FC Chelsea Training And Press Conference

As it happened: Barcelona vs. Chelsea


As we did last week, PST live blogged today’s UEFA Champions League semifinal between Barcelona and Chelsea. Here’s how it happened:

Score: Barcelona 2 (2) [Busquets 35′, Iniesta 43′], Chelsea 2 (3) [Ramires 45+1′, Torres 90+2′]

Final: An amazing day for Chelsea. Their captain got himself ejected. Their other central defender left early with injury. A brilliant finish from Ramires in the first half put them back in front, and Fernando Torres sealed the victory. Chelsea is on to Munich, and Barcelona’s title defense is over.

90+2′ – Torres intercepts a ball along the left but has it taken from him. Xavi tries a ball into the box but it’s intercepted, with Cole punting it deep. Torres is the only person near the center line. He dribbles in on Valdes, gets around him and puts Barcelona away. Chelsea will go on to Munich.

90′ – Messi tries a chip for Sanchez, but Ivanovic heads it out. Mascherano collects and takes a crack, forcing Cech to push it out of play. Corner from Xavi targeting Puyol comes to nothing.

88′ – Torres intercepts a Messi pass on the right. Mascherano takes it off him with a nice tackle, brings it back in only to be taken down by Meireles. Raul spends too much time arguing (stalling), and is shown yellow.

87′ – Barcelona wins, takes a corner, but nothing comes of it.

85′ – We’re getting into not again territory here for Chelsea fans. Any score will be heartbreaking. They can be encouraged by Barcelona’s reluctance to shoot despite scaring Cech with a Messi long try a few seconds ago.Messi, in particular, is playing one pass too many.

83′ – Messi finally decides to have a crack and he puts it off Cech’s left post. Replays showed Cech pushed it onto the woodwork.

82′ – Goal for Barcelona, but it’s waved off. Messi’s ball to the right for Alves finds the Brazilian off side. Thought the next touch from Sanchez was in the back of the net, the score remains the same.

81′ – Chip by Messi for Keita into the left of the area goes out for the goal kick. Barcelona has no intention of shooting the ball.

80′ – Drogba, who was just seen exhaustedly walking back to his left-flank’s role, is off. Fernando Torres is on. Chelsea is out of subs.

79′ – This is frustrating to watch. Barcelona just wants one too many pass. Messi, instead of taking a speculative shot from 23 yards, tried to play to a teammate, allowing Chelsea to intercept and clear the ball.

78′ – As  base, Chelsea has Lampar, Mikel and Miereles playing in front of a back four, Kalou and Drogba defending wide.

77′ – Also (and this happened a couple of minutes ago) Barcelona brought Tello from the right to the left flank, seemingly allowing Iniesta to play in midfield.

75′ – Keita is playing as a center forward along with Sanchez. On their last entry into the box, Barcelona tried to loft a ball for him at Cech’s right post. Drogba tracked back to head it clear.

74′ – Fabregas is off. Seydou Keita is on.

73′ – A lot of Barcelona possession within 25 yards of goal, but everything’s so congested, they’re looking for something that isn’t there. It’s unclear what they’re waiting for. They’re got to start putting the ball ito the box, be that via shots at Cech or by sending it in and hoping for the best.

72′- Lampard slides into Fabregas, brings a second leg through, and sees yellow.

71′ – As Barcelona tries to increase the pressure, every player by Mascherano is in the final third. Three (Alves, Busquets, Puyol) sit right on its edge. It will be interesting to see when Puyol gets sent farther forward, possibly to attack Ramires.

69′ – Drogba is down but gets up relatively quickly only to see the referee come over and say something that agitates him.

68′ – Chelsea with some possession on their right flank before Lampard lofts a ball into the box for Kalou, who forces Valdes to come and weakly punch into midfield, where it’s cleared.

67′ – Cuenca, who has had a good match, comes off. Cristian Tello is on.

66′ – Barcelona backs all of Chelsea’s players into their box but still got a ball over most of them before Ramires heads it into touch. The corner’s played out into midfield, another ball is sent in, and Ramires heads it out.

