One of Major League Soccer’s most wide open new rivalries headlines a glorious quartet of first legs when the Conference Semifinals get going on Sunday.
[ MLS: Conference semis schedule ]
Toronto FC and New York City FC have squared off five times in a nascent rivalry which has seen plenty of thrills, including a 4-4 draw in NYC last season.
TFC has three draws but is yet to top NYCFC. There are so many reasons to love this match-up: the tactical face-off between Patrick Vieira of NYC and Greg Vanney of Toronto; the combined firepower of David Villa, Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore, and Andrea Pirlo.
Aside from the postage stamp pitch at Yankee Stadium for the second leg, almost everything about this is wonderful.
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The other Eastern Conference semi sees the Montreal Impact building off its upset of DC United with a pair of matches against high-flying New York Red Bulls.
The first match is in Montreal, and the Stade Saputo is a big, loud place. Didier Drogba is no longer featuring for the hosts, but Ignacio Piatti has been as good as any players in the league (He deserves MVP consideration but it seems politically difficult to imagine it will go anywhere besides a New York team or Giovinco).
The Red Bulls haven’t lost since July 3, and feature a dominant group up the middle which includes Luis Robles, Dax McCarty, Sacha Kljestand, and Bradley Wright-Phillips. This, too, shall be fun.
Over in the West, we see suddenly starring Landon Donovan and the LA Galaxy opening up against surprising Colorado Rapids.
A Donovan vs. Tim Howard match-up is in some ways an Evertonian and USMNT fan’s dream, but this will be more about whether Colorado’s “no-name” — outside of Howard and Jermaine Jones — team can stare down the star power of the Galaxy. Look for sneaky star Shkelzen Gashi to make his name known a bit more for the Rapids.
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Finally we’ve got the hottest team in the West, Seattle Sounders, duking it out with Supporters’ Shield and Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup winner FC Dallas.
The playoffs find Seattle as a minor favorite since FCD star Mauro Diaz went out for the year and Fabian Castillo skipped town for Turkey. But ruling out Matt Hedges, Walker Zimmerman, and head coach Oscar Pareja is something you’d do at your own peril.
For Seattle, there’s new star Nicolas Lodeiro and striker Jordan Morris, the latter who is delivering at an unreal level (even for a rookie as hyped as the Stanford man).
All of these matches have the potential for special soccer. Bring on Sunday.