(Reuters) - The New York Red Bulls and Vancouver Whitecaps both posted emphatic victories as the Major League Soccer (MLS) playoffs kicked off with two one-sided matches on Wednesday.
In the Eastern Conference, two early goals paved the way for the New York Red Bulls’ 4-0 victory over Chicago which eliminated the Fire from the playoffs.
In the Western Conference, the Vancouver Whitecaps were equally dominant as they thrashed the San Jose Earthquakes 5-0.
Chicago were hosting the knockout match but their home ground provided little advantage as Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan put the visitors 2-0 up inside 11 minutes at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois.
The Fire, making their first playoff appearance in five years, offered precious little in the first half and while they were more threatening after the break they could not make it count.
Chicago midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, who has played only 19 minutes over the previous seven games due to leg injuries, came on in the 65th minute but had barely touched the ball before Daniel Royer scored a third for the Red Bulls.
Gonzalo Veron added a fourth late on to pad the margin.
“I can’t really compliment the boys enough,” English striker Wright-Phillips said in a pitch-side interview. “It was a real professional performance.”
The win puts the Red Bulls into a two-leg Eastern Conference semi-final against a rampant Toronto FC, who had a first-round bye after setting a record for the most points in an MLS regular season -- 69 in 34 games.
The Red Bulls had finished the regular season sixth in the conference, 19 points behind Toronto, while Chicago were third on 55 points.
“We know Toronto are going to pose a huge challenge. I think they’re probably the best team in MLS history,” New York captain Kljestan said.
“We’re going up against (Sebastian) Giovinco and (Jozy) Altidore and Victor Vazquez, the three-headed monster. It’s going to be very tough but I like our chances.”
In Vancouver, the hosts turned in a scintillating performance in a game highlighted by a 28-yard free kick goal by midfielder Cristian Techera.
He curled a left-footed strike over the wall and just inside the near post to put the Whitecaps up 2-0 in the 57th minute and break San Jose’s resistance.
Fellow Uruguayan Nicolas Mezquida joined the party with two late goals, while Fredy Montera and Kendall Watson also got on the scoresheet.
Vancouver will face the defending MLS champion Seattle Sounders in a Western semi-final.
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Peter Rutherford/Amlan Chakraborty