64′ – Chip from the left flank gives the crowd pause as Drogba’s trying to run onto the ball. Barca plays it out for a corner, and when Frank Lampard swings it in, Valdes can’t get to it before Ivanovic puts a head to it. Ball goes out, but Chelsea always had another.

63′ – Drogba is just running around to where he’s needed. Five minutes ago he was deep on the right. Over the last two minutes he’s been deep on the left, and whenever the ball is dead, he makes his way back to a striker’s position.

62′ – Barcelona catches Ramires too narrow, plays it out to Cuence who has a shot from seven yards out. Cech some down and makes another great save.

61′ – Reminiscent of how Jose Mourinho used Samuel Eto’o two years ago, Didier Drogba was just seen on the left of  a six man defensive line: Ramires-Ivanovic-Lampard-Bosingwa-Cole-Drogba.

59′ – Cech has picked up a  yellow card, possibly for time-wasting, as he was warned in the first half (and the card seems to have been given during the process of taking a goal kick).

58′ – Kalou is on for Mata.

56′ – A near embarrassing moment for Valdes. Drogba bring the ball out of his own end, plays it past Puyol at half way and then fires at goal. Valdes has to dive to keep the ball out.

54′ – Barcelona with another good chance that goes (as they say) wanting. Alves bursts down the right and puts a ball far post, but Sanchez can’t head it home.

50′ – Now Iniesta finds his way into the book, fouling Drogba.

48′ – In there, Branislav Ivanovic picked up a yellow card. If Chelsea makes it to Munich, he’ll be suspended.

48′ – Lionel Messi steps to the ball and … unbelievable! It’s off the bar! Chelsea is still in front as Messi against misses a golden chance, this time from the spot! Cech had guessed the right way but had no way of stopped that, were it a ball length lower.

48′ – We’ve got a penalty. Drogba brings down Fabregas after being dispossessed. Barcelona is set to go up again. The play was way to the right of the box, but there was little hesitation.

46′ – Welcome back. Barcelona is now moving from right to left in your head.

Halftime: Total passes (I believe this is Opta): 349-89, Barcelona.

Halftime: As seen on Twitter, Xavi has 59 completed passes in the first half. Chelsea: 61.

Halftime: I suppose this goes without saying: If Chelsea makes the final, Terry won’t play. David Luiz has yet to return to health, and Gary Cahill went down in the first half.

Halftime: Possession: 72-28, Barcelona; Shots: 9-4, Barcelona; Shots on target: 3-1, Barcelona.

Halftime: An incredible last 10 minutes saw three goals and a red card, though essentially, we’re right back where we started. Chelsea is still en route of Munich, even if the score looks a little different. There’ll be no penalty kicks, as Chelsea takes a 2-2 “edge” into intermission.

45+1′ – We’re headed to injury time, and Chelsea desperately needs halftime … wait – Lampard plays a through ball for Ramires and Valdes is eight yards off his line. The chip is in the back of the net. It’s now 2-2 and Chelsea, thanks to their away goal, is in front! (Originally put Drogba as the scorer … bad reflexive response, I guess)

44′ – Ramires picks up Chelsea’s second yellow.

43′ – It just got a lot worse for Chelsea. Alexis squares for Messi, who plays into the left of the area for Iniesta. It’s a cool finish on a shot we see missed more than make. Just inside the lower-right corner, Barcelona is in front.

43′ – UEFA is reporting a collision between Valdes and Pique is what prematurely ended the defender’s night.

42′ – Chelsea defense is actually Ramires-Ivanovic-Bosingwa-Cole. Mikel stays in midfield.

40′ – Terry’s dismissal will force Mikel into central defense and, seemingly, has left the Blues with two hopes: Drogba and penalty kicks.

37′ – Amazingly dirty play. As the ball is on the right flank, John Terry takes his right knee and puts it into the small of Alexis Sanchez’s back. The assistant most have saw it, because after a brief pause, the official didn’t hesitate to produce red.

37′ – John Terry has been red carded.

35′ – We are tied up! Barcelona wins a corner and targets Puyol with the restart. Chelsea heads it clear but Alves is there to bring it back in and play it out to the left for Cuenca. He puts it across the face, along the six for Busquets, who has an open goal to left-foot the equalizer home. It’s 1-1, people.

