Landon Donovan and the Galaxy tied Seattle in the final game of the regular season. (Steven Bisig/USA Today Sports)
The 2013 MLS regular season concluded Sunday night with Clint Dempsey’s first goal in Seattle, an atrocious call that robbed the L.A. Galaxy’s Omar Gonzalez of an equalizer, another gem from Robbie Keane and a 1-1 tie before more than 66,000 fans at CenturyLink Field.
Now it’s really going to start to get interesting.
Over the next 11 days, a playoff sprint will reduce the number of MLS Cup contenders from 10 to four. The fast and furious schedule is necessitated by the November FIFA international date, Thanksgiving, the time required to prepare for a non-neutral site final and other factors.
After an eight month regular season, the bracket is set. The knockout round, added in 2011, consists of single games between each conference's No. 4 and No. 5 seeds. Last year, both L.A. and the Houston Dynamo started their Cup runs at this stage. The conference semifinals and finals are two-game, total goals series. The MLS Cup final will be played at the site of the participant with the better regular season record.
Here’s a look at the matchups.
EASTERN CONFERENCE KNOCKOUT ROUND
No. 4 Houston Dynamo (14-11-9) v No. 5 Montreal Impact (14-13-7)
Oct. 31 at Houston
There surely were a few sighs around the East on Sunday as the Dynamo defeated D.C. United, 2-1, to qualify. No team outside of L.A. is more consistently clutch than Houston. Montreal will make a playoff appearance in only its second year in the league, but a 1-6-1 finish to the regular season won’t inspire much confidence.
Montreal won the season series between the clubs, 2-1-0.
WESTERN CONFERENCE KNOCKOUT ROUND
No. 4 Seattle Sounders (15-12-7) v No. 5 Colorado Rapids (14-11-9)
Oct. 30 at Seattle
Despite the regular season and U.S. Open Cup success and the massive home crowds, the Sounders have won only one MLS playoff series in four years. They’ll enter the preliminary round on a 0-4-3 skid. Colorado was the West’s unexpected qualifier this year and, like Eastern surprise New England Revolution, is inspired by young attackers. Forward Deshorn Brown (10 goals, 4 assists) and midfielder Dillon Powers (five, six) are rookie of the year candidates.
Seattle and Colorado split the season series 1-1-1, but the Rapids had the last laugh with a 5-1 win on Oct. 5.
EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
No. 1 New York Red Bulls (17-9-8) v Houston/Montreal
Nov. 3 at Houston/Montreal
Nov. 6 at New York
The Red Bulls broke their trophy drought on Sunday by clinching the Supporters Shield. Now they must confront years of playoff failure. New York has been ousted in the conference semis each of the past three seasons and has won only four of its 17 all-time playoff series. But this year’s team certainly has a different feel. It also boasts in-form, world-class players in Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill. In 2013, the Red Bulls went 2-1-0 against Montreal and were dominant against Houston, going 3-0-0 and outscoring the Dynamo, 9-1.
No. 2 Sporting Kansas City (17-10-7) v No. 3 New England Revolution (14-11-9)
Nov. 2 at New England
Nov. 6 at Kansas City
The Revolution won in Columbus on Sunday, 1-0, and as a result are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2009. New England coach Jay Heaps has several young, talented attackers at his disposal (including Stoke City-bound Juan Agudelo and 13-goal scorer Diego Fagundez) but battle-tested SKC has been the league’s best defensive team the past two years. After losses to lower-seeded opposition in 2011 and ’12, it’s MLS Cup final or bust for Sporting.
These two MLS originals have never met in the postseason. SKC won the 2013 season series, 1-0-1, shutting out the Revs in both games.
WESTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
No. 1 Portland Timbers (14-5-15) v Seattle/Colorado
Nov. 2 at Seattle/Colorado
Nov. 7 at Portland
The Timbers enjoyed a remarkable turnaround in 2013 under first-year coach Caleb Porter, improving from an eighth-place finish last season to the top spot. Argentine newcomer Diego Valeri has played a huge part as well, notching 10 goals and 13 assists. But Portland’s playoff history is bleak. In 26 seasons of play across several leagues, the Rose City’s beloved soccer club has contested just one title game. That was back in 1975, the Timbers’ inaugural year.
Portland went 2-0-1 against Colorado in 2013 and was 1-1-1 in its Cascadia Cup series with arch-rival Seattle.
No. 2 Real Salt Lake (16-10-8) v No. 3 L.A. Galaxy (15-11-8)
Nov. 3 at L.A.
Nov. 7 at Salt Lake
This showdown between two of the league’s most consistent winners will be the marquee match-up of the round. RSL got the best of L.A. in the 2009 MLS Cup final and the Galaxy got revenge two years later in the Western title game. From Donovan, Keane and Gonzalez to Morales, Beckerman and Saborío, this series will feature a who’s who of MLS. RSL's streak of six consecutive postseason appearances is the league's longest.
The Galaxy, looking to win its fifth MLS Cup title and third straight, (both potential records), won the season series between the clubs, 2-1-0.
Nov. 9-10 at lower seed
Nov. 23-24 at higher seed
Dec. 7 at finalist with better regular season record