MLS Cup 2019

MLS Cup playoff preview

MLS postseason starts this Saturday

The MLS Cup playoffs will finally begin this weekend, and this year, the format’s a little different, as you all know: no more home-and-away series, just one game to decide who will move on to the next round.

With seven teams qualified in both conferences, the two first-place teams, LAFC and New York City FC, will receive a bye in the first round. Here is a breakdown of what we can expect in the knockout round of the MLS Cup playoffs.

Eastern Conference

Atlanta United (2) v New England Revolution (7)
Saturday, October 19, 1pm

The obvious thing to do here would be to pick the defending champions; Frank de Boer’s men have the enormous advantage of playing in their fortress, which is sure to be jam-packed for this one. And with Josef Martinez in this type of form, he can be one of the most ruthless goalscorers in the entire league.

That being said, the Georgians did suffer a blow a few days ago, when defender Miles Robinson suffered a hamstring injury with the USMNT, which is likely to keep him out of action until the MLS Cup, if Atlanta goes that far.

It will be an uphill battle for the Revs, but never underestimate experienced head coach Bruce Arena, who’s done an excellent job turning things around for this club, and who will certainly have a trick or two up his sleeve.

Philadelphia Union (3) v New York Red Bulls (6)
Sunday, October 20, 3pm

It is just us or is this one particularly hard to predict? The Union has a lot of talent in the squad – with the likes of Kacper Przybylko, scorer of 15 regular-season goals, Alejandro Bedoya, Jamiro Monteiro, and Ilsinho, to name a few. But what’s particularly good about the Union is how good they play as a team, always putting the collective in front of the individual.

Jim Curtin has certainly done a phenomenal coaching job in that regard, but the New York Red Bulls are no pushover. They may have been hammered 3-0 by the Impact in their last regular-season game, but for once, the New York representatives will enter the postseason without the usual weight of expectation strangling them. Maybe that’s what Chris Armas’ men need to make it all the way.

Toronto FC (4) v D.C. United (5)
Saturday, October 19, 6pm

A solid final stretch for TFC means they just squeeze into fourth, allowing to host at least the first game at BMO Field. But it must be said that the Reds are looking good heading into this matchup: Greg Vanney’s men are on a 10-game unbeaten streak in MLS and enter the postseason as one of the hottest teams in the league.

Although there are some concerns around Jozy Altidore, who was forced off the pitch with a quad injury on Decision Day, all signs point to the fact that the American striker will get the start come Saturday.

D.C. United, on their end, will need to count on its defense in this one; the Washingtonians have accumulated five consecutive clean sheets, but they have a hard time scoring, their 42 goals representing the fourth lowest in the entire league.

Western Conference

Seattle Sounders (2) v FC Dallas (7)
Saturday, October 19, 3:30pm

One particular stat pops out in this one: FC Dallas’ dismal away record, which includes just three wins outside of Dallas, and two tough losses in their last two away games of the year.

Seattle, on its end, has now made the playoffs for an 11th consecutive season. They certainly have the manpower – Jordan Morris, Raul Ruidiaz, Nicolas Lodeiro – but questions remain in defense, despite the Sounders managing three clean sheets in their last four games.

If that balance can continue, Dallas will certainly have their hands full.

Real Salt Lake (3) v Portland Timbers (6)
Saturday, October 19, 10pm

Real Salt Lake, they’re good at home, VERY good. So good, that only LAFC has more home wins than them this year. But the Portland Timbers won both games against the Utah representatives this year, including a 2-1 win at Rio Tinto Stadium.

That being said, the Timbers haven’t looked themselves as of late, but if the likes of Diego Valeri and Brian Fernandez decide to show up, they can make like very difficult for Real Salt Lake.

Minnesota United FC (4) v LA Galaxy (5)
Sunday, October 20, 8:30pm

The day has finally come, MLS fans: Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s first MLS playoff game, and it’s going down in Minnesota. But this team will truly only go as far as its Swedish superstar. Yes, this type of stage was definitely built for Zlatan, and as long as he’s in the line-up, the Galaxy has a chance, but two losses in two games to end the season, against the likes of the Houston Dynamo and the Vancouver Whitecaps, certainly doesn’t paint a positive picture for the Californians heading into this one.

Minnesota, like Zlatan, will be experiencing the MLS playoffs for the first time, and although that inexperience may hurt them at the end, they’ve proven throughout the year that they can pull off big wins.