2012 MLS Playoff Predictions

Peter Aiken

Despite FCD missing the playoffs, we'll still predict them!

Nothing will change the fact that FC Dallas has missed the playoffs, but it's still going to be a great month of November. It's looking like some of the best rivals in the league will be matched together for some can't-miss games. And hell its the only MLS you'll get to watch between now and March.

So what's going to happen? Things aren't nearly as clear cut as last season where both Drew and I correctly picked the Galaxy, so we'll have to look deep into the crystal ball to find the MLS Cup winner this year.

Wild Card Round

Chicago vs Houston - Wednesday October 31 - 8PM ESPN2

This is certainly a very tough one to call. Neither team is playing fantastically well right now and in this case, I really think the team with the playoff experience is going to win out. Don't bet against a Dominic Kinnear-led team in the playoffs.

Houston 2 Chicago 1

LA vs Vancouver - Thursday November 1 - 930PM NBC Sports Network

Well this one is pretty much a slam dunk. Vancouver is awful and really doesn't deserve to be in the playoffs while the Galaxy have been in decent form over the last month. Give me LA at home

LA 3 Vancouver 0

Conference Semifinals

#1 San Jose vs #4 Los Angeles

We'll start with the rivalry matchup between Supporters Shield winners San Jose and Los Angeles. What a fantastic matchup this should be and this is where I make my big upset pick. Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows I think the Earthquakes are definitely built for regular season success and I just like the playoff-hardened LA team to handle San Jose over the two legs to pull off the upset in front of a wild crowd at Buck Shaw Stadium...though it probably all depends on if the referee for the 2nd leg calls actual fouls committed by the 'Quakes forwards.

Los Angeles 3 San Jose 2 (Aggregate)

#2 Real Salt Lake vs #3 Seattle Sounders FC

Ah yes, Seattle's next chance at breaking their MLS playoff duck. The Sounders, despite all their success, have never won an MLS playoff series and they're given a tough assignment having blown home field advantage by losing to LA on Sunday night.

For me, the biggest question on this one is can Seattle get a two goal lead to take to Rio Tinto Stadium as I don't think they have the defense to hold off RSL in the second leg. I'm going to say no.

RSL 2 Seattle Sounders FC 1

#1 Sporting KC vs #5 Houston Dynamo

In a matchup of last year's Eastern Conference final, SKC takes on Houston. This one will go differently than last year as Sporting is able to grab a draw at BBVA Compass Stadium before blowing away Houston in front of their Cauldron at Livestrong Sporting Park. Houston will be much better next year with a couple new pieces and improvement from Will Bruin and Boniek Garcia.

Sporting KC 4 Houston Dynamo 2

#2 DC United vs #3 New York Red Bulls

Another classic MLS playoff matchup for the old-schoolers. This is, by far, the biggest toss-up for me as you never really know what you're going to get from either side from match to match. With Kenny Cooper in the form that he's in and so much firepower across the field for NYRB, it's just tough to bet against them. RFK will be rocking in the return leg, but I think New York wins it on PK's.

DC United 2 NYRB 2 (NYRB win on penalties)

Conference Finals

#2 Real Salt Lake vs #4 LA Galaxy

Such a tough matchup to predict...A lot will depend on injuries and what players are available for both sides, but I like RSL, refocused after their CCL disappointment, to pull things out at home in the second leg. LA comes close but in the end doesn't quite have the smothering defense from 2011 to carry them back to the promised land.

RSL 3 LA Galaxy 1

#1 Sporting KC vs #3 New York Red Bulls

It will be the same story for Sporting Kansas City as their high pressure is too much for the New York backline and Kei Kamara grabs a couple goals at home to send LSP into a tizzy while booking a home MLS Cup date at the nicest soccer specific stadium in the United States.

Sporting KC 2 NYRB 1

MLS Cup - Real Salt Lake at Sporting KC

Again, I can't look past Kansas City. They have a fantastic XI with good depth and spot on tactics. Give me Kansas City to take home MLS Cup for the first time since 2000.

Steve's Statistical Wizardy Prediction

As Zach Slaton has been pointing out in his excellent series of posts on Forbes.com, the MLS Cup playoffs aren't about who the best team is, they're in large part about who's best rested. In his studies of the history of the MLS playoffs, those clubs who played less during the year performed better, a trend even more pronounced in home-and-home series (which naturally show no home field advantage to the top seed). This year the conference finals are for the first time home-and-home.

The teams at a disadvantage are those who've been busy with CONCACAF Champions League, like Houston, LA, and RSL, those who made a deep run in the US Open Cup, like Sporting KC, and especially Seattle, who did both.

Therefore, I predict conference finals of San Jose beating RSL and New York beating Sporting KC, with San Jose winning the Cup. That's based on a very simplified application of the ideas behind Zach's model. I'm hoping to read a much more nuanced prediction from him on his Forbes blog, A Beautiful Numbers Game, sometime today or tomorrow.

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