… Ed here.
So this weekend, it’s the Western Conference final between New York and Real Salt Lake – two long-time western conference teams with a bitter history of heated matches within the conference, starting a rivalry that is unmatched in the history of Major League Soccer.
Oh, wait. That’s right. New York is an Eastern Conference team.
As it is, the Red Bulls have to switch conferences to try and win something, and will do so at Salt Lake at 9:30 p.m. Saturday (FSC, FSE). The Red Bulls were part of the league when it was born, and yet has never even so much as advanced to an MLS Cup Final, let alone won one, in their history. Real Salt Lake are one of the two expansion toddlers – and after vanquishing the other (Chivas USA) in the first round, they have home-field with a chance to blaze their own trail to MLS Cup glory for the first time.
My pick on the podcast was RSL. Here’s a short synopsis as to why. It seems to me that Salt Lake has gotten this far through work and through not being afraid of the task. They have tried to play as best they can, and were rewarded with their 1-0 win at home in the first leg of the Chivas series. They then battled Chivas quite well in the road leg, got a draw, and that was enough to advance. The good thing about a team getting its success perhaps more from hard work than from clear talent is that if the players are motivated, that work won’t take a night off. There’s no reason for RSL to slow down now, what with a berth in the final just potentially 90 minutes away. RSL does not strike me as a team that is going to bow to adversity, or go away quietly even if Red Bulls take an early lead on Saturday night. And whatever you may think of former DC United goalkeeper Nick Rimando, who now minds the posts for Salt Lake – he’s got championship experience. I don’t think that can hurt RSL in this situation.
New York surprised me in beating Houston – and the key to that series to me was that it was just that, a series. New York definitely strikes me as a team that like a bad mafia solider, will fold easily under questioning. What saved them in the last round is when they gave up the goal to Houston to make it 1-1 in the first leg, the game didn’t last much longer. Given a week to regroup, New York got to the net, scored some goals, and advanced with a 3-0 win to dethrone the two-time champions. They really faced no adversity in that game.
So two things are at work here. One, if New York scores first – I don’t think RSL is going to throw in the towel. In fact, I could see it leading to a bit of an open game that RSL captures, 3-2, perhaps in extra time. On the other hand, if RSL scores first, I can see New York getting the feeling of, hey, it’s the playoffs, isn’t it about time we got home to our families? … and folding up shop. I admit, I’d be shocked if RSL gets a lead in this game and New York pegs back. New York’s key to victory is a display of early firepower, perhaps a goal off a restart from Angel, and work from Richards, to build a big lead off the break.
But if they fail to do that, I think the game is there for RSL to take, and I think Salt Lake will take advantage.
So … go bet on New York.