34′ – Drogba and Busquets collide again. This time, Drogba gets up checking his mouth for blood.

33′ – For the first time we see Iniesta making an attacking move from the left. The ball from Fabregas to him goes into touch. On the goal kick, the official talks to Cech about taking too much time. Cech obliges and restarts.

33′ – Possession: 72-28, Barca. Shots: 6-2, Barca. Shots on target: 1-0, Barca.

31′ – Long ball from Drogba (goal kick) flicked on for Mata running behind. He has a step on Puyol and forces Valdes to punt it into touch for a throw. Within seconds of the restart, Chelsea’s given the ball back, and Mikel has to take down Sánchez to prevent a break. First card.

30′ – I can’t help but think Barcelona didn’t think out the Piqué substitution. As we saw some work from them on their right you see Cuenca’s presence completely blocks Alves. Alves has a killer right foot and could be valuable in other ways, but I can’t help but wonder if Adriano wouldn’t have been the better choice.

28′ – Not seeing many ill effects of Cahill coming off. On the last exchange (started with a cross from Cuenca), Ivanovic made a nice read to drop into the box as Xavi tried to chip for Fabregas.

26′ – Piqué has had to come off. It’s unclear what happened, but he’s going straight to the locker room. It seems like an aggravation of the leg injury he has suffered from throughout the month. Dani Alves is on – not Adriano. Will Busquets drop into defense? Or will Alves play a traditional defender’s role?

25′ – For all the talk of Barcelona needing depth, they’re creating enough chances by going straight down the middle. Intricate passing, running until they can’t anymore. Typical Barcelona.

22′ – Drogba and Busquets collide contesting a long ball. Neither go down. This really should be the headline.

22′ – Long chance from Mascherano goes just over the bar. The game’s really picked up over the last four minutes.

20′ – We’re seeing enough from Barcelona to know breaking down the defense won’t be the problem. As has been the case for most of the year, finishing will be the issue. Messi (Messi!) has already failed to convert two very good chances.

19′ – Another great chance for Barcelona, this time requiring Cech to be at his best. A ball played to the left of goal gives Messi a chance from eight yards out. The ball’s heading for the far corner but Cech gets a leg to it. What a save.

19′ – Sometimes, you have to love modern technology. We’re back.

12′ – Finally, it happens. Bosingwa is on for Cahill. Di Matteo decides not to take any chances.

11′ – Early, Barcelona has 74 percent of the possession (the UEFA possession, not Opta’s)

10′ – Just as the board had been prepared to announce the sub, Bosingwa sis back down.

9′ – Cahill’s back on the pitch, but it still looks like Bosingwa is going to come on. Later in the game we could have expected Bosingwa to come on for Mata and play right midfield. Obviously, that won’t happen should Bosingwa come on.

7′ – Barcelona’s fans boo, suspecting early time-wasting. Nice. Cahill’s now up and running along the goal line, testing his leg. Bosignwa is taking off his warm ups. If he comes on, Ivanovic will play centrally.

6′ – Barcelona with another entry into the area as Fábregas slips a ball into the Invanovic-Cahill channel. Sánchez is in behind but is closed down quickly by Lampard. Nothing comes of it besides Cahill doing down. He’s tweaked his left hamstring, and it doesn’t look good.

4′ – Early we see a benefit to Pique beyond his height. He’s perfectly comfortable stepping into midfield and handling the ball. Here he swings it out to Cuenca on the right, who plays it in before Ivanovic sends it out for a throw.

3′ – Brilliant chance for Barcelona. Ball rolled to Messi’s feet. Touch to Sanchez, back to Messi, freezing John Terry. Right-footed shot from 14 yards goes into the outside of the side netting.

3′ – Barcelona with their first real foray forward sees a chip from Xavi go over Terry and Messi, bouncing into the arms of Cech.

2′ – Messi with a giveaway, ball to Drogba ho holds up play before playing wide to Ivanovic, who is fouled. Restart is quickly given back to Barcelona.

