For help in previewing the MLS Cup, which gets underway tomorrow night when the Chicago Fire host the Houston Dynamo, I have turned to MLS expert Kyle McCarthy. Kyle is the Revs beat writer for the Boston Herald, and also writes for MLSsoccer.com, Goal.com and FOX Soccer. You can follow him on Twitter @kylejmccarthy.
1. So the ten-team MLS Cup playoffs are set. Who is the surprise team that you did not expect to see?
San Jose is the biggest surprise of the season. No one expected the Earthquakes to make the leap they did this year. Credit John Doyle and Frank Yallop for making a series of tidy moves during the winter to strengthen the squad. They turned a struggling side into one of the favorites to lift MLS Cup.
2. Conversely, what team did you expect to make the playoffs that did not?
FC Dallas stands out as the most surprising omission. Absences and injuries really took a toll, but Schellas Hyndman also had a lot of talent his disposal. It’s tough to imagine a team with that type of squad depth missing out on the postseason.
3. Starting with the east, is Sporting Kansas the team to beat, or can you someone else making a run to the MLS Cup Final?
Sporting stands out as the overwhelming favorite in the East. There is a caveat: SKC may run into a side capable of shutting up shop and pouncing on the counter. Peter Vermes’ side has struggled at points when teams have deployed those tactics this year.
4. If New York does not make the MLS Cup Final, how big a disappointment will that be considering all the money they have sent? Will it mean the end of Rafael Márquez in MLS?
Nothing less than a first title will suffice in Harrison. The expectations must be high with the money splashed on that squad. Changes are forthcoming either way. The extent of the alterations may depend on how the side performs during the postseason. There is still plenty of talent in tow to make a run. As for Marquez, I’d say he’ll strongly consider a loan move back to Mexico during the winter. After that decision is made, then we’ll see about his long-term MLS future.
5. The west looks like to be quite a battle. Who do you expect to see win that conference?
It is a really difficult call. Any one of the top four seeds – San Jose, Real Salt Lake, Seattle or Los Angeles – can emerge from this difficult bracket. The inclination here is that either Los Angeles or Real Salt Lake will find a way through, but there are so many factors in play that it remains difficult to predict.
6. Similar to the Red Bulls question. If the Galaxy do not get back to the MLS Cup, will we see the breakup of the Beckham, Donovan, Keane combination?
It’s hard to say at this point. Keane deserves to stay after his stellar season. Beckham’s future is more up in the air, but he’ll like have the option to continue. No one knows what will happen with Donovan at this juncture. I don’t know if success or failure in the postseason will really influence those decisions.
7. Because of the unbalance schedule, it is a little harder to tell who was the best team in MLS this season. The Earthquakes won the Supporters Shield this season. Were they the best team you saw this season?
It’s tough to put a value judgment on it. San Jose deserved its place atop the Western Conference. Sporting Kansas City merited its perch in the Eastern Conference. Other teams like Los Angeles, Real Salt Lake and Seattle may possess more talent. But, if I had to choose, San Jose probably deserves the moniker because it secured the highest point total this season.
8. And finally, who do you expect to see win the MLS Cup this year?
At the moment, it is best to play the odds. And with the Western Conference so difficult to predict, Sporting Kansas City makes the most sense as the favorite. But we’ll see.