It had never happened before - every road team advancing to the next round. It technically didn't happen this year, either - DC United was the designated higher seed, so the historical record will show that one favored team advanced. Soccer America was even fooled by it, and said this was the year that every lower seed advanced. But that technicality is precisely that. The bigger picture is, the playoffs have made all this indistinguishable from Major League High Card.
And the league couldn't be happier. It's worth repeating, because the league is impossible to understand without grasping the concept. You and I may argue about the relative value of the regular season, or the absence whereof. You and I may lament that an entire season's worth of effort can evaporate in one hundred and eighty minutes - or ninety, or one. You and I might rightly ask why one would watch the regular season at all, since only the last four or five games of the campaign actually count.
And as soon as they stop showing up to meaningless regular season games in places like Kansas City, Portland and Seattle, then we'll see things change. Maybe we should spend some time in the offseason asking why the American sports fan, and the MLS subset thereof, is willing to accept regular seasons as extended foreplay. What matters now is that the league wants a team where every team has at least some chance to win, and uncertainty right up until the final whistle.
It isn't even unfair. San Jose knew Armageddon was a possibility. They've known it before the season started. They've known it since 2005, they've known it since 1996. This is how the league has decided its champions from before day one. They won't be the last armadillo on the freeway, either.
What was unfair was having to lose to...them. Team Evil. You and I can have our pleasant little heart-to-hearts about what we think the league's best rivalry is, but the one that has had the most on the line, year in and year out, is San Jose-Los Angeles. They don't play for a fan cup, because usually real trophies are at stake when they meet. It's always painful to lose to the Enemy, but it's truly painful for Quakes fans to have to say "King Donovan" - even if that's leaving off a syllable. It's a horrible, empty feeling, and as a Galaxy fan it's honestly troubling for me to have empathy trump gloating. I feel a very strong sense of "better you than me, cowboy," but I lost faith in a big way after the Home Depot Center flop.
I'm usually highly unsympathetic to "We were missing X, who would have made all the difference," since way, way back in 1996 no one cared that the Galaxy were missing Captain Dan Calichman for the MLS Cup on a BS call the game before. But for all the chatter about "the Bash Brothers" (a nickname, by the way, that should put every drug-tester MLS employs on high alert), it turns out Victor Bernardez was the crucial member of the team. Buck Shaw turned from a fortress into a pinball machine once he left the game, and I doubt that was coincidental. Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan probably don't believe so.
I know the Quakes aren't looking for my advice, but as long as the focus is now on the Champions League, priority one really ought to be keeping Chris Wondolowski from leaving by any means necessary - even if it means paying him what he's worth. The alternative is a CONCACAF run that is nasty, brutish and short, and a 2013 MLS season that is nasty, brutish and long. That's no way to hold a housewarming.
As a Galaxy fan, one of my basic hopes since 2002 or so was to have more championships than anyone else. This sickeningly Yankees/Lakers way of fandom was evil enough before, but this was the week that DC United, of all the teams in the league, had what pro wrestling calls a "face turn." Do you, fellow hardcore fan, you who too have known the emotional roller coaster of a bus trip away - do you really read the plight of the DC United multi-day bus tour without a softening of the heart?
I say this as someone who can't really get mad at New York. A quick and dirty Google search shows that even this year, a Six Nations match in France was cancelled at the last minute for the very same reasons...so it isn't as if MLS or the Red Bulls are uniquely incompetent about this. (I hate to think that Red Bull Arena doesn't have undersoil heating due to the risk of methane explosions, but then again, that would fit Metro lore depressingly well.) While the snowstorm was widely, and correctly, predicted, imagine the chapped cheeks if MLS called the game hours in advance, and the weather magically cleared up. Calls to and from NBC would have been rather sharp indeed. No, RBA, home to a summer soccer team, does not have snowplows on standby. And I think I read in the paper somewhere that for some wacky reason or another, logistics in New Jersey isn't at its most convenient right now. Given x amount of snowplows, and 1/x amount of gasoline, the sad truth is that DC fans were lucky they didn't have to sleep over at the stadium.
However, just because I'm not calling down curses on Red Bull New York doesn't mean that DC United didn't have a much, much harder time in this, the weirdest MLS playoffs yet. And DC United overcame...well, their own stupidity. Andy Najar has no defenders right now, of course. But if you feel good about Bill Hamid being in the national team pool, you have more faith than I do. I'd say it was a very good thing for United that they faced a team riddled with incompetence in this round, but they seem to be in a bad mood, so I'll keep quiet.
Anyway, my picks were all either miles wrong, or stupid-right. LA, Seattle and DC went through despite, not because of, their home games, which was the polar opposite of how I imagined things. Houston...well, you'd think a stat like being unbeaten at home would have made more of an impression on me, but no. It seems like Houston has momentum, and it seems like the new format of home-and-home in the semifinal is a godsend for the Dynamo. But it also seemed like San Jose and Kansas City were going to meet in Stanford to see who got a 2012 double, so, like, wishes and horses.
Same with Seattle and Los Angeles. This should be a completely, utterly, enthralling match-up - so watch it suck. The Seattle-RSL series didn't suck, of course - it was simply low-scoring. Yeah, it seems like both the Galaxy and the Seahawks are peaking at the right time, and that the two best coaches in league history will have something special planned.
What do you mean, they're not called that? Funny, that's what it said on the field. (Yes, I did make LA Bruins jokes back in the nineties, so there.)
If things go to form, then Osvaldo Alonso and Juninho will duel over the 180 minutes for control of the games, and it should be fascinating. (I see Adam Serrano said the same things, so I should probably link him rather than have it look like I'm plagiarizing.) But this is Major League Rock Scissors Paper, so naturally the games will be decided by a couple of hat tricks from Jhon Kennedy Hurtado.
There's only one unknown quantity about the Galaxy anymore, but it's a big one - is this Tommy Meyer dude for realsies? Back when people asked my opinions on things, I pointed out Meyer, this year's top draft pick for the Galaxy, as a truly crucial player. Bruce Arena has a recent history of getting young defenders to play at an elite MLS level, the Galaxy were churning out Rookie of the Year candidates even in the dark days of Sampson, Yallop and Gullit, and who better than Arena and Sarachan to mold a young prospect?
Meyer played a few minutes early on, and did such a great job that the Galaxy signed a Chivas USA defender. Apparently, though, Arena and Sarachan (or someone) (Curt Onalfo? Nah) kept at it, and all of a sudden Meyer was slamming the door on the guy who made Roy Lassiter a topic of conversation again.
Will Meyer do the same to Johnson and Montero? How the hell should I know? For all I know, he'll sit when A.J. DeLaGarza is healthy again.
For comedy's sake, or to prove the existence of a God who is not merely uncaring but actively evil, we will have a rematch of last year's MLS Cup, with Donovan and Keane once again forced upon us as heroes. (Unless said God wants a visual disaster more, so we'll see Houston orange versus Seahawks lime.) But there is one thing I think we can all agree on - the NASL Cosmos should sign Freddy Adu.