So do we book flights to LA for December 1st then? You could be forgiven for thinking that after both first legs of the conference finals produced clear winners - LA Galaxy and Houston Dynamo both turning up the heat in the second half to leave the field having put three past their opponents. And with LA 3-0 after the first leg, and higher seeded than Houston Dynamo in the East, as it stands, MLS Cup will be held at Home Depot Center.
So what can Seattle and DC United do? Well, Seattle will be banking on a large home support, the hopeful return of Eddie Johnson to the line up to join Fredy Montero up front, and perhaps the not so distant memory of doing this to the Galaxy earlier this season...
Meanwhile DC United will view the prospect of them being written off after their 3-1 loss to Houston, with a shrug and a "What's new?" They weren't supposed to survive the loss of DeRo towards the end of the season; their best chance of beating New York was supposed to have left in the snow - then gone again with ten men, including a freshly subbed keeper, facing a penalty. And then last Sunday, injuries and suspensions seemed to finally catch up with them as players limped out of the game, and Houston got plenty of joy getting round the back of Andy Najar's replacement Robbie Russell, for a 3-1 lead.
Nick DeLeons' vital opener might just keep this tie and the destination of MLS Cup, interesting. DC's home form has been formidable, and Houston's road form indifferent. Maybe we'll be headed to DC on December 1st.
So what to expect this weekend? We asked our regular collection of fan reps, bloggers, beat writers and podcasters following each remaining team, to cast their eye over their team's prospects in the second legs. Here's what they thought. Have your say in our comments section and join us on Sunday for live coverage of both games.
All kick off times are ET
DC United vs Houston Dynamo, Sun 4pm (NBCSN, Univision)
Martin Shatzer, Black and Red United, DC:
D.C. United has been dealing with bad luck for a few months now. While the injury to Dwayne De Rosario felt like it could have been the deathblow to end the team's season, United overcame. Suspensions to Andy Najar and Bill Hamid in the first round of the MLS playoffs didn't hold United back either.
But in Houston, United was dealt a hand with more bad luck and more potential deathblows. Chris Pontius, Marcelo Saragosa, and Brandon McDonald all had to leave that match with an injury, forcing United to play without three of its most important players and preventing Ben Olsen from being able to make any tactical substitutions. Olsen has been making critical lineup changes the entire season, but his hand was forced on Sunday night in Houston, and his luck had apparently run out.
United didn't quit though. Nick DeLeon, the hero from the Red Bulls series, scored his second playoff goal to put D.C. up 1-0 early in Houston, but the team couldn't hold the lead. And the bad luck seemed even more difficult to overcome after Brazilian midfielder Raphael Augusto, in his MLS debut filling in for Saragosa in central midfielder, was denied a clear goal-scoring opportunity by Andre Hainault. The Dynamo defender took Augusto down from behind, but was not shown a red card from referee Ricardo Salazar. Had the Dynamo gone down to 10-men at that point, United may have had a chance. Instead, the call wasn't made and a depleted D.C. gave up three second half goals.
That doesn't mean that the series is over though. United hasn't lost a match at RFK Stadium since the season opener and will relish the opportunity to put some points on the board against the Dynamo. After all, this match is likely to see the return of De Rosario. United has been overcoming adversity for several months now. They just need to do it one more time and the MLS Cup Final will be theirs.
Kim Kolb, Screaming Eagles:
The win against NY had lasting effects. After his red card in the first game, Andy Najar was suspended a further two games. After his red card in the second game, Hamid served his suspension in the first Houston game. And the MLS scheduling genius' allowed for two rest days (including travel) before taking on Houston in Houston. Just minutes into the game, Chris Pontuis had to be replaced as a couple of ailments were too much. Even so, Lionard Pajoy got behind the defense and put a shot off the post resulting in a rebound that Nick DeLeon converted into a goal. The idea of not just stealing points, but a win was starting to take shape until Marcelo Saragosa also came up with an injury. His replacement, midseason signing Raphael Augusto, made his MLS debut. Just before the half he created the play that would turn the game around, as he turned around defender Andre Hainault, who seemingly took him down from behind. Many fans thought it play worthy of a card, some even thought a red…..referee Ricardo Salazar did nothing.
The second half was all Houston as Hainault scored an equalizer and Will Bruin ( the league's reigning United killer ) put them ahead, and Kofi Sarkodie got them an insurance goal late. The injuries and fatigue obviously weighed heavily on United in the second half.
Second Leg Expectations: The second leg looms large. Hamid will return (though Joe Willis wasn't to blame on the goals and played well), the keys are if Pontius, Saragosa, and MacDonald can return from their injuries that forced substitutions. It also appears that Dwayne DeRosario is available for limited duty. It's not impossible that United can make up the two goal difference and force the overtime, and with Houston's road record, it's quite doable.
United has been digging deep in recent weeks and developing the character needed to win - it's the type of character that's been missing since 2004 when the leaders (Ryan Nelsen, and Earnie Stewart) of the last United MLS Cup winners left the club.
At the beginning of the season in this space I predicted Houston to earn it's way out of the East (I also picked LA … for once I'm starting to look smart), Dominic Kinnear just seems to know how to get a team prepared and performing for the playoffs. That can still be the case, but United could now have a real solid foundation for the years to come.
