By Simon Evans
(Reuters) - Major League Soccer's playoffs kick off in earnest on Saturday with two of the league's best known players, Landon Donovan and Thierry Henry, seeking to end their careers on a high note.
LA Galaxy forward Donovan, the league's all-time top scorer, has announced he will retire at the end of this campaign while former France and Arsenal striker Henry's contract with New York Red Bulls runs out at the end of the playoffs.
The 37-year-old Henry has given no indication of his plans after this season but club officials have made it clear that even if the Frenchman does continue to play it is very unlikely to be in New York.
Henry joined the Red Bulls from Barcelona in 2010 and while his time in MLS is widely viewed as successful, he has not been able to bring New York, founding members of the league, the title which has eluded them so far.
On Thursday, a 90th-minute winner from English forward Bradley Wright-Phillips, the league's top scorer with 27 goals in the regular season, ensured New York beat defending MLS Cup champions Sporting Kansas City in the knockout "play-in" round.
New York host D.C. United in the first leg of their Eastern Conference semi-final at Red Bull Arena on Sunday.
D.C. United were the worst team in MLS last year with just three wins from 34 regular season games but having kept faith with coach Ben Olsen they went from worst to first in the Eastern Conference.
The other East match-up sees Columbus Crew, New York in the 2008 final, up against the New England Revolution, who have finished runners-up in MLS Cup four times but have yet to get their hands on the silverware.
Donovan's long farewell from soccer has involved a final appearance for the U.S national team and a celebration of his career after his final regular season game with the Galaxy but he will hope his true send-off comes with a fourth MLS Cup.
The route to the final is a tough one though for LA with a two-legged game against a strong Real Salt Lake kicking off in Utah on Saturday. RSL were beaten finalists last season and won the Cup in 2009 – beating Donovan and the Galaxy in the final.
Should the Galaxy make it to the conference final they will face either FC Dallas or the Seattle Sounders, the top seed in the West, who with Nigerian Obafemi Martins and American international Clint Dempsey in attack believe they have a real chance of winning the title.
(Reporting by Simon Evans in Miami; Editing by Frank Pingue)