A nerve-wracking penalty shootout and a comfortable 2-0 victory – 2015’s Western Conference Final teams could hardly have had different semi-final experiences.
FC Dallas and Seattle Sounders played out one of the best matches seen in recent time as three goals in the last six minutes of regulation time sent the tie to extra time and penalties, before Walker Zimmerman’s winning spot kick sent the Texas side to the finals after two saves by Dallas ‘keeper Jesse Gonzalez.
Meanwhile in Vancouver, Portland Timbers eased past the Whitecaps 2-0 following a 0-0 stalemate in Oregon last week. Fanendo Adi’s goal after half an hour meant that the hosts had around an hour to get two, but they failed to breach the Timbers’ mean defense, the second-best in the MLS, before Diego Chara secured Portland’s passage to the WCF in the 94th minute.
Dallas’ superior regular season record means that they will, arguably advantageously, host the second leg of the finals, which is shaping up to be the most underwhelming 180 minutes of soccer in MLS history.
“But Dallas only lost the Supporters’ Shield on goal difference! They were the best team in the West!” shouts the man in the Stetson before firing his Smith & Wesson Model .44 Special at unsuspecting tourists and mumbling something about the glory days of Roger Staubach.
“Portland only missed out on second seed in the playoffs on wins.” says the lady in between upcycling her old Timbers jersey and crying into her brunch.
Yes, that is all true. But doing well in a bad division doesn’t make your team good, because as the adage goes, you can’t polish a turd.
Much like the Eastern Conference in the NBA last season, it’s not a case of ‘who is the best team’, but rather ‘who is the least-rubbish team’. However unlike the NBA’s East, the MLS’ west actually has some good teams. In fact, it has some great teams; the likes of Seattle, reigning Champions Los Angeles Galaxy and Sporting Kansas City, who finished 4th, 5th and 6th respectively. But they had fairly awful seasons by their high standards as they each totalled 51 points.
Portland and Dallas took advantage of this to motor towards the top of the West, and to be honest, the only way this could’ve got any worse is if Vancouver had ousted the Timbers and made it a #1 - #2 WCF. Robert Earnshaw and Pedro Morales facing off against Fabian Castillo and Matt Hedges sounds about as exciting as being sacrificed to the ancient Egyptian sun god Ra. Thank goodness for Portland’s resolve.
Both did well to get to this stage, but they don’t actually have great teams and when they come to face each other in two weeks, it will likely be a display of high-scoring, terrible soccer.
This may be a tad harsh on Portland, at least, who do have the likes of Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri and Liam Ridgewell, but they aren’t nearly as good as the class of 2013 who reached this same stage before falling to Real Salt Lake. They were exciting to watch back then and more importantly, teams feared them both home and away. Now clubs welcome them believing they can take three points, and go there knowing that a draw is almost an expectation.
Obviously both sides have managed to grind out the results to get them this far, some more convincingly than others, but the unattractive football that they play could be a hindrance to the MLS’ progress and for the sake of the league, and the sanity of soccer fans, the MLS Cup has to go to either New Jersey or to Columbus.