Your Rooting Guide to the 2012 MLS Cup Conference Semifinals

#CUSA4Quakes - John Medina

Just in time for the Conference semis, the Rootability Index is back to let you know who you should be rooting for!

Ok, so the Wild Card games have been played, and the Houston Dynamo and LA Galaxy advance, respectively. That means we got 50 percent of our predictions right, the lowest team on the Rootability Index advanced, and the other team came from a toss-up. Not a bad start.

Tonight, the Conference semifinal round begins, with the Seattle Sounders hosting Real Salt Lake (7 p.m. PDT, NBC Sports Network). On Saturday, D.C. United will host the New York Red Bulls in the first leg in that series (5 p.m., PDT, NBC Sports Network), and then on Sunday the other two series will get underway, with Houston hosting Sporting Kansas City (12:30 p.m. PDT, NBC), and the Galaxy hosting the San Jose Earthquakes (6 p.m. PDT, ESPN).

Eight teams. But the key question: how do they compute on the Rootability Index?

Seattle vs. RSL

Seattle Rootability Index: 60

This was probably the toughest number yet for the Rootability Index to crunch, mostly because of the divided sentiments concerning the Sounders. It seems equal numbers admire and disdain Seattle for the monster crowds at games, for their passion, for their swagger in leading MLS to a new era, and for their play on the field. And even on the field, the results have been mixed - they've made the playoffs every year since entering the league, but they haven't found any success. Meanwhile, they've won three U.S. Open Cups and made the knockout stages of the CONCACAF Champions League the last two seasons.

Rachna thinks the Sounders are the team to root for in this series, because she's been picking them for two years and would like to be proven right for once, geez! Meanwhile, Matt finds the prospect of rooting for Seattle unfathomable. More on that in a moment.

What's interesting is that for all of Seattle's talent (and they have quite a bit of that), they were third in the league in Disciplinary Points this season, behind only the Vancouver Whitecaps, who seemed to collectively weigh half a ton more than any other team, and the San Jose Earthquakes, who probably picked up most of their disciplinary points through Steven Lenhart alone. Obviously, one can claim mitigating factors like the quality or tenor of refereeing, the context surrounding various infractions, and the turf (haha!), but still, Seattle seems to want their cake and eat it too. In the end, they haven't won a playoff series yet, so that improves their rooting factor.

RSL Rootability Index: 40

This really is quite perfect, as the team Seattle is playing is another team that likes telling people that their team plays soccer "the right way," whatever that means, that has a coach who seems to know what he's doing and also seems to like telling people that he knows what he's doing. RSL has had quite a bit of success the last few years, but still there always seems to be something that the fans want to complain about. On the field, they still had a good season, as they finished second in the West, but they were one of two MLS teams to fail to qualify for the CCL group stages this season, and there's a sense that this is the last season for many of these players, due to salary considerations and trying to find a winning formula. Needless to say, the emotions here are mixed.

Here's why Matt is rooting for RSL: "RSL over Seattle. Seattle has as many playoff series wins as I have Grammys: 0. I don't expect that to change because, man, I really can't sing. Oh and RSL are healthy, they play smart and they won't be intimidated by boisterous Seattle noise-machine or goaded into making reckless fouls. Even if Eddie Johnson is healthy enough to go, I just think RSL is a bridge too far for the Sounders."

Matt's contribution bumps RSL's numbers up, but we're still in middling territory here.

Prediction: It's a split - Rachna and I pick Seattle, while Matt's taking Real Salt Lake

D.C. United Vs. New York Red Bulls:

D.C. Rootability Index: 45

United is in the strange position of being the higher seed and also the underdog. Underdogs usually get a bonus, and making the playoffs for the first time in five years is a great story. This is a consummate MLS squad, with a few stars and a lot of role players making good. Dwayne De Rosario will still be out with a knee injury, so Chris Pontius will have to take the mantle as the point man for United's attack. Of course, Sean Johnson couldn't take care of business in his playoff debut the other night for Chicago, and Bill Hamid will be put into a similar position, only against a much, much better attacking opponent.

Frankly, they may have to treat this year as one to get their lumps before maybe adding some upgrades and really making a push next year. But they are playing New York, so they could cruise. It seems it is safe to root for D.C., but it isn't an absolute requirement.

