For the ten teams who qualified for the 2011 MLS playoffs, tonight is when the journey to the MLS Cup Final begins.
The New York Red Bulls travel to Pizza Hut Park to take on FC Dallas at 8PM CDT (Fox Soccer / TSN 2), and the Columbus Crew will square off against the Colorado Rapids at Dick's Sporting Goods Park at 9PM CDT Wednesday night (Direct Kick/ TSN 2).
In anticipation of the start of the Wild Card Round, I decided to take some time to rank all ten teams in the 2011 MLS playoffs.
Without further ado, on to the The Daily Wiz Playoff Power Rankings....
1. LA Galaxy- No question about it; the Galaxy are the team to beat in 2011. A plethora of talent that includes three potential MVP candidates (Landon Donovan, David Beckham, and Omar Gonzalez), the addition of forward Robbie Keane in August only added to LA's arsenal of scoring options.
Injuries have piled up as of late for the Supporter Shield winners, as Donovan (quadriceps strain), Beckham (back spasms), and Keane (adductor strain) are all currently nursing injuries, but it appears at least Donovan and Beckham should be ready to go by the time the Galaxy play their semifinal match on October 30th.
2. Seattle Sounders- It's been a season to remember for Seattle, as the team has drawn in record setting crowds in 2011, including over 64,000 fans to see goalkeeper, and U.S. legend Kasey Keller's final regular season home match.
It doesn't hurt that Seattle have three potential MVP candidates of their own (Fredy Montero, Mauro Rosales, andOsvaldo Alonso).
However, there is a potential cause for concern for Sounders fans; it appears Rosales has re-injured the MCL that gave him problems earlier in the season, and it's now questionable if he'll be able to play in either of Seattle's semifinal matches against Real Salt Lake.
3. Sporting Kansas City- Hard to believe that the same club which was dead last in the Eastern Conference early in the summer, is now the top team in the East.
The forward trio of Omar Bravo, Kei Kamara, and either Teal Bunbury or CJ Sapong ranks up there with the best of Major League Soccer.
Creating chances probably won't be much of a problem for Sporting KC in the playoffs; finishing those chances is another story.
It's been the Achilles heel for the club thus far, and Sporting KC can't afford to continue that trend if they want to continue their storybook season.
4. Real Salt Lake- Yes, I know- they've been in a slump as of late, having lost 4 of their last 6 matches to close out the season, including a 3-0 thumping at the hands (or feet, I suppose) of the Vancouver Whitecaps. But let's be honest here; Real Salt Lake are still one of the most dangerous teams in Major League Soccer, especially when they are playing at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.
The 2009 MLS Cup Champions have their work cut out for them; facing the Seattle Sounders in the semifinals, but if RSL can get a result when the two teams meet for the first leg at Rio Tinto, where they are one of the best home sides, then I'd have to think they have a legit shot to knock off the consensus second-best team in the league.
5. FC Dallas- What happened to the FC Dallas team that was so dominating early in the season? The club was looking like a challenger to LA and Seattle for the title of "Best Team In MLS," until the untimely death of former player Bobby Rhine, which it seems like the club hasn't truly been able to recover from.
FC Dallas forward Brek Shea was looking like lock to win the MLS MVP award early in the season, most notably a four game stretch in the summer where Shea was able to notch a goal in each match. Since then, the future potential USMNT star's numbers have grinded to almost a complete halt, as Shea only scored 2 goals in the clubs final 13 matches.
It doesn't help matters that 2010 MLS MVP David Ferreira probably won't be back from the ankle injury that has kept him out for most of the season.
That being said, I still think FC Dallas are a dangerous team who, if they can find their early season form, can make a deep run in the postseason.
6. Philadelphia Union- I realize the Union blew a golden opportunity to seize control (even if only for a day) of the Eastern Conference when the New York Red Bulls defeated them 1-0 at Red Bull Arena to close out the regular season. However, prior to that sizable misstep, Philadelphia were one of the hottest teams in the league, having not lost in the 8 previous matches, including an impressive 2-0 victory over the Seattle on the Sounders' home field.
The rise of Philadelphia in the East no doubt coincided with the play of Sebastien Le Toux, who was able to find his form and contribute 7 goals during that stretch, and turn himself into a viable MLS MVP candidate.
7. Houston Dynamo- After the 3-0 drubbing Sporting KC put on the Dynamo in early September at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park, Houston turned it on for nearly the last two months of the regular season, even finding a way to squash their road woes in the process with a 1-0 win over FC Dallas on September 24th. Prior to that match, Houston was win less on the road in 2011.
The Dynamo have some very nice pieces, most notably MVP candidate Brad Davis, who has had an unbelievable season, finishing the year as the league's top assist man with 16. Defender Geoff Cameron looks like a potential piece of the USMNT's center back puzzle in the future.
So why not much love for Houston in my Power Rankings? I think the biggest reason is that the club doesn't have anyone on the front line that can consistently score, or even a player that instills fear into the opposition.
8. New York Red Bulls- The Red Bulls barely snuck into the 2011 postseason, even with the smorgasbord of talent on the squad. If simply making predictions based off of the talent on paper (much like how the FIFA video game franchise works), the Red Bulls would be a top three team in Major League Soccer.
What all the talent in the world can't change though, is the attitude of a player like New York defender Rafael Marquez, who earlier in the season called out fellow center back Tim Ream after New York's 3-0 loss to Real Salt Lake, and has been a big factor as to why New York has seen a season in which many thought the Red Bulls would be a top contender to win the MLS Cup, turn into a year in which they just made the playoff cut.
Having said that, New York is an extremely talented squad, and any team that is able to field players like Thierry Henry, Juan Agudelo and Joel Lindpere, have the potential to be a force to be reckoned with in the postseason.
I just don't see New York putting it all together in order to achieve that.
NOTE- Forward Luke Rodgers has been ruled out for tonight's match. Potential big blow for New York.
9. Columbus Crew- I'm probably not giving Columbus enough credit. After all, Columbus were leading the Eastern Conference for a good portion of the season. It's just that I have a hard time getting excited about the Crew. Whether it's Andres Mendoza (who statistically is having a good year with 13 goals, but 5 from PK's) with his on and off lackadaisical approach, or the ever underachieving Robbie Rogers, who somehow manages unwarranted call ups to the USMNT.
To me, the Columbus Crew are just kind of.... there. Not a horrible team, but also not a team that one feels like could actually contend for the MLS Cup.... but then again.. that brings me to....
10. Colorado Rapids- Let me ask the question everyone is thinking; just how exactly did the Rapids manage to win the 2010 MLS Cup? guess that's what makes the MLS playoffs appealing to a number of fans; anything is possible, as the MLS playoffs are widely unpredictable.
The Rapids won't be helped in their quest to win back to back titles by Colorado's all-time leading goal scorer, Conor Casey, who ruptured his left Achilles tendon in a 4-3 loss to Seattle back in July.
The Colorado and Columbus Wild Card match tonight does win the award for "Most Boring Playoff Match-up of 2011."