Celebration 1114

2014 MLS Playoffs: Conference Championship Previews

Sounders FC have reached the MLS Conference Finals for the second time in three seasons and will again face the LA Galaxy in the league’s ‘final four’.

Unfortunately for the droves of Major League Soccer fans out there, the matches aren’t until next weekend given the FIFA International break. So lots of waiting around for Sounders, Galaxy, Revolution and Red Bulls supporters.

In an effort to bridge that impossible gap with some informative content, below is a little primer on the two series ahead - both in the Western Conference with your boys in Rave Green, and on the East Coast with old rivals New England and New York. Said primer comes to you in the form of capsules for each teams remaining. Here goes.

                    WESTERN CONFERENCE

Seattle Sounders FC

Regular Season Record: 20-10-4, 64 points
Top Scorer: Obafemi Martins - 17 goals
How They Got Here: Advanced past FC Dallas in Western Conference Semifinals (1-1) on away-goals

Sounders FC enjoyed its most successful season in MLS this year, winning the Supporters’ Shield and the Lamar U.S. Open Cup along the way. Seattle’s 20 wins (most in the post-shootout era) put the club in rare air, and is hoping to continue that trend with a remarkable treble, something that has never been accomplished before in league history.

To take that next step into the Cup Final, Sigi Schmid and co. will have to advance past the red-hot LA Galaxy. Despite only picking up one point against the Sounders in the final two matches of the regular season, Bruce Arena’s club smoked Real Salt Lake in the semifinals by an aggregate 5-0 scoreline.

Key Player: Obafemi Martins

The talismanic forward has been Seattle’s everything man this season, knocking in a whopping 17 goals and contributing 13 assists. Known for showing up in big moments, Martins was integral in both of Seattle’s goals in LA on 10/19 and assisted on Marco Pappa’s game-winner in the Supporters’ Shield-clinching win on 10/25. The Nigerian is right up there in the MVP discussions and will be vital if Sounders FC is to advance to its first ever MLS Cup Final.

LA Galaxy

Regular Season Record: 17-7-10, 61 points
Top Scorer: Robbie Keane - 19 goals
How They Got Here: Advanced past Real Salt Lake in Western Conference Semifinals (5-0) on goals scored

In typical LA Galaxy fashion, the club started slowly this season and turned it on over the remaining two-thirds. After winning only two of its first eight matches, the Galaxy didn’t lose consecutive contests the rest of the year. Led by the duo of Robbie Keane and the soon-to-be retired Landon Donovan, LA’s attack was something special all year as it recorded a league-high 69 goals. The defense was also very consistent, allowing 37 goals, tied for the fewest in the league with D.C. United.

Sounders FC and the Galaxy split their three regular-season meetings of 2014. LA took the first 3-0 back in July, and then in the home-and-home series to close the season in October, the sides drew 2-2 in LA before the Sounders’ emphatic 2-0 win at CenturyLink Field the following week.

Key Player: Landon Donovan

Many would argue that Robbie Keane has been the Galaxy’s player of the season and a worthy MLS MVP candidate, but Donovan has been their emotional catalyst. With the 32-year-old hanging up his boots following the season, reaching the MLS Cup Final for the legendary American has become the club’s goal. His performance against Real Salt Lake in the second leg (three goals and an assist) proved just how hungry he is to get one more ring before he calls it quits. The Sounders will need to be ready.

                    EASTERN CONFERENCE

New England Revolution

Regular Season Record: 17-13-4
Top Scorer: Lee Nguyen - 18 goals
How They Got Here: Advanced past Columbus Crew in the Eastern Conference Semifinals (7-3) on goals scored

After finishing third in the Eastern Conference in 2013, the Revs improved upon that mark this season and ended the year four points behind first-place D.C. United. A very streaky squad for most of the year, Jay Heaps’ side ended the regular season on the upswing thanks in large part to the signing of American Designated Player Jermaine Jones.

It goes further than Jones, though, as Nguyen is a bonafide MVP candidate and Jose Goncalves has been a rock in the back in front of Bobby Shuttleworth in goal. The club’s 17 wins were tied for second in the league behind only Seattle. One of those 17 came against Seattle back in May - a 5-0 performance at Gillette Stadium.

Key Player: Jermaine Jones

Like the Galaxy, there is an argument for an MVP candidate here (Nguyen), but Jones is the player that makes this team tick. His excellent distribution and defensive cover have allowed Nguyen a ton of freedom, which helped the attacking midfielder to a career year in 2014. Jones has been worth every penny so far, making a massive impact on the squad since joining in late August.

New York Red Bulls

Regular Season Record: 13-10-11
Top Scorer: Bradley Wright-Phillips - 27 goals
How They Got Here: Advanced past Sporting Kansas City in the Knockout Round 2-1; past D.C. United in the Eastern Conference Semifinals (3-2) on goals scored

Going winless in their first six matches didn’t deter the Red Bulls, who never quite threatened the top of the Eastern Conference table, but were constantly in the playoff mix. Bradley Wright-Phillips, the 2014 MLS Golden Boot winner, was near unplayable in the area this year on his way to a record-tying 27 goals.

In late September, the Red Bulls played the Sounders and Galaxy back-to-back, first taking a 4-1 result from Seattle before losing 4-0 at LA. In the playoffs, the Red Bulls have looked more like the squad that beat the Sounders, handling defending champions Sporting KC and conference leaders D.C. United.

Key Player: Thierry Henry

Arguably one of the most influential players in the world over the last 20 years, Henry has been integral to virtually every positive thing the Red Bulls have done since he joined the team in 2010. He’s helped spark BWP’s massive season, and his 10 goals and 14 assists aren’t anything to scoff at. All eyes on Thierry, all the time.