West Bromwich Albion
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Real Betis
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A few first-round surprises

There's no doubt that Boston will be the place to be this coming weekend. Red Sox Nation will try and recover from the collective hangover and late nights it happily endured during the ALCS and turn Fenway into a virtual snakepit for the World Series opener on Saturday night. The next afternoon, the Patriots face what should be their most difficult task yet when the 5-0 New York Jets stride into Foxboro hoping to end the almost-unfathomable, 20-game winning streak of Bill Belichick's squad in a battle of the unbeatens. Flying much lower on the radar screen are the New England Revolution, a team that, unlike its neighbors in the Bay State, will be a decided underdog going into the weekend. While the Sox will be battling the winner of Houston-St. Louis just a ways up 95-North on Saturday night, the Revs will also be in for the fight of their lives against the Columbus Crew at Gillette Stadium. While the Crew invade the Big Razor toting an impressive 18-game unbeaten streak that extends back to late June, the Revolution have some momentum of their own. Faced with the prospect of missing the playoffs on the final day of the regular season, Steve Nicol's side pulled off a 2-1 victory over the Chicago Fire to sneak into the playoffs as the fourth seed in the East. They've also won three of their last five under difficult conditions knowing it was do-or-die most every second of the way. Since the current first-round format calls for a home-and-home series that's decided on total goals over 180 minutes of soccer, winning on Saturday night is not a must. But the last thing the Revs want to do is go to Columbus next week down in goals or even deadlocked in a tie knowing it'll need a result at Crew Stadium. The Revs will rely on the goal-scoring prowess of Pat Noonan (11 goals, 8 assists) and Taylor Twellman (9 goals), as well as the midfield play of Shalrie Joseph, Steve Ralston and Clint Dempsey, who is the likely Rookie of the Year in Major League Soccer. Jose "Pepe" Cancela needs to be effective, as well, as the team takes on a different look when he is pulling the strings in the middle of the park. If it is to happen for the Revolution, defenders such as Avery John, Rusty Pierce and Joey Franchino will need to be organized and smart. Columbus is a defense-oriented team that has a superb mix of veteran players and youthful talent. Robin Fraser runs a tight ship in the back and Jon Busch has been as solid as any keeper not named Joe Cannon this season. The five-man midfield that features Tony Sanneh, Simon Elliott and Frankie Hejduk will look to dominate the match and force New England to play in a more-defensive 4-5-1 formation. New England player to watch: Matt Reis. When the Revs made an unlikely run to the MLS Cup final in 2002, it was because of the masterful goalkeeping of Adin Brown. If they are to get out of this round, Brown's former understudy will have to be on his game. Columbus player to watch: Edson Buddle. He's a physical presence that has the ability to dominate if he has time to turn and fire shots on goal. As was seen when he scored four goals against the MetroStars last month, the 23-year-old striker can single-handedly decide the game when he is on. The Pick: New England. Eastern Conference semifinal: MetroStars-D.C. United

On the surface, this looks like a mismatch, as D.C. has owned the Metros as of late. Peter Nowak's side has won three straight in this series since losing back in April in the second week of the season. The MetroStars also haven't looked like the dangerous team that was seen during the spring and portions of the summer when Amado Guevara was practicing magic and Bob Bradley's bevy of forwards were taking turns scoring goals. Having won only two of their last eight games, momentum is not exactly on the side of the MetroStars. Including two victories over the Metros in a three-week span, D.C. comes into this series with a three-game winning streak and as winners in five of their last six contests. The combination of Jaime Moreno and Alecko Eskandarian has been devastating to defenders at times. How Eddie Pope and his teammates in the back hold up against this duo will be a major key. For the MetroStars, it's all about how the team jells on the field. With so many internationals going to and fro throughout the season, Bradley has rarely had all of his weapons available to him. To get by in this series, he needs strong play out of his forwards, particularly Cornell Glen and Fabian Taylor who give the team a different look coming off the bench. D.C. player to watch: Christian Gomez. The Argentinian midfielder has scored three goals in his last two games, including two strikes against the MetroStars last weekend. Since acquiring the 29-year-old Gomez in August, D.C. has looked like a more well-rounded side, not to mention one that presents matchup problems to opposing team's midfield units. MetroStars player to watch: John Wolyniec. He's known for his late-game heroics and timely goals. The workmanlike striker may need to find the back of the net on Saturday night to give his side an edge going into RFK next weekend. The Pick: MetroStars. Western Conference semifinal: Kansas City-San Jose

