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MLS Features: 2013 playoff predictions: Knockout rounds

2:59 PM, Oct 28, 2013   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Playoffs? Playoffs? Are you kidding me?

No, Coach Mora we aren't.

With the 2013 Major League Soccer regular season officially coming to a close Sunday night, the postseason will begin later this week with a pair of knockout round games on Wednesday and Thursday.

It's been an up-and-down wild ride of regular season, so who will come out on top and advance to the semifinals? I'm glad you asked. Let's get to it.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

(4) Houston Dynamo vs. (5) Montreal Impact, Thursday, Oct. 31.

The MLS regular is long, such that teams go through spells of both good and bad form. Montreal came out of the gate on fire, winning its first four matches and nine of their first 14.

The Impact looked unbeatable with a veteran and stout backline and a prolific scorer in Marco Di Vaio up top. But somewhere along the way, their age seemed to catch up to them and they floundered down the stretch, failing to win eight of their final nine games, including a 1-0 loss to lowly Toronto FC on the final weekend, which dropped them to fifth in the East.

Down the home stretch of the season, the Impact went from looking like a dominant side that played attractive, free-flowing soccer, to a team that could barely connect two passes and was hanging on for dear life.

Houston, the two-time MLS Cup runner-up, also has had spells of really poor form this season. The Dynamo saw their 36-match home unbeaten streak come to an end in May and have suffered some devastating losses, including a 5-0 gut-punch from the Impact back in August.

The Dynamo certainly have the veteran pieces still in place from the previous two seasons in forward Will Bruin midfielder Ricardo Clark and U.S. international veteran Brad Davis. They should be able to move on from a shaky regular season in which they needed a win over last-place D.C. United on Sunday to clinch their spot, and focus on the second season.

Montreal has the edge up top with Di Vaio over Bruin, while in the midfield, the sides are fairly even, unless Montreal's Patrice Bernier is on his game, in which case the Impact have the advantage.

Defensively, Houston has the edge simply because it hasn't been leaking as many goals as Montreal over the past month or so, and the Dynamo are significantly younger.

Goalkeeping is a coin flip as Troy Perkins and Tally Hall are two of the best backstops in the league.

Home field advantage counts for a lot in soccer, probably much more than any other sport, but with both teams entering this match in pretty poor form, it will come down to which side makes fewer mistakes.

HOUSTON 2, MONTREAL 1

WESTERN CONFERENCE

(4) Seattle Sounders FC vs. (5) Colorado Rapids, Wednesday, Oct. 30

The Colorado Rapids are the surprise team of the season. They struggled mightily with injuries early in the season and got off to a less-than-stellar 0-3-2 record after the first month of the season.

But manager Oscar Pareja slowly righted the ship on the backs of standout rookies Deshorn Brown and Dillon Powers and backup goalkeeper Clint Irwin, who took over for starter Matt Pickens after Pickens broke his forearm in April.

The Rapids picked up steam in the middle part of the season, using their combination of young speed and veteran leadership to go on extended unbeaten streak which saw them shoot up the standings.

Beginning with a 2-0 win over Red Bull New York on July 4, the Rapids ripped off an impressive eight-match unbeaten streak, which saw them climb as high as third in the West before the run ended with a 2-1 defeat to Sporting Kansas City on Aug. 31.

Sunday's 3-0 hiccup against Vancouver notwithstanding, count the Rapids as a dark horse to win MLS Cup.

Like the Rapids, the Sounders' season did not get off to a great start and they struggled through the opening two months before finding their way. Buoyed by the signing of U.S. superstar Clint Dempsey in August, the Sounders used a run of eight wins in nine games to shoot to the top of the league before fading down the stretch.

Following a 2-0 win over Real Salt Lake on Sept. 13, Seattle closed its regular season on an unprecedented seven-match winless streak, including the franchise's first-ever four-match losing streak.

Sigi Schmid's team certainly has the quality to move on from such a poor run, but the Sounders will need to execute their game plan perfectly to advance.

With Dempsey, Eddie Johnson, Lamar Neagle and Nigerian international Obfemi Martins up front, Seattle has a slight edge over Colorado's Gabriel Torres, Vicente Sanchez and Brown.

The Sounders also have a marginal edge in midfield with the presence of Osvaldo Alonso and a healthy Mauro Rosales. Those two have the ability to keep the ball in the middle of the park and control the game.

At the back, Colorado has the edge as Marvell Wynne, Chris Klute, U.S. Under-20 international Shane O'Neill and Drew Moor have been outstanding all season, while Seattle's backline has been suspect over the final month of the campaign.

The Rapids also have the edge in goal as Irwin has been a revelation since taking over for Pickens, producing 10 clean sheets in 31 starts, while Michael Gspurning was benched after allowing nine goals in 5-1 and 4-1 losses to Colorado and Vancouver in September.

Both teams are coming off disappointing results in the final regular season game of the season on Sunday, but Colorado has been in much better form over the last month.

Still, Seattle is capable of spectacular things in front of its home fans, and the Sounders should be able to put their regular season woes behind them.

COLORADO 1, SEATTLE 1 (SEATTLE WINS IN PENALTY SHOOTOUT 4-3)

Whatever happens on Wednesday and Thursday, both contests are sure to be great matches. Look for our semifinal, conference final and MLS Cup final predictions later in the postseason.

The Sports Network

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