MLS Playoffs Preview: Knockout Round

October 30th, 2013
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The quest for MLS Cup commences in Seattle Wednesday night. Ten teams will embark upon this perilous journey with a single objective in mind. Two of them will drop out of the reckoning entirely by the end of Thursday night.

It is rather harsh justice to risk a season’s worth of toil with one game on short rest, but four teams find themselves in that predicament over the next two days. The binary nature of the process leaves no room for interpretation: advance with a win, exit with a defeat.

The outcome in both matches – Colorado’s trip to Seattle tonight, Montréal’s excursion to Houston tomorrow – rests upon finding a way to solve the inherent problems created by this difficult situation and snag the desired result. The answers to a few pressing questions along the way could determine the identity of the last two entrants into the final eight over the next few days:

Seattle Sounders vs Colorado Rapids (Wednesday, 10:30 p.m. ET)

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Is it time for the Sounders to make an MLS Cup final? (Action Images)

1. Can Seattle put its house in order?: Sounders coach Sigi Schmid faces considerable pressure to turn his talented squad around after a poor conclusion to the campaign squandered a direct berth into the Western Conference semifinals. Clint Dempsey’s first Seattle goal on Sunday night provides some hope of an uptick in his game, but Dempsey can’t solve all of the problems. Schmid must find a way to establish the necessary cohesiveness and rhythm in short order to avoid a disappointing – and yet entirely plausible – result on home turf and a vibrant offseason debate about his job status.

2. How will injuries influence team selection?: Schmid will likely omit Obafemi Martins (groin) from his plans. Colorado coach Oscar Pareja will probably cope without Dillon Powers (concussion) and ponder whether Vicente Sanchez (shoulder) is fit enough to feature from the outset. The potential absence of those three players will necessitate some adjustments, though Seattle has ample experience without Martins and Colorado possesses some options in midfield.

3. Can Colorado replicate its eviscerating performance from earlier this month?: The swashbuckling Rapids tore apart Seattle during a 5-1 victory. The score line somehow failed to reflect the total domination on that night, but this date at CenturyLink Field presents another challenge entirely. Colorado enters a difficult venue (the Rapids are 0-5-1 all-time in Seattle) to confront an opponent now well versed in the Rapids’ potency on the counter and over the top. Pareja and his players are capable of booking a Western Conference semifinal date with Portland, but they won’t replicate that stellar triumph – one of the performances of the season, really – if they do it.

Houston Dynamo vs. Montréal Impact (Thursday, 8:30 p.m. ET)

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The Houston Dynamo look to regroup after two consecutive final losses (Action Images)

1. Is this outfit the same old Dynamo?: Houston always receives the benefit of the doubt when the postseason starts. It is a hard-earned reputation forged by years of success under Dominic Kinnear. But the ragged process – including a last-day win at D.C. United to secure a playoff spot – eventually must trickle over into the postseason. This group – complete with some questions in central defense and up front – faces a fight to meet those exacting standards and reach a third straight MLS Cup.

2. Will this game settle down?: The home side thrives on its ability to disrupt the opposition. Houston’s robust deportment often obscures its ability to influence the game through the considerable skill of Brad Davis and Boniek Garcia, but those fundamental qualities will prove more essential here. If Houston can interrupt Montréal’s preferred operating principles, then the Dynamo will advance.

3. Can Montréal muster the energy required to continue its odyssey?: Marco Schällibaum’s side needed a New York victory on the final date to confirm its postseason spot. It proved a rather humbling way to secure the club’s first postseason berth after an assured first half. Most of the problems stem from a squad fatigued by external endeavors and hindered by its aging legs. Schällibaum must somehow procure one last push from his players – still chastened by the 1-0 defeat at Toronto FC on Saturday, presumably – to make a vibrant last stand.

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