This is a rematch of last year's Western Conference final, which saw the Earthquakes escape with a golden-goal victory on a strike by Landon Donovan. This year, they get two matches to settle it, in what should be the most exciting matchup of the first round. In many ways, these two teams are comparable. Kansas City got a jolt in the arm by the play of striker Davy Arnaud who emerged out of the shadows with nine goals and eight assists to finish seventh among all scores in MLS with 26 points. For San Jose, Brian Ching was the same sort of revelation, as the 26-year-old striker scored 12 goals to tie for the league lead with Eddie Johnson. Both teams are also lucky enough to have two of the best holding midfielders in the league. Kerry Zavagnin has been sensational all season for the Wizards, which has earned him a regular role with the U.S. National Team. And Richard Mulrooney remains one of the true warriors in MLS and a player that is as vital to his side's success as anyone, including Donovan. Always a strong defensive group under Bob Gansler, the Wizards have been excellent in the back this season. Centerback Jimmy Conrad has emerged as one of the league's best defenders and Nick Garcia has been very strong whether he's been on the left side or in the middle with Conrad. In total, Kansas City has given up only 30 goals -- an average of one per game - in its run to first place in the West. Wolff, who won a title with Chicago in 1998, will be watched closely by San Jose's backline that features Jeff Agoos and Ryan Cochrane. This past season, the U.S. National Team striker scored 10 goals and registered 7 assists in what may very well be his finest season as a professional. His speed and playmaking ability, which was on display for the U.S. in the 6-0 shellacking of Panama last week, will be the major concern of the Earthquakes' defense. San Jose hasn't been as consistent or successful, for that matter, as it was last year under Frank Yallop. Dom Kinnear's side got into the playoffs by the skin of its teeth, and is now hoping the fresh life that the playoff brings results in its best soccer. The Earthquakes are at their best when midfielder Brian Mullan is heavily involved. Same goes for Dwayne DeRosario. Their strong play takes the focus off of Donovan, as well as Ching, who has now become a marked man around the league. Kansas City player to watch: Diego Gutierrez. The underrated midfielder needs to be a force, especially if Ronnie Ekelund returns to the Earthquakes' lineup for Game Two. San Jose player to watch: Agoos. San Jose's back four has been in constant change due to so many injuries this year. Now Goose is battling back problems to go along with Troy Dayak's shoulder sprain. For a veteran who is second all-time in games played (35), games started (35) and minutes played (3197) during the playoffs, how Agoos leads the defense and tackles against Wolff and Arnaud will be a deciding factor in this series. The Pick: San Jose Western Conference semifinal: Los Angeles-Colorado

This is the least anticipated of the four playoff series that are going on the next two weeks. Part of that reason stems from the notion that the winner of the Kansas City-San Jose matchup will represent the Western Conference in the MLS Cup. In addition, neither team has looked like a championship-caliber squad all year. Los Angeles had a shakeup two months ago when Sigi Schmid was ousted as head coach and former U.S. National Team manager Steve Sampson was brought in. The move certainly hasn't brought the desired results management sought, as the Galaxy have sputtered down the stretch with only two victories in their last 10 games. The bright spot is that Jovan Kirovski, a big off-season signing from Birmingham City, has been playing well as of late, scoring two goals two weeks ago after being stuck on six goals since late-June. The Galaxy also come into the playoffs having only surrendered two goals in the last four games while going 1-1-2. The Colorado Rapids might be the toughest team to figure out in all of MLS, as Tim Hankinson's team has looked like both the best side and the worst side in the league at different times during the season. The one constant has been the brilliant play of goalkeeper Joe Cannon, who registered 10 shutouts and a 1.07 goals-against-average despite facing a league-high 182 shots. The former San Jose Earthquake also was the only goalkeeper to log every minute for his team during the regular season. If Colorado is to advance, it'll need more than Cannon's strong play. Haitian striker Jean Philippe Peguero (7 goals, 4 assists) needs to stretch the Galaxy defense, and new team captain Pablo Mastroeni must be a driving force in the midfield. What will be critical is the first match, as Colorado has played outstanding when it takes the field at INVESCO Field this season. It's worth noting that only eight goals have been scored by opponents when playing in Denver, which is a new MLS record. Over its 15 home matches, Cannon earned seven clean sheets and possessed a miniscule 0.53 GAA. Los Angeles player to watch: Carlos Ruiz. The 2002 MVP scored 11 goals in just 20 games this year. He's not only a player who can find the back of the net as well as anyone in the league, he's also a player who has a knack for getting fouled inside of thirty yards. Colorado player to watch: Mark Chung. Even though he only accounted for three goals this season, his powerful left foot remains a dangerous weapon and could very well decide the series should he be left open around the box. The Pick: Los Angeles Marc Connolly covers American soccer for ESPN He can be reached at: