FC DALLAS (13-12-5) vs. HOUSTON (15-8-7)
Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, HDNet, Direct Kick
Season series: Houston (3-0-1). Goals: 6-1.
In the first half of the season, Dallas took top spot in the Western Conference playing a skillful, fluid style of soccer. Juan Toja is a prime candidate for MLS Best XI and should also get votes as Newcomer of the Year.
GOOD. Houston pressing, smothering defense set a league record by allowing just 23 goals, and keeper Pat Onstad's GAA of 0.82 is also a record. Midfielder Brad Davis missed three months with a knee injury but in the final weeks of the season refined his passing and crossing. In the four regular season meetings, six different Dynamo players scored a goal apiece.
The Dallas strike force of Carlos Ruiz, Dominic Oduro, Abe Thompson, Arturo Alvarez and Kenny Cooper is formidable, and midfielder Dax McCarty is an ideal complement to Toja's rampaging runs.
BAD. Ricardo Clark's range can't be replaced and with Toja romping in midfield, Houston has to shift and move efficiently in support of Mulrooney, who also has to help cover the flanks and protect the central defenders. Eddie Robinson fouls a lot and takes too many cautions. FCD has used a lot of combinations in the back line, which is one reason it has conceded 44 goals.
UGLY. FCD finished 3-10-4 against playoff teams, meaning ten of its 13 wins came against the five leftovers. It failed to score in three of its last four games.
UNKNOWN. Denilson: will he play and if he does, will he help or hinder his team?
KEY MEN. Dallas' Adrian Serioux, whether he plays in the back or in midfield, must play two excellent games against his former team, and Ruiz needs to focus on scoring goals. Brian Ching and Joseph Ngwenya form a good pairing up top, yet both need to sharpen their occasionally wasteful finishing.
BOTTOM LINE. As the favorite in the playoffs against Colorado the past two seasons, FCD faltered. It isn't favored in this series and it shouldn't be.
Wizards face rising Chivas USA
The Wizards are back in the playoffs three years after finishing runner-up at MLS Cup; among the veterans of that solid team are defenders Jimmy Conrad and Jose Buricaga Jr., midfielders Sasha Victorine and Kerry Zavagnin, and attackers Scott Sealy and Davy Arnaud. They needed a win on the final day of the season to make the playoffs as the No. 8 seed, and as the fifth-placed team in the Eastern Conference are matched against the Western Conference champion on the other side of the bracket. First-year head coach Preki has upgraded Chivas USA from good to borderline excellent by incorporating a more direct, yet skillful, style of play. A remarkable home record (10-1-4) and resilient defense (28 goals allowed, second-best in MLS) indicates sufficient quality to carry Chivas USA to the final.