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MLS Cup Playoff Power Rankings: Dempsey, Sounders F.C. Team To Beat

(September 16, 2014 - Source: Drew Hallowell/Getty Images North America)
(September 16, 2014 – Source: Drew Hallowell/Getty Images North America)

It’s that time of year again North American soccer fans! The MLS Cup Playoffs is back after 323 regular-season matches. Why not throw together some power rankings for the up coming tournament?

(Image courtesy of MLS.com)
(Image courtesy of MLS.com)

1o. Sporting Kansas City: 14-7-13, 5th in East

The reigning MLS Cup Champions stayed in the hunt for the top of the East until early September when their faulty defense let them down giving up 11 goals in four games.

Season-ending injuries and national team call-ups took a heavy toll on Peter Vermes’ roster, which limped to the finish line by losing their final two and winning just two of their last 10.

The former Wizards take on former Arsenal striker, Thierry Henry and the New York Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference Knockout Round of the MLS Cup Playoffs at Redbull Arena on October 30th at 8:00 PM ET.

Kansas City drew a hard fixture against a New York Red Bulls squad that could potentially be on it’s “last ride” with the on-going rumors of Henry’s retirement plans and the idea of selling the club or ending operations all together.

The winner of this match will go on to face the Eastern Conference Regular season champion, DC United in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Expect a strong hard fought 90 minute match from the two clubs this fixture could also play tribute to a few twists that could eventually decide the Eastern Conference Champion.

Player to Watch: Dom Dwyer,  Sporting KC’s 2014 Offensive Player of the Year and Co-MVP. MLS: Ranks second in MLS with 22 goals, the best single-season goal scoring total in club history. Has played in 32 games, 30 of them starts.

Key Kansas City Injuries/Issues: Career-ending (Peterson Joseph) season-ending (Ike Opara, Chance Myers, Erik Palmer-Brown) week or longer injuries (Paulo Nagamura, Jacob Peterson, Eric Kronberg, Andy Gruenebaum, Aurelien Collin, Sal Zizzo), player being sold (Uri Rosell) and national team duty (Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, Lawrence Olum, Soony Saad)

9.  Vancouver Whitecaps: 12-14-8 5th in West

The Whitecaps finished the 2014 season with a 12-14-8 record in regular season competition in the MLS this season. Not only that they are the only Canadian soccer club to make the playoffs this season after the fallout seasons of the Montreal Impact and Toronto FC.

It’s been a rocky season in Vancouver the year began with the departure of the reigning MLS Golden Boot holder as Brazilian international Camilo Sanvezzo left the club for Querétaro in Liga MX. This of course left a very young squad with lightning youngsters such as Kekuta Manneh, Hurtado and Mattocks who lead the front lines in Vancouver.

The Caps will match up against FC Dallas on October 29th, at 9:00pm ET in the Western Conference knockout Round of the MLS Cup playoffs the winners will face the Western Conference Champion Seattle Sounders. Expect to see a  4-2-3-1 formation utilized by manager Carl Robinson mainly because of the late success the club got in the season.

Despite being ranked 9th on our list don’t be surprised to see the Caps put up a fight with the Sounders if FC Dallas falls. The Sounders-Vancouver Pacific Northwest rivalry is one that spans back the the Club’s NASL days.

Player to Watch: Pedro Morales, Morales began his MLS Career this season and he currently is dominating the offensive stats for the Caps with 10 Goals, 12 Assists, 105 Shots, and 39 Shots on Goal. Definitely a player for the future.

8. FC Dallas:  16-6-12 4th in the West

The first season under Club Manager Oscar Pareja for FC Dallas has seen its share of ups and downs. The club won six out of their first eight matches only to follow that up with an eight-match winless streak in late April through May.

The club responded once summer hit to go unbeaten again in 10 games. The fall came with a couple bumps but when the team needed a win the most, they continued to get ones over clubs like LA, Seattle and Salt Lake.

Player to Watch: Blas Pérez, Currently Pérez stands as the club top scorer and assists leader with 11 goals and 6 assists in FC Dallas’  2014 campaign.

FC Dallas ideally looks to be the best fit team to face Seattle in the Conference Semifinals it will all come down to defending the club’s home turf against the Vancouver Whitecaps on October 29th at the Toyota Stadium in Dallas, Texas.

7. Columbus Crew: 14-10-10 3rd in the East

After one of the best starts in Club history, the Crew took a turn hitting a little bit of adversity coming into fixtures in the early summer fortunately the Crew played some great soccer since the beginning of August which has pushed them into a solid play off spot in the East.

The Crew will take on the New England Revolution in the Eastern Conference Semifinals beginning with the First Leg on November 1st at 4:00 PM ET.

Player to watch: Ethan Finlay, Finlay led the Crew in scoring with 11 goals for the season and 7 assists to top off a good performance in the 2014 Season.

Expect to see a good showing from Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram. The two midfielders have combined for 18 goals and nine assists on the year, providing a spark in the second half of the season. The Crew will have to prove to the rest of North America that they are prime for MLS Cup contention by taking down a New England Revolution squad that looks to be on fire.

6. New York Red Bulls:  13-11-10, 4th in East

New York with a new approach in the 2014 Season after winning the MLS Supporter’s Shield in 2013. Completing a regular season with a consistent squad. Unfortunately, the Red Bulls went 0-4-2 in their first 6; they won 3 out of 4 then lost 3 straight.

