By Ridge Mahoney
Two home teams held serve and two didn't in the first leg of the MLS conference semifinals, and the two that didn't need monumental efforts to overturn their series next weekend.
Yet the performances of Colorado, a 2-1 loser to FC Dallas, and the New York Red Bulls, toppled 1-0 by D.C. United, had little in common other than the expected outcomes of the No. 4 seeds failing to beat the No.1 seeds in their home legs.
The matchups of the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds, on the other hand, were just about as tight and hard-fought as anticipated. New England, beaten 1-0 in Chicago, and Houston, nicked 2-1 by Chivas USA, have realistic hopes of reversing those deficits in the return matches.
HIGH DRAMA AT HOME DEPOT. Along with D.C., Houston and Chivas USA are regarded as the most skillful teams in MLS, and they generated some magical moments and not a few controversial ones in Chivas USA's 2-1 win. Brad Guzan saved a Dwayne DeRosario penalty kick that would have tied the match 2-2 with five minutes to play; that PK was questionable, but perhaps it was a make up for a flying Guzan challenge on Brian Ching that was ignored by referee Jorge Gonzalez.
Ching had narrowed the deficit to 2-1 by stinging home a low Brian Mullan with 15 minutes left. A darting header by Francisco Palencia gave substitute Sacha Kljestan an assist with his first touch, a swerving free kick that Palencia nailed just inside the near post for the 2-0 lead.A nicely curled free kick by Ante Razov as the first half was about to expire completely befuddled Houston keeper Pat Onstad.
FIRED UP. New England held a 12-8 edge in shots yet the Fire's Chris Rolfe and Andy Herron buzzed the Revs' goal often in the Fire's 1-0 win.
The Revs could rightly claim luck didn't go their way. Clint Dempsey inadvertently blocked a Jay Heaps header from a fine Ralston cross, and later Dempsey hobbled off with a sprained ankle incurred while shooting just wide as C.J. Brown crunched him.
BULL SESSION.A moment of brilliant interplay between Christian Gomez and Jaime Moreno produced the only goal at the Meadowlands, but the sequence was set up by a typical piece of gritty work that is a staple of United's game yet often gets overlooked.
Ben Olsen dug the ball out of a tangle, got it under control, and stroked it to Gomez, whose give-and-go with Moreno sent him clear to tap a shot into the Red Bull net with 13 minutes to play for D.C. United's 1-0 win. Alecko Eskandarian pierced the Red Bulls' back line several times and his mobility and aggressiveness opened up space for his teammates to exploit.
BIG 'D' FOR DARIO. The Rapids dynamic frontline duo of Nicolas Hernandez and Thiago Martins ruthlessly exposed the Dallas defensive deficiencies as they outshot their foe 17-6, but keeper Dario Sala stonewalled Colorado enough times that the other striking partnership -- Carlos Ruiz and Abe Thompson, with a goal apiece - carried Western Conference champion Dallas to its 2-1 victory at Invesco Field.
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