The knockout round has concluded. Let’s turn our attention to the next stage in the MLS playoffs. Here are the predictions for the Conference Semi-Finals.
It was midweek madness in the MLS Playoffs with four competitive matches.
The Cinderella run continues for Columbus, Portland, and Real Salt Lake, while NYCFC took care of business at home. I’m not a huge fan of the two-leg format for the Conference rounds, but that is for another post.
In this next round, though, I like the top seeds and remaining underdogs to advance. Here are my predictions for the MLS Conference matches (all scores aggregate):
I’ll give the Columbus Crew a lot of credit for their play on Wednesday night. Their game plan was to possess the ball and wear down D.C. United. It worked. In the end, both teams looked fatigued, but the Crew had just enough left to convert the winning penalty kick. Unfortunately, all that hard work is going to take a toll on the squad.
This matchup will be close. Columbus is a well-coached team and managed to win the season series. However, the New York Red Bulls won the Supporters’ Shield and has had several days to rest their stars. They also finished the season on a six-game unbeaten streak, outscoring their opponents 12-4.
I thought last week would be the end for the Crew. Barring any further surprises, this should be the end of the road. I like the Red Bulls to advance.
On paper, the Seattle Sounders have the advantage, winning their last five games while scoring a staggering 15 goals. They will also have fewer miles on their legs. The caveat? These are rivalry games, which means statistics go out the window.
In most cases, I prefer the club that is able to get rest before the second season starts, but this will be an exception. I believe it’s actually an advantage that the Portland Timbers have already played in an intense, win-or-go-home game.
It will take time for the Sounders to settle into a playoff environment, especially with the added pressure of starting at Providence Park. I expect Portland to come out and attack in the first leg, hoping to take advantage of Seattle’s layoff.
When the game moves to Century Link, look for the Timbers to sit back and invite pressure, hoping to frustrate Seattle. Portland wins. Just.
All things being equal, I would give the nod to Atlanta United, but with the recent distractions, it has to be difficult for the Five Stripes to stay focused. Having played, I can tell you that once Tata Martino announced he would not be returning, everything changed.
Maybe the 4-1 loss at the end of the regular season was an anomaly, but I’m not sure. The players can talk about their desire to finish the dream season as they started, but the knowledge that your leader is not returning shakes you. This is not the time of year that you want doubt to creep into your mind.
Meanwhile, New York City FC is coming off a strong result against Philadelphia. Maxi Moralez and David Villa are in great form and, after a slow end to the regular season, the confidence is returning. I also expect fans to show up at Yankee Stadium this time around. This is a tale of two teams heading in different directions.
Unless Josef Martinez can find his scoring touch, the dream season will have a nightmare ending.
Real Salt Lake is living a charmed existence, having slid into the playoffs and pulling off an away victory at LAFC. I just don’t see it continuing in this round. Defense wins Championships, and Sporting Kansas City has conceded 20 fewer goals than Real. That is substantial.
While LAFC had a flat performance in the knockout round, that won’t happen against SKC. Peter Vermes has his side peaking at the right time, winning their last three matches, including securing the number one seed in the final game of the Regular Season.
Sporting is a team built to go far in 2018. This will be their first step toward an eventual MLS Cup.
Check back next week for analysis of the Conference Finals.