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Four matches, zero wins and four tough tasks to accomplish heading into the second set of first-round MLS playoff games. That is the reality facing the top four seeds in the MLS playoffs as they return home to host game two of their respective series.
Should teams like Columbus and Chicago be worried? Can Houston or LA really feel safe heading into a winner-take-all second leg? Is it safe to say that the New York Red Bulls' stunning upset of Houston in Houston last year has all teams on notice that nothing can be taken for granted in the MLS playoffs?
In a word, yes.
In the Eastern Conference, we saw two underdogs not just leave their home legs with victories, but also with confidence earned by impressive performances. How can RSL not feel confident after watching the Columbus Crew, the defending MLS champions and reigning Supporters Shield winners, bench MVP Guillermo Barros Schelotto and field a defensive lineup out of essentially fear of being blown out at Rio Tinto Stadium? How can the Revolution not stroll into Toyota Park later this week brimming with confidence after taking the Fire's best punch and still winning?
The higher seeds fared much better in the West, where Houston withstood the pressure of playing in a packed Qwest Field, while the LA Galaxy made some truly awful blunders and still came away with a point.
Houston has reason to feel good heading home to Robertson Stadium. Negating Seattle's home-field advantage was crucial, and doing so with a hobbled Ricardo Clark made the shutout the Dynamo pitched at Qwest Field even more impressive. The Sounders have to come away from that draw disappointed at all the chances that came close but missed, and all the possession it enjoyed but did little with. Poor finishing has kept the Sounders from being a truly elite team all season, and right now it could doom the expansion club to an early exit.
The Galaxy's weakness on Sunday was a familiar weakness, but not this year. The same defensive frailties the club endured in years past made a cameo appearance on Sunday as Chivas USA took advantage of lax Galaxy defending to score two goals (and Chivas USA scoring two goals is like most other teams scoring four). Will rookie defender Omar Gonzalez be able to shaky off his poor performance in game two and show us the rookie of the year favorite he has been this season? He had better, because you can bet that Preki will be unleashing speed at the Galaxy's back-line in the second leg, with Maykel Galindo the key to the Goats' chances of the upset.
Los Angeles shouldn't be too concerned. If anything, the fact that the Galaxy managed to tie with its defense being shaky and without Landon Donovan or David Beckham delivering dominating performances is promising. You have to like the Galaxy's chances of seeing one of its stars putting in a big game on Sunday, when the crowd at Home Depot Center will be made up mainly of Galaxy fans.