By Kyle McCarthy
Three of the four entrants into the MLS conference finals will be decided Wednesday night. Here are five points to watch as the three matches unfold this evening:
1. How will another storm impact the proceedings in Harrison?: A mixture of rain, snow and wind is expected to engulf Red Bull Arena by the time DC United and the New York Red Bulls (series tied 1-1 on aggregate) take the field, according to the Weather Channel. The conditions could force club, league and match officials to postpone or suspend the game (though it would create a scheduling headache), but the bigger question is how the poor weather might affect the play on the field. If the conditions impact the playing surface, it might tip the balance in favor of United given Ben Olsen’s recent emphasis on solid defensive work and tight organization at the back.
2. Can Sporting Kansas City score enough to overturn its deficit?: The Eastern Conference leaders have scored three or more goals in a match on just three occasions this season (none since July 4). They may have to replicate that feat under pressure to overturn a two-goal deficit on aggregate and send Houston crashing out of the postseason. It isn’t an easy task, particularly given the Dynamo’s capability to hold out at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park earlier this season and Sporting’s selection issues in midfield.
3. Keeping it tight in Kansas: Houston adopted a conservative approach in Kansas City, Kan. earlier this season: sit back, soak up pressure and strike on the counter if the conditions bear it. If the Dynamo display a similar level of defiance and include Jermaine Taylor (left knee sprain) in the starting XI, then a place in the conference final likely beckons.
4. Striking the right balance: Victor Bernardez’s stoppage-time goal in Carson, Calif. on Sunday night handed Los Angeles a one-goal deficit ahead of Wednesday’s trip to San Jose. Galaxy coach Bruce Arena knows there will be goals in this game, but his side simply can’t afford to chase the game early and open up gaps defensively for the Earthquakes to exploit.
5. Continuing the status quo: San Jose isn’t suited to sitting back. Even with a one-goal lead, the Earthquakes must remain aggressive and shirk the idea of consolidating their advantage in the second leg. If this encounter turns into a wide-open affair, then it likely favors the home side.