1′ – Early Ramires and Ashley Cole break down the right of Barça’s defense. Cole rolls a ball toward the six but Drogba can’t get to it before Valdés swallows it up.

1′ – Game on! Barcelona needs a goal. Chelsea needs time to speed up.

0′ – Chelsea will be moving from right-to-left on your imaginary screen. They’ll also be kicking off.

[LIMBO] – Anthem is sung and the handshakes are done. We’re moments away.

[LIMBO] – Players are finally walking out. The crowd, having just finished singing, will undoubtedly discard their typical golf clap celebrations for more a full-voiced approach. And just in case you were wondering, the officials are wearing lavender.

[LIMBO] – Sky Sports just featured a Braveheart, 300-esque rallying cry from somebody I can only assume is Gerard Butler’s second choice voice double. Teams are lining up in the tunnel.

[LIMBO] – We’re now in the middle of that nether region between advertised start time and kickoff. We should be about 10 minutes away. For Barcelona and Chelsea fans, may as well be an hour.

4′ – Sky Sports just showed the replay of John Terry’s miss in Moscow. I’m assuming this was both obligatory and not at the request of Chelsea supporters.

6′ – Jamie Redknapp, commenting on di Matteo, with a possibly unintended vicious backhand to André Villas-Boas: “I think [di Matteo’s] shown common sense.” I suppose I should be used to this. I’m not. It’s still very amusing.

7′ – One thing Roberto di Matteo has going for him, as it concerns his prospects for a permanent position at Chelsea: The Blues have a recent history of success with managers sporting caterpillar eyebrows.

9′ – As far as prematch news goes, it’s been pretty slow, a reflection of everybody pretty much knowing what’s about to come. Can Chelsea hold out for 90 minutes? Potentially worrisome news, Sam Wallace (@SamWallaceIndy) just asked about rumors of a ruckus outside the Nou Camp between Chelsea supporters and Barcelona’s faithful.

14′ – As implying by tactical savant Michael Cox on Twitter (@zonal_marking), Pep Guardiola’s selection leaves him with a ton of options. Guardiola could go with four across the top with Iniesta, Messi, Sánchez and Cuenca and still have Fábregas coming from deep. You could drop Iniesta into midfield and play 3-4-3. You could move Fábregas up and play … let’s just start the game already.

Point: Barcelona’s got a ton of interchangeable parts.

-18′ – Good line here from SI’s Georgina Turner, via her Twitter (@georgina_turner): “I’m not suggesting Sky have overhyped Barca v Chelsea, but if the teams don’t emerge in solid gold gladiatorial armour, I’ll be disappointed”.

-27′ – Now, Chelsea’s selection, unchanged from Stamford Bridge:

G – Petr Cech
LB – Ashely Cole
LCB – John Terry
RCB – Gary Cahill
RB – Branislav Ivanovic
LM – Ramires
CM – Raul Meireles
CM – John Obi Mikel
CM – Frank Lampard
RM – Juan Mata
F – Didier Drogba

Subs: Turnbull, Bosingwa, Essien, Malouda, Torres, Kalou, Sturridge

Though there was some post-match debate as to what the formation was exactly last week, reviewing the tape certainly seemed to show a 4-5-1/4-1-4-1 though most of the game. Up 1-0 at kickoff, we may see the same, only with the midfield sitting even deep at the match’s onset.

-29′ – The consensus seems to be Alves was dropped because he was at fault for the goal at Stamford Bridge, something with which I disagree. The tactic was the problem at Stamford Bridge. Guardiola’s move today is less an indictment of the player as it is the approach.

-34′ – Barcelona’s lineup first, with one major surprise:

G – Victor Valdés
D – Gerard Piqué
D – Javier Mascherano
D – Carles Puyol
M – Sergio Busquets
M – Xavi Hernández
M/F – Andrés Iniesta
M/F – Cesc Fábregas
F – Alexis Sánchez
F – Lionel Messi
F – Isaac Cuenca

Subs: Pinto, Alves, Alcántara, Keita, Adriano, Pedro Rodríguez, Tello

Amazingly, Dani Alves has been benched. Where many thought Barcelona would have to do a better job or stretching out Chelsea’s defense, their best wide player is out of the XI.

