The MLS conference finals on either side of the bracket have one thing in common: in either pairing, the home team came away from the first leg with a two-goal lead. The difference? Dallas was able to snatch an away goal in Portland while the Supporters' Shield Champion Red Bulls were shut out in C-Bus and gave up a goal nine seconds in. One goal may not seem like a lot, but with the road goals rule in effect, the scenarios for the second leg are significantly different.
With two tickets to the MLS Cup final on the line, this weekend's second legs appear primed for drama and excitement.
Eastern Conference Final
New York Red Bulls 0 - Columbus Crew SC 2
Seriously though, how do you give up a goal nine seconds in this deep into the playoffs? It's like falling asleep at the wheel just as you're reaching your destination that you've been driving 10 hours to get to. If only there were some kind of drink that gave you energy and kept you awake and alert. Come on, Red Bulls. That was your exit that you just passed. You need to turn around.
The worst part about it for New York was that New York Head Coach Jesse Marsch said they knew it was coming.
"We talked all week about those kinds of plays...[Columbus] playing direct to [Kei] Kamara and [Ethan] Finlay running off, and we don't do well enough. Purely don't do well enough on a play we had talked about and prepared for all week."
Is drinking a Red Bull good for anxiety? The fans at RBA next week will find out.
To their credit, the Crew protected their sold-out house by tacking on a second goal in the late going, after the New York defense forgot how to tackle.
Stat to know: No team has come back from a two-goal deficit after the first leg of an MLS playoff game since 2004.
Prediction: If you read last week's predictions, you'll know not to bet the mortgage based on what you read here (unless this applies to you, in which case go for it). Regardless, Marsch was pleased with most of his team's performance at Mapfre Stadium on Sunday, and rest assured the Red Bulls will come out guns-a-blazin' in the second leg. However, if Columbus should score a crucial away goal, things change dramatically in the series. Look for New York to win the game 3-1, but lose the series on away goals.
Western Conference Final
FC Dallas 1 - Portland Timbers 3
If you were yearning for a candidate for goal of the postseason, Portland's Dairon Asprilla had the goal to sooth your heart on Sunday night. While his screamer certainly wasn't generated through scintillating attacking play, it was a terrific strike in what was a terrific game. After going down two goals, Dallas was the livelier side and was on the front foot following David Texeira's goal, which took advantage of a freshly substituted Norberto Paparatto's lack of defensive awareness. However, the Hoops couldn't muster anything else on the scoreboard and would have to settle for an invaluable away goal to go with the two-goal deficit.
Stat to know: FC Dallas last appeared in the MLS Cup final in 2010, falling to Colorado Rapids, 2-1 in extra time. Portland has never been to the final.
Prediction: You'd have to think that Oscar Pareja's time away with family following his mother's death was a factor, and there's no telling what sort of emotional lift playing in front of the home folks could give him and his team. Regardless, Portland is on one of those playoff runs that has them planning a date with destiny and they seem to be using their experience from the 2013 playoff run to their advantage over the young and inexperienced squad from North Texas. Portland draws Dallas in Frisco 2-2, and wins the series 5-3.