34 rounds of MLS action are in the books, and now the real fun is set to begin this week.
The MLS Cup Playoffs have arrived, and 12 teams are firmly in the running to hoist a trophy in December.
[ MORE: PST talks to Justin Meram ahead of the Crew’s playoff run ]
While Toronto FC, New York City FC, the Seattle Sounders and the Portland Timbers will each have the opportunity to watch the first round from their homes, the action all starts on Wednesday and Thursday.
Here’s a look at what to expect when the knockout round begins.
Chicago Fire vs. New York Red Bulls — Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. ET
The Fire were one of the most intriguing stories for much of the regular season, but Veljko Paunovic’s side enters the postseason limping. Lucky for them, the Red Bulls have been just as inconsistent throughout the course of 2017 — which already saw Jesse Marsch’s club lose in the U.S. Open Cup final.
Paunovic and Co. have lost eight of their last 15 matches, which doesn’t bode well entering the home stretch of the schedule. Meanwhile, the Red Bulls have won just two of their last 10 matches. The Harrison side should be well-rested though for Wednesday’s encounter after starting a mostly second-tier squad in Sunday’s season finale against D.C. United.
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. San Jose Earthquakes — Wednesday, 10:30 p.m. ET
The Whitecaps looked to be a sure-fire club destined for a bye in the first round, but things didn’t fall their way on Decision Day. Now, Carl Robinson’s side faces an Earthquakes side that is simply unpredictable.
The Quakes have the second-worst road record in the Western Conference when it comes to acquiring points — holding eight in points 17 matches. However, Chris Leitch has instilled a new-found belief amongst the squad that gives the California side a puncher’s chance.
Atlanta United vs. Columbus Crew — Thursday, 7 p.m. ET
These two sides haven’t met since July 1, so all bets are off about these teams knowing one another. Since that point, Atlanta and Columbus have been two of the hottest sides in MLS and the former moved into a new stadium — which has given opposing sides quite the difficult time.
In their last 10 matches combined, the clubs boast just one loss, which Atlanta suffered at home against Minnesota United. There’s no reason not to expect a great one at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Houston Dynamo vs. Sporting KC — Thursday, 9:30 p.m. ET
Peter Vermes’ Sporting KC side enters the playoffs winless in their last five, while their counterparts are unbeaten in six. The MLS postseason is often about which team is in the best form at the right particular moment, and right now, it doesn’t look like Sporting KC has luck on their side.
It’s also hard to not pay attention to the fact that the Dynamo have lost just once at BBVA Compass Stadium in 2017, which came on September 9 against the Colorado Rapids.