The other change from last week: Gerard Piqué is in, Adriano is on the bench.

This looks like it will play as a 3-4-3, with Sánchez and Cuenca possibly playing wide attacking roles. But, we’ll have to wait and see.

-36′ – Welcome back. I missed you. Did you – not, you don’t have to say. We’ll get the lineups up in a minute and then update you on all the latest pregame news. In the interim, you can check out

EFL Cup: Liverpool, Arsenal move on; Newcastle hangs six

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 25:  Aleksandar Mitrovic of Newcastle United (C) celebrates scoring his sides fourth goal with his team mates during the EFL Cup fourth round match between Newcastle United and Preston North End at St James' Park on October 25, 2016 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
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Five of eight EFL Cup quarterfinalists are set with three matches to come on Wednesday.

Liverpool, Arsenal, Newcastle United, and Hull City clinched spots in the quarterfinals with Tuesday wins. Norwich City leads Leeds United in extra time in the day’s fifth match.

[ MORE: Ballon d’Or omissions ]

Wednesday will see Manchester United vs. Manchester City, West Ham against Chelsea, and Southampton versus Sunderland.

United States men Cameron Carter-Vickers (Spurs) and DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle) started their respective matches. Gedion Zelalem played the final 10 minutes for Arsenal.

Arsenal 2-0 Reading

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored with a hard, low shot from a tight angle to give the hosts a lead, and then buttressed the score with a second half marker. Zelalem then replace “Ox” in the 80th minute.

Newcastle United 6-0 Preston North End

The “Rafalution” has Benitez’s Magpies atop the Championship, and they are thriving in the EFL Cup as well.

Mo Diame gave Newcastle an insurance goal after Aleksandar Mitrovic headed a Matt Ritchie free kick home to make it 1-0. In between those goals, Preston went down a man.

Spark plug Ritchie buried a penalty early in the second half to make it academic. Mitrovic added his second in the 55th minute, while Diame completed his brace with three minutes to play and Ayoze Perez finished the scoring in stoppage time.

Liverpool 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur

Daniel Sturridge went to the dirty areas to poke home a very Daniel Sturridge goal, the first of two on the night in a win at Anfield.

Sturridge gave American centerback Cameron Carter-Vickers headaches all day, and Spurs goalkeeper Michel Vorm helped keep the match within a goal.

But Sturridge beat Kevin Wimmer‘s offside track and walked in alone on Vorm to slot home for a strengthened lead.

A soft penalty off an Erik Lamela dive gifted Spurs the chance to draw within one, and Vincent Janssen converted the opportunity.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 25: Daniel Sturridge of Liverpool (C) celebrates scoring his sides first goal with his Liverpool team mates during the EFL Cup fourth round match between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield on October 25, 2016 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

Bristol City 1-2 Hull City

There wasn’t much to like at Ashton Gate before Harry Maguire put the Tigers up before the break. That may have weakened the hosts’ resolve, and Michael Dawson netted right after halftime to double Hull’s advantage.

Lee Tomlin scored a goal for Bristol City just before the final whistle.

Leeds United 1-2 Norwich City (still in aet)

Longtime Spurs property Alex Pritchard has his first Canaries goal with this marker at Elland Road. Leeds had a goal pulled back for a handball, and then equalized properly through Marcus Antonsson.

Pritchard then provided the assist on Nelson Oliveira‘s extra time winner, clinching Norwich’s spot in the quarterfinals.


EFL Cup at half: Liverpool, Arsenal, Newcastle, Hull ahead (video)

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 25: Matz Sels of Newcastle United warms up prior to kick off during the EFL Cup fourth round match between Newcastle United and Preston North End at St James' Park on October 25, 2016 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
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Five of eight EFL Cup quarterfinalists will be decided by the end of business on Tuesday, and we have goals in the first halves of all five matches. (video)

[ MORE: Ballon d’Or omissions ]

United States men Cameron Carter-Vickers (Spurs) and DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle) started their respective matches.

Newcastle United 2-0 Preston North End

The “Rafalution” has Benitez’s Magpies atop the Championship, and they are thriving in the EFL Cup as well.