It was an up-and-down season for the Bulls. Interestingly, the Red Bulls look to be the team to beat as they take on the current defending MLS Cup champions in the Conference knockout stage in the MLS Cup Playoffs. With the growing speculation of the retirement or departure of French international, Thierry Henry and the idea of selling the club is a growing rumor in the ranks of the New York Red Bulls front office.

Business aside, New York had a nice finish to the season and they look to be potential champions at the end of the month.

Player to Watch: Thierry Henry. Henry finished the regular season with 10 Goals and 10 Assists. This of course, could be his last ride with the Red Bulls ideally why not go out with a bang? Expect Henry to make a title push.

5. New England Revolution: 17-4-13, 2nd in the East

New England looks to be one of teams to make a deep push in the Playoffs this season especially after adding American International Jermaine Jones in the last transfer window. New England went on a stellar seven-match unbeaten streak, including a five-match winning run where they outscored opponents 16-5.

Disaster struck as the summer months featured an eight-match losing streak, and a 1-9-0 period that nearly destroyed their playoff chances.

Since then, New England has gone 9-1-2 and looks to be solid contenders to hoist the Cup later in November. New England will take on a hot Columbus Crew squad in the Eastern Conference Semifinals beginning on November 1st at 4:00 PM ET.

Player to Watch: Lee Nguyen, Nguyen exploded this season with 18 Goals, and 5 Assists to lead the Revolution to an impressive finish in the Regular Season.

All in all expect an amazing run from the Revs.

4. Real Salt Lake:  15-11-8, 3rd in the West

Real Salt Lake seems to be a club that has always somehow made their way into the Cup Final multiple times through the last decade. Of course one of those times they became champions beating conference rivals Los Angeles Galaxy (1-1 RSL won 5-4 on penalties) in 2009 at Century Link Field, and a showing in the Cup Final last year falling to Sporting Kansas City (Kansas City won 7-6 on penalties) Sporting Park.

Easily, RSL shows the potential to make a push to the final but first they will get to take on the Los Angeles Galaxy in the conference semifinals. RSL looks to be the perfect challengers to crush Landon Donovan’s Retirement Party in their own backyard.

Player to Watch: Joao Plata, The Ecuadorian finished the Season with 13 Goals and 6 Assists. Expect Plata to play some of his best football in the coming days.

3. DC United: 17-8-9, Regular Season Eastern Conference Champions

DC United is historically the second-most successful club in the MLS Cup Playoffs hoisting four MLS Cups through out the last 19 seasons.

Expect the regular-season Eastern Conference champions to take the MLS Cup playoffs by storm. United will host the winners of the Sporting KC-New York match. As for this season, United had their fair share of adversity the worst spells of the season were two three-game winless streaks (one of which was an 0-2-1 start to the season).

Over the last 24 league matches, United has gone 13-6-5, including surviving a farcically packed August and September.

Player to Watch: Fabian Espindola, Espindola had a solid season with United with 11 Goals, and 9 Assists for the Club in the 2014 campaign.

Expect DC United to have an interesting run this season. Especially after taking a later run to take the conference beginning this fall.

2. Los Angeles Galaxy: 17-10-7, 2nd in the West

If you would ask any old American sports fan what the most popular team in the US is, you would probably hear the Los Angeles Galaxy.

LA is by far the most successful MLS Club to win the Cup four times and appearing in the final for total of eight times. As for the 2014 campaign, the CONCACAF Champions League put them on the back foot to start, but once they moved past a rough eight-game stretch to begin the season (which contained three of their seven losses for the season) it’s been relatively smooth sailing.

Twice they’ve had unbeaten streaks of eight or better, but they also ended on a three-game winless run to fall just short of the fifth Supporters’ Shield in franchise history.

Player(s) to Watch: Landon Donovan: As many US Soccer Fans may not this is Donovan’s final hurrah in Professional Soccer. Donovan broke the all time scoring record for the most goals in MLS Contention with 144 Goals. This season Donovan scored 10 times, and assisted a total of 19 times. Expect this “last ride” to be very enjoyable but also very challenging for Donovan and the LA Galaxy.

Player to Watch : Robbie Keane: Keane experienced his best season since joining the Galaxy in 2011 after playing in for Celtic F.C. in the Scottish Premier League. Keane had 19 Goals this season with 14 assists.

1. Seattle Sounders FC: 20-4-10, Regular Season Western Conference Champions

Seattle by far are the best fit club to win the cup this year with the best overall record, winning the MLS Supporter’s Shield, and the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup back in September. As for the Sounders they had a spectacular season. Under the leadership of longtime boss, Sigi Schmid.

After a Week 5 tie against the Portland Timbers, the Sounders went on a 8-1-2 run that put them in the Supporters’ Shield lead and they were right there for the entire season until putting it away with a tie and win against the LA Galaxy in the season’s final two games. The defense has looked shaky at times but this offense is really something to behold, especially when their top players are fully fit.

The Sounders will take on the Winners of the White Caps – FC Dallas match on November 2, at 9 PM ET.

Player(s) to Watch: Obafemi Martins, Martins capped off his 2014 Campaign with 17 Goals and 13 assists to finish the regular season. Recently, Martins resigned with a three-year contract.  Clint Dempsey: The current United States captain had a wonderful 2014 campaign scoring 15 goals and 10 assists to finish the 2014 Campaign.

Ideally a Sounders-LA Galaxy conference final would be a perfect finale to the Western Conference Playoffs showing Major League Soccer’s best teams going at it for a trip to the final.

The brackets are set. Who do YOU have hoisting the cup this season?

#MLS #MLSSoccer #MLSCup

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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at [email protected]

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