I would be the first to admit that I am not really a fan of the away goals format. I understand why it's used in continental competitions like the UEFA and CONCACAF Champions Leagues to avoid extra playing time midweek, but personally, I don't care where a goal was scored, it's a goal.
But since MLS has moved to the away goals format for the 2014 MLS Playoffs it brings up new scenarios for teams and it was thought to encourage scoring in the first legs, particularly for visiting teams. No longer can higher seeds bunker in the first leg and hope to just win the second leg or have the advantage of extra time or a penalty shootout at home. Whether or not the away goals rule is beneficial to higher seeds is debatable but as far as the New England Revolution are concerned, scoring four away goals last week puts them in the best position to advance out of the remaining Conference Semifinalists.
The case for the Revolution advancing from this position are staggering. The Washington Post's Steven Goff (@SoccerInsider) has a neat power rankings post of all remaining teams but something at the bottom caught my eye. Only two teams have ever erased a two-goal deficit since MLS moved to the two-legged aggregate format for the playoffs: San Jose in extra time in 2003 and Kansas City in 2004. When you factor in the new away goals rule, Columbus really has to win the series outright by three goals or score 5 goals to best the Revs total from Saturday as their only likely scenarios to advance. Knowing that the Crew need to score at least four goals to force extra time should create a lot of opportunities for the Revolution to counter-attack, which they scored two goals on later in the second half through Lee Nguyen and Charlie Davies.
The late penalty converted by Federico Higuain was a big lifeline for the Crew as they now only have to push for a likely three-goal and shutout win, rather than a four goal win in the second leg, which is still a monumental task on paper. And I highly doubt the Revs will be sitting back and absorbing pressure all game, it should be business as usual for Jay Heaps' team. I'm sure we'll have more about the Revs matchup later in the week, and why it's important for the Revs to keep their foot on the gas and win again, but what about the rest of MLS?
First of all, Thierry Henry is good at soccer. Second, as much as I hate to admit this, the Energy Drinks are in the next best position to advance. They have a multi-goal lead and did not give up an away goal to DC, which means any goal they score at RFK would force DC to win the series out right. Unless DC wins 2-0 and forces extra time or 3-0 and wins outright, any two goal win such as 3-1 or 4-2 would mean NY would advance on away goals. Not exactly the scenarios DC wanted to face going back home as the top overall seed in the East.
The indication from this game is that the Sounders looked pretty good and Dallas probably shouldn't be upset with the 1-1 draw aside from the fact they now need to score a goal in Seattle to stay alive. A goalless draw would eliminate them and a 1-1 draw would force extra time, but interestingly any multi-goal draw (2-2, 3-3, etc.) would see Dallas move on. It's not easy to win in Seattle but Dallas at the very least needs to bring their attacking game with them on the road. Obviously an outright win for either team would give them the series victory but while Seattle certainly has the advantage on paper in this one with their seemingly huge home field advantage, there's a lot more scenarios where they can lose this in the case of a high scoring draw.
This is one where I sort of disagree with Goff, as I think RSL actually might have an advantage in this game. Yes, LA is at home but they don't have an away goal, meaning an RSL goal would force them to win the game outright as only a scoreless draw would force extra time. LA is now in a position where they almost have to win this game and/or can't concede a goal and I think that's a bit of pressure for LA despite their massive attacking capabilities. However, if LA scores first in this one, that could open up the game as RSL looks for their equalizer and at LA's counterattack could put this game out of reach late.
So that's my take on the second legs in MLS this weekend, but what are your thoughts? Are we headed for a Red Bulls-Revs Eastern Confernce Final? Will the two Western Conference games be suspenseful to the end or will Seattle and LA take care of business early? Do you like or dislike the away goals rule? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.