Mo Diame gave Newcastle an insurance goal after Aleksandar Mitrovic headed a Matt Ritchie free kick home to make it 1-0. In between those goals, Preston went down a man.

Liverpool 1-0 Tottenham Hotspur

Daniel Sturridge goes to the dirty areas to poke home a very Daniel Sturridge goal.

Arsenal 1-0 Reading

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored with a hard, low shot from a tight angle to give the hosts a lead.

Bristol City 0-1 Hull City

Not much cooking at Ashton Gate before Harry Maguire put the Tigers up before the break.

Leeds United 1-1 Norwich City

Longtime Spurs property Alex Pritchard has his first Canaries goal with this marker at Elland Road. Leeds had a goal pulled back for a handball, and then equalized properly through Marcus Antonsson.


Portland players Ridgewell, Gleeson arrested on DUI charges

PORTLAND, OR - MARCH 6: Adam Larsen Kwarasey #12 of Portland Timbers knocks the ball away from Kei Kamara #23 of Columbus Crew as Liam Ridgewell #24 and Nat Borchers #7 of Portland Timbers look on during the second half of the game at Providence Park on March 6, 2016 in Portland, Oregon. The Timbers won the match 2-1. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
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LAKE OSWEGO, Ore. (AP) Portland Timbers goalkeeper Jake Gleeson and defender Liam Ridgewell face charges of driving under the influence after an accident in Lake Oswego, Oregon, on Monday night.

Gleeson and Ridgewell were booked into Clackamas County Jail and posted bond. Both are scheduled to appear in Lake Oswego Municipal Court on Nov. 16.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

Police said Gleeson rear-ended another vehicle and called Ridgewell, who arrived later to help. Neither Gleeson nor the driver of the vehicle he hit was injured in the accident.

Gleeson, who is from New Zealand, faces charges of driving under the influence of intoxicants, reckless driving and reckless endangerment while Ridgewell, who is British, faces a DUII charge.

The team issued a statement Tuesday that said it has been in “close contact with the players, local law enforcement and the league office” and will not comment further until additional information is known.

The case for (and against) every Western Conference MLS playoff team

FC Dallas, 2016 Supporters Shield winners (Photo credit: FC Dallas / Facebook)
Photo credit: FC Dallas / Facebook
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On Monday, PST’s Nicholas Mendola made the case for (and against) the six sides vying for the Eastern Conference’s place in MLS Cup 2016. Today, I’ll do the same for the Western Conference.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Real Salt Lake (6)

Why they could win it: Yura Movsisyan, Joao Plata and Juan Manuel “El Burrito” Martinez combine to form one of the league’s most terrifying attacking trios (25 goals, 17 assists combined) … when they’re at their best (more on that in the section below).

Why they won’t: Momentum. They have none. Seven games without a win to finish the regular season (three draws, four losses). Scored all of two goals in their final six games. Five straight losses on the road (last win: July 31), which is where they’ll be playing the LA Galaxy on Wednesday (10:30 p.m. ET) in the knockout round. They never actually figured what to do at center back alongside Justen Glad — you simply can’t count on Jamison Olave or Chris Schuler to be healthy and stay on the field.

[ MORE: Power rankings — Going to the playoffs edition ]

Sporting Kansas City (5)

Why they could win it: They’ll outwork just about anyone in the midfield, which is a trait that typically translates to success in the playoffs. The core of the team — Benny Feilhaber, Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, Dom Dwyer and a few others — have been there and won it all before. Realistically, they needed to win four points from their last two games to get into the playoffs, and that’s exactly what they did. There’s something to be said for that.

Why they won’t: Though they faced the fewest number of total shots during the regular season, they gave up way too many big chances due to catastrophic mistakes at the back and deep in midfield. The lack of a consistent scoring option beyond Dwyer (16 goals) makes them extremely one-dimensional as it’s too easy to cut off service to the lone man up top. A deep playoff run would have to look something like this: 1-0 win; 1-0 win in the first leg, 0-0 draw in the second leg; 1-0 win in the first leg, 0-0 draw in the second leg. Margin for error: extremely thin.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

Seattle Sounders (4)

Why they’ll win it: Momentum. They have all of it. Since Brian Schmetzer took over as interim head coach on July 26, they’ve suffered just two defeats (eight wins, four draws). Nicolas Lodeiro was the best no. 10 in the league the day he arrived, and he’s been worth his weight in gold thus far (four goals, eight assists in 13 games). Jordan Morris gets stronger and stronger with each passing game, and that’s never the case with rookies. Cristian Roldan solved their problem deep in midfield, perhaps extending the career of Osvaldo Alonso by two or three years if they roll with the same setup in 2017.

