My apologies for the lack of posts - I've doing some mix of working and procrastinating, and I'll leave you to determine which has won out. I've also been watching as much of the MLS Cup playoffs as possible and have enjoyed the ridiculous drama, even though I'm often watching on delay and could simply open a new tab to find out who won.
Rather than a whole, long, drawn-out, "I told you so," I'll just point out that one team will have a huge competitive advantage in the MLS Cup final (home field) based on a difference of five points or fewer over its opponent, one which may have played a more difficult regular-season schedule. As long as that schedule is unbalanced and the final is a single game, I believe it must be played at a neutral site, purely for competitive reasons.
But I digress.
Today, just for fun, I'm picking a Best 11 from the first 10 playoff games of 2012. Why? Because I want to inspire an official all-tournament team for the MLS Cup Playoffs. It's gotta start somewhere, right? Unlike most Best 11s, I will use the Arabic numeral 11, rather than the Roman numeral XI. And unlike most Best 11s, I will choose a starting lineup with players in their actual positions. Groundbreaking, I know. OK, here we go:
MLS Cup Playoffs Best 11 (+7) (conference semifinals and knockout round games only)
GK - Nick Rimando, Real Salt Lake - I'm actually not a huge Rimando fan, because I prefer a 6-foot-plus goalkeeper who can control the penalty area, but a shutout with a broken nose and that exceptional save on Brad Evans early in the second half Thursday night make him a must-choose. Honorable mention to Michael Gspurning and Tally Hall.
RB - Robbie Russell, D.C. United - I know he only played one game, but it was a great game, and all the other right backs who played both games did very little. Seriously, count them. Sarkodie, Myers, Franklin, Beitashour, Lade, Johansson, Beltran. I really like some of those players, but Russell's 90 minutes stood out more than their 180.
CB - Omar Gonzalez, LA Galaxy - This guy is a giant. Not only that, he's really good. If LA wins the title, people will complain about how low a seed they were, but LA was 7-2-3 during the regular season when Gonzalez started, and he was excellent against Wondo and Lenhart. How many center backs were secretly pleased when he elbowed Lenhart in the face?
CB - Jeff Parke, Seattle Sounders - The Sounders didn't allow a goal in 180 minutes against a very good team, and while some of that is on RSL's pathetic execution in the final third (they finished the year being shut out in their last five games), Seattle's defense has to get credit, and Parke's the man for that. Honorable, honorable mention to Bobby Boswell.
LB - Seth Sinovic, Sporting KC - I know, I know, you think I'm picking a defender just because he scored a goal, but really I'm going with Sinovic because Boniek Garcia was relatively quiet in both legs for Houston, none of the Dynamo goals came on Sinovic's side, AND he was the only KC player to find the net. With a diving header. Hard to beat. Honorable mention to Corey Ashe, who was outstanding in the knockout round against Chicago.
RM - Landon Donovan, LA Galaxy - This is tricky, because he did play forward in this series, but I thought this was the best spot for him. He silenced a lot of doubts with a two-assist performance on Wednesday, and I never pick against Landon in the playoffs.
CM - Osvaldo Alonso, Seattle Sounders - This guy works his butt off, and even though it seemed like he was fouling Javier Morales every five minutes in last night's game, the Sounders rarely got pulled out of position against RSL's very tough midfield, and he deserves a lot of the credit. Honorable mention to his partner in crime, Brad Evans.
CM - Ricardo Clark, Houston Dynamo - He has been everywhere in the Dynamo's three playoff games, sliding to break up a play and set up the game-winning goal against Chicago before frustrating Roger Espinoza in Houston last week. His range has reminded everybody of why Dom Kinnear's 4-4-2 was so successful from 2005-09.
LM - Mike Magee, LA Galaxy - All he does is score big playoff goals. And occasionally play goalkeeper really well. But really, it's the clinical playoff goals that put him here. Honorable mention to Nick DeLeon.
FW - Robbie Keane, LA Galaxy - Duh. I enjoy disagreeing with statements made by Bruce Arena (he wants you to disagree with most of them), but when he praises Keane as the best player in the league this year, you can't really argue. Especially when Thierry Henry won't take a last-minute free kick with his team down a goal in a playoff series.
FW - Will Bruin, Houston Dynamo - Clinical, clinical finishes. Three of them. Two of which are not the type usually scored by Houston forward. Easy choice here. Honorable mention to his wingman, Calen Carr.
Bench (these players were actually used as replacements in the postseason)
GK - Joe Willis, D.C. United - If he can come off the bench and save a PK, it's good enough for me. Might be better than Bill Hamid right now anyway. He's definitely more composed.
CB - Andre Hainault, Houston Dynamo - He had really struggled in the second half of the year (and he was on the field for Honduras 8-1 Canada), but he looked confident and competent when called upon against KC.
CB - Tommy Meyer, LA Galaxy - I'm cheating a bit here, but the guy had only started 4 MLS games since May, so I don't consider him a full-time starter.
DF/MF - Lewis Neal, D.C. United - Surprise under-the-radar pick-up who helped Orlando City to USL title last year. Makes you want to promote them straight to MLS, doesn't it?
MF - Oriol Rosell, Sporting KC - He got to play with lower-than-usual pressure because of the situation, but I was impressed with his composure and ability to keep things simple from that deep-lying midfield slot.
MF - Mario Martinez, Seattle Sounders - Yes, I'm picking him just because of his one, series-winning shot. It was that good.
FW - Alan Gordon, San Jose Earthquakes - Goonies never say die. Even when they sprain an ankle.