MLS Conference Championships conclude this weekend
Posted by: Matt Gaschk
Kansas City and Houston are currently tied at 0-0 while Real Salt lake holds a commanding lead over the Portland Timbers.
On Sunday, MLS will have its championship matchup set as this weekend holds the second legs of the Conference Championship matches, pitting four teams with former MLS players as head coaches.
Here is a brief look at what to expect on Saturday and Sunday.
Houston Dynamo @ Sporting Kansas City
Second Leg, Eastern Conference Championship
Saturday, 4:30 pm PT; Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas
TV: NBC Sports Network
First Leg: In Houston, the Dynamo and Sporting KC played to a scoreless draw, leaving the entire series contingent on Saturday’s result in Kansas City.
Players To Watch: Both teams rely on a U.S. National Team midfielder to provide a lot of their attack. For Houston, that is Brad Davis, who had four goals and nine assists in 26 regular season matches in 2013. Since 2009, he has been one of the top set-up men in the league with 26 goals and 51 assists in the last five seasons. He has one goal and five assists in 13 matches during the playoffs over the last three years, helping the Dynamo to the MLS Cup finals in 2011 and 2012. His counterpart for Kansas City is Graham Zusi. An integral part to SKC’s attack, Zusi had six goals and eight assists in 27 matches in 2013 after posting five goals and 15 assists last year.
Notes: Kansas City has topped Houston just once in the last five meetings at Sporting Park, a 1-0 win in the Eastern Conference Semifinals last year, though Houston won the series 2-1. … Houston starters Ricardo Clark and Will Bruin were both forced out of the first leg due to injuries. Both are listed as questionable on the latest injury reports. … Houston is looking to make its third straight MLS Cup final appearance, losing each of the last two years to the LA Galaxy. … In eight years in Houston, the Dynamo has reached the MLS Cup final four times, winning the championship in 2006 and 2007.
Real Salt Lake @ Portland Timbers
Second Leg, Western Conference Championship
Sunday, 6 pm PT; JELD-WEN Field in Portland, Oregon
First Leg: At Rio Tinto Stadium, RSL scored four straight goals to take a 4-1 lead before Frederic Piquionne scored in stoppage time to make it 4-2.
Players To Watch: The fulcrum to Portland’s offense is midfielder Diego Valeri. The Argentine newcomer notched 10 goals and 13 assists to lead the Timbers in the regular season. He had one goal and one assist in a 3-3 draw with Salt Lake on August 21, but was limited to just 95 minutes in the other two meetings. For Salt Lake, the offense runs through Javier Morales. In his sixth full MLS season, the Argentine veteran tallied eight goals and 10 assists in 28 matches, including two goals and one assist in two matches against Portland. He also added one goal and two assists in the first leg of the Western Conference Championship.
Note: RSL will be playing without defender Chris Wingert due to a broken rib and forward Alvaro Saborio is doubtful with an injured hip flexor. … Along with Valeri, the Timbers also had three other players with nine goals, spreading their attack among Will Johnson (9 G, 5 A), Ryan Johnson (9 G, 4 A) and Darlington Nagbe (9 G, 4 A). … Salt Lake allowed two or more goals 10 times this season, but only lost by two goals or more four times. Portland won four matches by two goals or more, with four of those coming at home. … RSL is 5-1-3 all-time against Portland in MLS and playoff matches.