In the eight semifinal games, only 17 goals were scored for an average of 2.1 per game, lower than the regular-season average of 2.54.
Yet in the second legs played Saturday and Sunday, only the Dynamo-Sounders match - played for 120 minutes on a wretched surface of sand and dirt and dead grass - occasionally bogged down. The pressure and tension produced some sterile, cautious stretches in all three matches, but noisy crowds and spirited -- if not always cohesive -- play created good drama.
John Thorrington and Cuauhtemoc Blanco scored late in each half to overturn a 2-1 deficit and carry Chicago past the Revs, 2-0 (3-2 on aggregate), before a playoff record crowd of 21,538 fans at Toyota Park who brought it all: flares, flags, chants, scarves, and a thunderous roar to salute Blanco's unerring shot into the top corner with seven minutes left in regulation.
Thorrington scored in the 34th minute from a Blanco feed. The Mexican international glided to the byline on the right side of the penalty area and cut a perfect diagonal ball that Thorrington drove unerringly along the ground inside the far post.
Blanco scored from a similar set up when Patrick
Nyarko punished Emmanuel Osei for dawdling on the ball, and played a pass that Blanco controlled and popped into the net over goalkeeper Matt Reis, whose 10
saves weren't quite enough.
"Our guys were so focused," Fire coach Denis Hamlett said to mlsnet.com. "It was a special night. We had a full house. Our guys knew what was at stake. Everyone had a great game. Tonight, we took care of business."
Chicago thus advanced to the Eastern Conference final for the second consecutive season and will host Western wild-card Real Salt Lake Saturday at Toyota Park (8 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer Channel, Fox Sports en Espanol). RSL upset defending champion Columbus, 3-2, Thursday to win their series 4-2 on aggregate.
Houston and Seattle had carved out a 0-0 tie in the first leg at Qwest Field, and did so again at Robertson Stadium until Brian Ching lashed a Brian Mullan knock-down into the far top corner six minutes into overtime.
A few pockets of Sounders green-and-blue-clad fans were swallowed up by vast orange blocks of a crowd announced at 27,465 that kept up a steady din of chants and drumming. A few Houston fans found time to heckle Sounders coach Sigi Schmid, ex-Dynamo attacker Nate Jaqua, and ex-Galaxy defender Tyrone Marshall, and there were narrow escapes for both defenses before and after Ching first-timed a bouncing ball for his first goal since Sept. 19.
"Everyone was just waiting for that one mistake or that one piece of magic and it came from Brian," said Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller. "It was a tremendous finish and we just couldn't get it in on the other end."
Houston keeper Pat Onstad repelled the Sounders several times and kept his shutout intact with a superb reflex save of a ball defender Geoff Cameron stabbed toward his own net. Onstad also swatted a ball to safety after it had deflected off Dynamo midfielder Ricardo Clark and rebounded onto the crossbar, and tipped away a chip by Freddie Ljungberg.
Sounders defender James Riley cleared a ball that Dynamo forward Dominic Oduro had put on frame with a bicycle kick, and Oduro hit the frame again midway through the first half but his blistering shot came back off the post.
Many are the Galaxy games at Home Depot Center for which announced crowds of 27,000 belie a half-empty facility, yet the second leg of the SuperClasico Sunday afternoon filled most of the seats.
As its players had
predicted, the Galaxy fans predominated for their home game in this two-match series. Chivas USA supporters came out in numbers as well, and both sets of fans were in tune with a fast-moving if
somewhat disjointed match that turned the Galaxy's way when Landon Donovan converted a penalty kick in the 73rd minute.
Mike Magee, one of the Galaxy's scorers in the 2-2 first-leg tie, won the penalty when he collected a cross from Donovan and took a leg in the groin from defender Yamith Cuesta. Donovan waited calmly as keeper Zach Thornton stalled and took a caution for time-wasting, then coolly placed his kick to Thornton's right as the big goalie lunged the other way. His 16th playoff goal ties him with ex-Galaxy forward Carlos Ruiz for the all-time league record.
Chivas USA coach Preki, whose tenure at the club is rumored to be nearing its end, charged onto the field after the final whistle to confront Galaxy midfielder Dema Kovalenko. "It doesn't matter," said Preki in the locker room when asked about the confrontation. "It stays right here."
By beating its HDC rival 1-0 on the night and 3-2 on aggregate, the Galaxy gets to stay home for a third straight playoff game. It hosts Houston Friday at 11 p.m. ET (ESPN2, ESPN Deportes) in the Western Conference final.
"I think most people would say Houston is the best team in Major League Soccer," said Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said of the Western Conference co-leader. "It's going to be equally if not more challenging than tonight."
Nov. 8 in Carson, Calif.
Houston 1 Seattle 0. Goal: Ching (unassisted) 96
(Houston wins 1-0 on aggregate.)
Houston -- Onstad, Hainault, Boswell, Cameron, Chabala, Mullan, Clark, Holden, Davis (Ashe 98), Oduro (Landin 81), Ching (Weaver 96).
Seattle -- Keller, Riley, Hurtado, Marshall (Nyassi 11), Gonzalez, Jaqua, Alonso, Evans, Zakuani (Levesque 67), Montero (Le Toux 91), Ljungberg.
SEA -- Marshall (caution; Reckless Tackle) 24
HOU -- Chabala (caution; Reckless Foul) 44
HOU -- Cameron (caution; Tactical Foul) 93+
SEA -- Ljungberg (caution; Dissent) 121
SEA -- Riley (ejection; Violent Conduct) 120
Referee: Jorge Gonzalez
Nov. 8 in Carson, Calif.
Los Angeles 1 Chivas USA 0. Goal: Donovan pen. 73.
(Los Angeles wins 3-2 on aggregate.)
Los Angeles -- Ricketts, Franklin, Berhalter, Gonzalez, Dunivant, Klein (Kirovski 67), Beckham (Gordon 78), Kovalenko, Donovan, Buddle, Magee (Lewis 86),
Chivas USA -- Thornton, Talley, Cuesta, Thomas, Bornstein, Lahoud (Lillingston 76), Nagamura, Padilla (Galindo 60), Kljestan, Santos (Flores 84), Braun.
CHV -- Talley (caution; Persistent Infringement) 38
LA -- Franklin (caution; Tactical Foul) 60
CHV -- Thornton (caution; Delaying a Restart) 72
CHV -- Nagamura (caution; Dissent) 78
CHV -- Cuesta (caution; Dissent) 79
CHV -- Kljestan (caution; Dissent) 94+
Referee: Ricardo Salazar
Nov. 7 in Bridgeview, Ill.
Chicago 2 New England 0.
CHI -- Thorrington 1 (Pappa 1, Prideaux 1) 35
CHI -- Blanco 1 (Nyarko 1) 83
(Aggregate: Chicago wins 3-2.)
New England -- Reis, Osei (Phelan, 86), Heaps, Barnes, Alston, Larentowicz, Joseph, Mansally (Castro, 46, Thompson, 69), Nyassi, Jankauskas, Dube.
Chicago -- Busch, Brown, Prideaux, Robinson, Woolard, Thorrington, Pause, Husidic, Pappa (Husidic, 88), Blanco, Rolfe, McBride (Nyarko, 56).
NE -- Mansally (caution; Reckless Foul) 17
NE -- Jankauskas (caution; Reckless Tackle) 36
NE -- Larentowicz (caution; Reckless Tackle) 85
Referee: Alex Prus.