By Kyle McCarthy
The Houston Dynamo and Los Angeles Galaxy booked their places in the conference finals on Wednesday, while two more teams will join them Thursday night. Here are five points to watch as DC United visits New York (series tied 1-1 on aggregate) and Real Salt Lake hosts Seattle (series tied 0-0 on aggregate):
1. Dealing with Athena’s remnants: Poor weather forced MLS to postpone Wednesday night’s match between DC United and New York. The conditions shouldn’t be an issue on Thursday, but the state of the field could pose significant problems for both teams. The surface at Red Bull Arena does not rank among the best in MLS in ideal circumstances. This scenario certainly does not fall under that heading.
2. Mental and physical hurdles: It isn’t easy to prepare for a match on consecutive days. Keep an eye on potential strains and tweaks as players work their way into the encounter. Also worth noting: United, in particular, wanted to play Wednesday night. Will the lag time diminish that ambition?
3. Who holds the advantage?: United probably would have benefited from playing in the snowy conditions with its conservative approach and gritty deportment. Does New York benefit from the extra day of rest and the clearer night? Or is Dwayne De Rosario healthy enough to play some role off the bench and snuff out any potential edge granted to New York?
4. Monitoring the key players: Real Salt Lake and Seattle enter their second leg with significant injury concerns. Sounders midfielder Mauro Rosales stands out as the most significant of the potential absentees (Seattle’s attack just doesn’t pack much punch without him), but other key regulars such as Eddie Johnson and RSL’s Fabian Espindola and Jamison Olave remain somewhat uncertain to feature as well.
5. One moment decides a series: Bet on a tight affair at Rio Tinto Stadium. Both teams can and will keep a solid defensive shape, while the injury situation may limit the incisiveness in the final third. There were chances in the first leg, but the odds favor a match that could turn on one mistake or one special bit of skill on this occasion.