Why they won’t: Have you ever seen what the Sounders do in the playoffs? I also still worry about Tyrone Mears and Joevin Jones at the two fullback spots. If teams can transition following a turnover quickly enough, they’ll find a ton of joy down either flank.

Alvaro Fernandez; Jordan Morris, Nicolas Lodeiro, Seattle Sounders (Photo credit: Seattle Sounders / Facebook)
(Photo credit: Seattle Sounders / Facebook)

[ MORE: The case for (and against) every team in the East ]

LA Galaxy (3)

Why could win it: They’re the Galaxy, and Bruce Arena is still their head coach. Giovani dos Santos enjoyed an otherworldly end to the summer (seven goals, seven assists from late-July to early-September). With Robbie Keane out injured for extended periods, this is now his team. Lost just once at home all season — combined with RSL’s road struggles, the Galaxy are a solid bet to get out of the knockout round. Oh, and Landon Donovan lives for the playoffs.

Why they won’t: What’s up with the midfield? Is it Baggio Husidic and no one else? Is Steven Gerrard going to be healthy? Is Jeff Larentowicz the answer? You do know Sebastian Lletget isn’t a defensive midfielder, right? They’re fine at the back, and still pretty scary on the attack (despite injuries — Gyasi Zardes), but you can’t overlook the total absence of a midfield.

[ MORE: Biggest 2016 disappointment — Portland or Columbus? ]

Colorado Rapids (2)

Why they’ll win it: 32 goals conceded during the regular season (fewest in MLS). No one has perfected the art of the 1-0 victory quite like Pablo Mastroeni’s Rapids. 60 minutes will go by, and you’ll have taken all of two shots, both from 35 yards out. One can’t begin to imagine how frustrating it must be to play against team. Home losses in 2016: zero.

Why they won’t: 39 goals scored during the regular season (second-fewest in MLS). If/when they go a goal down, they won’t be able to get back into the game against a Cup-contending side. Their margin of error in this regard is practically nonexistent. Jermaine Jones returned to action after nearly four months on the sideline (knee injury) over the weekend, but there’s no way he can be expected to contribute in a meaningful way on that kind of a turnaround, right? Right? Don’t count this team — or him — out. Seriously, don’t do it.

Pablo Mastroeni, Colorado Rapids (Photo credit: Colorado Rapids / Facebook)
(Photo credit: Colorado Rapids / Facebook)

[ MORE: Decision Day madness in the West | And in the East ]

FC Dallas (1)

Why they’ll win it: Here are two inarguable statements about FCD: they’re the most talented team in MLS; they’re the deepest team in MLS. Fabian Castillo was transferred two-thirds of the way through the season, and they didn’t skip a beat. They can play with pace; they can grind it out in ugly affairs; they can pummel you with set pieces. However you choose to force them to beat you, they’re happy to oblige. No one maximizes each and ever facet of the game quite like Oscar Pareja’s Hoops. Matt Hedges was far and away the best defender in MLS this year, and Walker Zimmerman, his center back partner, was top-five (-three?) himself. Maxi Urruti, Michael Barrios and Tesho Akindele complement each other wonderfully and give Pareja an infinite number of tactical tweaks to apply.

Why they won’t: Mauro Diaz is out for the season (torn achilles). That’s a massive blow for any team, even FCD. No one has a better feel for the tempo of the game — when to push it; when to ease off the gas — than Diaz, and FCD will inevitably play themselves into trouble a handful of times each game without their guiding light. That’s it, though. On paper, prior to Diaz’s injury, it would have been nigh impossible to make a case against FCD completing the first treble in MLS history.