overcome too much damage and the lower seeded team just wants to keep it close and see if they can push it to PK's on the return legs.

Coupled with that were two unique situations:

Houston, an offense which depends on precise ground passing, was playing on artificial turf, a surface way too speedy and bouncy to suit their style, as their 0-6-6 record on plastic this season attests.

For their part, Columbus runs a freewheeling, wide open run-and-gun offense which needs space on the wings. Space which doesn't exist on a bowling alley like the one KC currently plays on.

So the two highest seeds, the teams which, if anyone, might be expected to bust out some goals, found themselves playing in about the worst conceivable venues for their respective styles of play

As a result, both Dominick Kinnear and Sigi Schmid were most likely absolutely delighted to have escaped with draws, and probably wouldn't have been particularly depressed about going home -1, which looked to be the probable result in both games before wholly improbable late goals (Kamara 85, Lenhart 92) put them even and laid all the pressure squarely on their opponents.

Chivas, surprisingly, may have a little more to worry about, and not just because Jason Kreis plainly said "Screw it, we've got nothing to lose here" and RSL was the only team other than Columbus which looked like they had an interest in developing an offense (and with the Crew, that's just a case of Barros-Schelotto not knowing any other way to play; either you play his way or you sit him down, there's no "Hey, Guille, why not stay behind the ball this half?" page in Schmid's playbook).

Pkeki's bunch is less of a home field team than any other MLS side. Their wins and losses, goals-for and goals-against are remarkably similar wherever they play. Which is good when you go on the road but not so good when you're hoping home field advantage will make up for the fact that in this particular 180 minute game you're down one at the half.

As for the Fire and New England, what can you say? The last thing the Revs needed was to have to go out to Bridgeview and, essentially, play 90 minutes against the Fire for the whole shebang. They needed a cushion and they didn't get it.

Perhaps Alex Prus' "no autopsy, no foul" officiating did them a favor though, as skill was the last thing anyone needed out there. Helmets and pads, maybe, but not skills.

And here's a note to MLS: I know you guys love all these phony-baloney "rivalry cups" (Trillium? What in God's name is that?) and that's OK, I guess, but the Fire and the Revs are two sides that just flat-out don't like each other, and the feeling is palpable. No cups required.

Bottom line, Shalrie Joseph is beginning to look mighty lonely out there. Herculez Gomez' remarkably stupid tackle against Columbus which got him sent off and, most likely, out of the playoffs, may serve as some kind of karmic payback for the lack of a card for his equally absurd assault on Ralston, but karma doesn't put goals on the board.

In New England's case, maybe nothing will.