Zach Woosley, Dynamo Theory, Houston:
The first leg had it all! Drama, goals, controversy…of course it certainly helps that the Dynamo ended up the positive side of the result with the 3-1 win over DC United. If nothing else Houston is proving that home field advantage is definitely not overrated, as long as you play the first match at home. Kinnear took a 2-goal lead to KC and finished off Sporting, now he'll take a 2-goal lead to the District looking to do the same thing. To be honest, I expect the Dynamo to do enough in the second leg to earn their second straight MLS Cup final appearance. DC is going to pour on the pressure, they'll probably even get a goal, but with all their injuries and issues, I don't see them being able to prevent Houston from getting a goal of their own. Don't book your flight to LA let, but pricing out options probably would be safe.
Michael Porter, Texian Army, Houston:
Second leg, 2 goal lead, you have to like the Houston's chances to advance for what most likely will be a rematch of last years MLS cup. Was the away game at KC pretty? No, but it was effective. I hope we simply don't "park the bus" again and drop back for 80 plus minutes but another 0-1 loss will still punch our ticket to the big show. I do feel that the Dynamo are the better team and have the experience and results to show it. Is it time to buy a plane ticket for LA? We
Seattle Sounders vs LA Galaxy, Sun 9pm (ESPN, ESPN Deportes, TSN2, RDS2)
Sam Chesneau, Gorilla FC, Seattle:
The first leg was a failure in every sense of the word. I'm not quite sure what team decided to show up at Home Depot Center last Sunday, but it wasn't the Seattle Sounders FC. What possessed Sigi Schmid to go with a 4-5-1 and start a player who hadn't seen playing time in months is beyond me. I was puzzled by the lineup when I checked the twitter feed to see they listed Tiffert as a forward and Alex Caskey a starter. That confusion turned to anger half way through the first half when it became clear Fredy Montero had absolutely nobody helping him make any chances on target. I just don't understand why tinker with a system that has worked the entire year. If you aren't going to start Eddie Johnson for fatigue issues (that 2 days rest thing was very apparent) at least put in a backup forward like Ochoa or Estrada. It felt like we had an extra midfielder on paper, and yet on the field, it was like we were a man short the entire match. We were out coached, outclassed and out played by a better team. Yet I don't feel like the Galaxy are better than the 3-0 (very well could have been 5-0) result this past Veterans Day. I feel like our coaches and players let down the fans and the hard work this front office made to make this team a winner. I still believe, but boy am I frustrated.
What do I expect for the second leg? I expect a healthy Leo Gonzalez, Mauro Rosales & Eddie Johnson, and the Sounders FC to showcase a repeat performance from the 4-0 drubbing we gave the Galaxy back in August. This is the only option at this point, because anything less would mean this entire season was a big epic FAIL. No trophies and no appearance in the 2013-2014 Champions League.
Dave Clark, Sounder at Heart, Seattle:
It seems Seattle is stuck in a bit of a time warp. Their first leg against the LA Galaxy looked quite similar to their first leg against Real Salt Lake back in 2011. It was a failure on too many levels. Little of the design on offense worked and defensively things were even worse. The three goals put past them put the team in a huge hole for leg two.
So for a second straight year the Seattle Sounders and their legions of fans are left looking for the legendary. Their eyes fall onto their two forwards who both have poor MLS Cup Playoff histories. Fredy Montero's is modern, all in Rave Green and equally matched by the history of Eddie Johnson. To get out of this hole the Sounders need to see their forwards act like forwards and score. It is the time for the epic, or it will just be another useless second leg at CenturyLink Field.
Josie Becker, Editor, LAG Confidential, Los Angeles:
The first leg went about as well for the Galaxy as a first leg can go for any soccer club. When the negative criticism is "do you regret not getting that fourth goal" then you know something has gone well. LA were able to sneak in that goal just before halftime, with Landon Donovan doing things that make him one of the best players in the world and then Robbie Keane showing his astonishing ability to be in the right place at the right time (during his tenure in MLS, I've heard things didn't go so well at West Ham...Liverpool...)
That opened the floodgates for more goals once Seattle had to push to get the equalizer. Yes, the Galaxy could have easily had four goals and made this upcoming match a mere formality. That didn't happen.
So now LA has to go up to Seattle and try and keep the Sounders from tying things up. Should Fredy Montero wake up and if Eddie Johnson is 90 minutes match fit, that's a possibility. However, there's a lot of if coming off that plan. The Galaxy back line is playing at a level it only used to know, and even with Beckham in there the speed on the counter is remarkable. So, things are happening. We'll see.
Brian Lynch, Angel City Brigade, Los Angeles:
The Galaxy are firing on all cylinders right now, and you would think Sigi Schmid would have noticed that fact. Instead Seattle put out a formation against LA that had everyone in the Home Depot Center scratching their heads. The result was 3-0 and 25 minutes in the second half that might be described as the best soccer ever played in MLS. The Galaxy's potent offense ran circles around the Sounders defense who had so many men back there was never a chance for them to effectively clear the ball.
In Seattle things will be different. The Sounders will be pushing forward trying to get at least one goal back in the first half. Expect the Galaxy to bunker while Keane hovers around midfield waiting for a counter. If the Galaxy score in the first half this one's over, so don't expect them to play keep away too much. One key will be if Juninho plays and can hold the ball in the midfield.
Prediction? Lots and lots of shots will be taken, 3-2 Seattle with LA taking the series 5-3 on aggregate.
Zero Cool, LA Riot Squad, Los Angeles:
We did what I predicted we would do: dismantle, dishearten and destroy the Seattle Sounders. They should put all their efforts into winning the USOC every year because the MLS Cup is a title a bit out of their reach. A prestigious title belongs in more deserving hands. This series is over.
GuardianUS sports will have live coverage of both conference finals on Sunday.