Maybe it’s because they began on Halloween, but for some reason, the 2012 MLS playoffs have been a strange and, for a few teams, scary affair so far.
Let’s take a look.
WATCH: Bernardez wins it for SJ late
After the once-surging Chicago Fire were eliminated 2-1 in a scrappy, sloppy match against Houston Dynamo at Toyota Park last Wednesday, the defending champion Galaxy went down 1-0 in the third minute of their playoff opener against Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Thursday. They rallied for a 2-1 win, but the first 69 minutes certainly put a scare into Los Angeles and their fans.
The next night, the Real Salt Lake faithful were treated to a scary display of goalkeeping from Nick Rimando, whose heroics earned his side a 0-0 draw with Seattle Sounders FC at CenturyLink Field. Rimando took a beating for his troubles, suffering a cut face and a broken nose, but he still finished the game with what his head coach Jason Kreis called “one of the single best performances by any player that’s ever worn an RSL jersey.”
All of that set the stage for things to get weird, which they did in D.C., where New York Red Bulls and United traded own-goals - an odd MLS playoffs first - in a 1-1 draw, and D.C. defender Andy Najar lost his mind for a split second after his yellow-card offence on Joel Lindpere.
The talented 19-year-old chucked the ball at match referee Jair Marrufo and hit him with it - a bit of black magic that turned his yellow card into a red, and will make him disappear for the second leg on Wednesday at Red Bull Arena.
WATCH: Moffat rocket half-volley
The following day in Houston, Texas, top Eastern Conference side Sporting Kansas City misplaced their mojo - or maybe the Dynamo swiped it - and went down early to their hosts on a lightning-bolt strike from Adam Moffat.
Houston kept disrupting Sporting KC’s rhythm, and they added a second through Will Bruin - his third goal in two playoff games - to put the conference favourites down 2-0 on aggregate heading into Wednesday’s second leg at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park.
But the capper of the week was both strange and, for LA fans, horrifying: Tied 0-0 in the 94th minute of their semifinal first leg against archrivals San Jose Earthquakes, the Galaxy gave up a slightly fluky, very soft goal to lose 1-0. Earthquakes center back Victor Bernardez drove a free kick from about 30 yards under the Galaxy wall. It then squirted under a diving Josh Saunders and trickled over the goal line (it never hit the back of the net). Cue the horror-movie screams from the LA faithful.
The shocking winner was San Jose’s 10th stoppage-time goal this season. Talk about black magic.
In the Cards?
So even though “it’s only halftime,” as nearly every coach said this weekend, which side looks like the team of destiny at this point?
Is it RSL, with the sensational Rimando backstopping them? How about San Jose, who scored yet another in a season-long line of improbable late goals?
What about D.C., who survived with 10 men against a lackluster New York and feel confident they can get the win at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday?
Or could it be Houston, who are clearly peaking at the right time? In fact, that’s the team I’m going with. Everyone is on the same page defensively, forward Will Bruin is in goalscoring form, and perhaps most important, his strike partner Calen Carr is setting him up with slashing runs and crosses. Right now, it sure looks like the team of destiny is wearing orange — Halloween orange.