New York Rootability Index: 60

Ok, so this team has the star power, has the league office behind it like no other team, but they are actually the underdog team here! The fans have had to deal with incompetence all along the way, and they have no trophies to show for it. We could be witnessing the peak of Thierry Henry's powers in MLS, and Hans Backe is leaving after the season. Ok, scratch that last one, who has much affection for that crazy guy? But still. New York could actually hire a competent coach next season, one who powers the team to all kinds of honors, but that is not this club's style. So let's say it is now or never for the Red Bulls, unless they break the "That's so Metro" chains. As a result, the index says go for the Red Bulls.

Matt corroborates this: "I like the Red Bulls. Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper have a great partnership and their midfield and defense complement each other well. Goalkeeping can be shaky but it's unfortunate for both DC United and the media that De Rosario is not playing because that would be a very savory subplot."

Prediction: Matt and I take the Red Bulls, while Rachna is so perplexed by this series that she continues to stare into the middle distance.

Houston vs. SKC:

Houston Rootability Index: 75

Yeah, they play boring soccer most of the time, but so what? Nobody believes in them! They did this last year, all the way to the MLS Cup Final. They've upgraded a few players, and only lost one key player in Geoff Cameron. Dominic Kinnear is the man when it comes to coaching. They wiped the floor (almost literally) with the Chicago Fire the other night. Sure, they are the fifth seed, but they beat Sporting in the playoffs last season. They may be rather vanilla, but they know how to win. There's something to admire in that.

SKC Rootability Index: 65

A lot of people like SKC. I can admire parts of their team, but I think some components are hard to gloss over. They are capable of playing beautiful soccer at times, but most of the time, they just grind grind grind. So really, they haven't played all that differently from the Dynamo this year, despite perception being that SKC is MLS's Barcelona and Houston is MLS's Stoke. Peter Vermes is not my favorite coach, and I think his reputation is a bit inflated. Between Aurelien Collin, Roger Espinoza, and Kei Kamara, they can lay the hurt on their opponents better than just about anybody.

But Matt has a different, and worthy take: "Breaking with the traditional, predetermined team-neutral stadium location, this year's championship game will be the home stadium of the finalist with the best regular season record. And I can't think of a better remaining venue than Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas.

As a former resident of Kansas City, I can remember sitting in the empty bleachers back when the Wizards played in Arrowhead Stadium. Taking a huge gamble, the ownership group moved the team's venue 30 miles east of Arrowhead. And if that was risky enough, they didn't try to cover their potential losses by selling corporate naming rights but instead named their stadium after the charitable LiveStrong foundation. Whatever your thoughts on Lance Armstrong, his foundation has the very reputable mission statement to 'inspire and empower' cancer survivors and their families."

As a result, this is a team with some holes on the rooting front, but there's still quite a bit to like.

Prediction: I'm going on a limb and going with Houston with the upset, while Matt and Rachna are going with chalk and taking Kansas City. Here's what Rachna said: "I think they have the experience from losing last season to power them through this match-up."

Galaxy Vs. San Jose:

Galaxy Rootability Index: -4000

Apparently, there is an inverse relationship between the round the Galaxy is playing in, and the Rootabiilty of them. Vancouver nearly beat them, but their obvious incompetence did them in after all.

San Jose Rootability Index: 55

Let me get out the negatives for San Jose to start: they are in NorCal, which means we're supposed to dislike them just because. They have Steven Lenhart, the quintessential "guy every team hates but who is beloved by his own team." A lot of Chivas USA fans really dislike former Goat Alan Gordon. Their viral "Goonies" meme can get pretty grating.

But you guys - this team has never seen success since the last iteration of the Earthquakes moved to Houston! They finished just ahead of Chivas last season! A one season turnaround is possible! Plus, I think Chris Wondolowski seems like just a really likable guy.

But the biggest reason: they are playing the Galaxy! #Chivas4Goonies

Matt had a pretty interesting take on San Jose (and Sporting KC as well): "I'm going with San Jose and Sporting because these two teams best represent the way forward for Chivas USA.

Only two teams eclipsed 60 points this year. San Jose and Sporting did this despite being two of the three teams in MLS--Colorado being the other--to not have a designated player on their roster. It's a delightful rebuttal to ESPN the Magazine's 2012 MLS season preview, which in itself was a poorly hidden agenda piece bemoaning how the DP-rule had transformed MLS into a league of have-and-have-nots.

Frank Yallop has been at the helm at San Jose since 2008. Even after a lackluster 2011, the team kept the coach, made smart roster moves while keeping the same core players together. As a result the team emerged as a juggernaut while keeping a modest payroll all the while breaking ground on a new stadium."

Prediction: All three of us selected San Jose, although Rachna wants to be clear that she's doing it "reluctantly," probably because there isn't a better option. Noted.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!

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