Philipp Lahm

Story of the World Cup: Reviewing the guts, glory, glamour of Brazil 2014


The 2014 World Cup may have been the best World Cup in history.

There. I said it. Right off the bat.

After a month of some of the best soccer the planet has ever witnessed, you may be on somewhat of a comedown with the World Cup done and dusted. As the Germans parade the trophy around Berlin, don’t fret, we are here to review the whole shebang.

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[ RELATED: World Cup reviews, archive ]

From Spain’s shocking exit, the U.S. capturing the imaginations of a nation and much more, here’s your comprehensive review of the 2014 World Cup.

Oh yeah, stay logged onto ProSoccerTalk from Monday to Wednesday this week (and every day… but these days especially) as we have all kinds of World Cup reviews coming your way.

The rise of CONCACAF…

For the first time in history three CONCACAF teams reached the knockout stages of the World Cup. That’s very impressive. The U.S. and Mexico both performed extremely well to make it out of their groups, while Costa Rica stunned everyone and won group D ahead of Italy, England and Uruguay. Los Ticos then made it all the way to the quarterfinals where they eventually lost to the Netherlands on PKs. Costa Rica had the support of the U.S. and the entire region, as the rest of the world sat up and applauded CONCACAF’s efforts.  The President of CONCACAF, Jeffrey Webb, has declared himself a proud man and rightly so. Does this strong showing mean that another automatic World Cup berth is heading CONCACAF’s way?

European giants crash out… 

Spain. Italy. England. Portugal. Croatia. Russia (they qualify via UEFA). All six had legitimate hopes of going far at the World Cup. All six nations were packing their bags after the group stage. The biggest shock was reigning champions Spain being hammered 5-1 by the Netherlands in their opener, then losing 2-0 to Chile and being out of the tournament just six days after it started. Yeah, Vicente del Bosque’s men gave up their title as World Champions with a whimper. England, Portugal and Italy underperformed, while Russia and Croatia were pretty shocking in very poor groups. Despite a European team winning the tournament, the usual suspects struggled in Brazil. Is this the end for Spain’s golden generation and their domination of the global game?

Top 10 goals | PST’s best XI | Top 10 moments | Top stats | Grades

Goals, goals, goals…

With 171 goals, this World Cup had the most goals of any World Cup ever. Tied with the 1998 tournament, which also had 171, that averaged out to 2.67 goals per game. We had a 7-1, 5-1, 4-0, 5-2 and generally goals galore. If you aren’t big on dissecting tactical, defensive battles and would rather see the onion bag rippled on multiple occasions, this World Cup was for you. Here are the top 10 goals, as compiled by PST. Not too shabby, eh?

Huge crowds turned up at Soldier Field in Chicago as watch parties become a huge part of the summer.

USA, USA, USA: the birth (re-birth?) of a soccer nation?

The scenes in cities all across the USA during the World Cup were a sight to behold. Tens of thousands of fans gathering in Chicago, Kansas City, LA, New York City and every other major city you can think of. The fact that Brazil slotted in with U.S. time-zones was incredibly important in the huge viewing figures witnessed in the USA. Forget about figures and all of the other measurable. You got the sense that soccer is becoming a mainstream sport in the U.S. and the enthusiasm, passion and every other hallmark of fandom is spreading to people and places where the sport is still struggling to become established. Every four years these feelings crop up, as you see the huge outpouring of emotion towards Team USA. However this time round it seems  to be sticking around. That’s the hope.

We had Teddy Goalsevelt out in Recife guiding U.S. fans through the rising floodwater’s (seriously, it was like a monsoon), Hulk Hogan, Mike Tyson and Will Ferrell (in Brazil) firing the players up to fight for the Stars and Stripes. Everyone seemed to have afternoons off to watch the games as the entire country came to a standstill. Chants of “I believe that we will win!” took over the brains of U.S. fans and regular Americans. Fans of the USA were everywhere in Brazil, over 20,000 were at the opener in Natal. From the delirium on show for John Brooks’ late winner against Ghana to the delight of Jermaine Jones and Clint Dempsey scoring against Portugal, the American Outlaws stood by their side every step of the way in South America. A study from Cambridge University stated that the three most used words worldwide to sum up the USA’s effort in Brazil were “Determined. Heroic. Courageous.” The country felt: Proud. Involved. Hopeful.

source: AP
Howard became a one man band against Belgium.

Maybe, just maybe, in the future we will look back to the 2014 World Cup as the tournament where soccer finally latched onto the hearts of the American people and never let go. Whatever the outcome, the performance of Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad (getting out of the “Group of Death” and the going 12 rounds with Belgium in what resembled a remake of Rocky IV) was inspiring and players like DeAndre Yedlin and Julian Green gave plenty of hope for the future of the U.S. national team. The USMNT are heading in one direction: up.

Howard stands on his head…

Tim Howard made 15 saves in the USA’s 2-1 defeat to Belgium in the second round. He was personally thanked by President Barack Obama, briefly appointed as the USA’s Secretary of Defense (according to Wikipedia) and the #ThingsHowardCouldSave craze become one of the sensations of the World Cup. His stunning display to keep Belgium at bay elevate him as one of the top five goalkeepers in the world, and the best ‘keeper the U.S. has ever seen. With his beard in magnificent form and Howard’s menacing looks adorning every stop he made, the Everton star became a folk hero forever in the hearts of USMNT fans. With 27 saves, Howard was the busiest ‘keeper at the entire World Cup and the U.S. only played in four games. Bravo, Tim.

“Twenty-two players chase the ball for 90 minutes and in the end, the Germans win….”

For the first time since 1990 Germany clinched the World Cup title as Mario Gotze’s moment of magic beat Argentina in extra time. They deserved this one. Big time. They were the top scorers in the tournament with 18 goals, smashed the host nation 7-1 in the semifinal and this squad has been on the edge of greatness for so long. Finally they won a trophy by winning the World Cup in Brazil. Here is all you need to know about Germany’s new national hero, Gotze.

Three bites, you’re out…

Luis Suarez lost the plot in Uruguay’s 1-0 win over Italy in the group stages. Off the ball he ran past Giorgio Chiellini and bit the Italian defender. That’s right, not for the first or second time in his career, but the third, Suarez sunk his teeth into an opponent. It was disgusting, despicable and downright disgraceful. Suarez was handed a four-month ban by FIFA, fined over $100,000 and missed the rest or Uruguay’s World Cup (their round of 16 game where Colombia taught them a lesson). He has since been sold to Barcelona for $130 million by Liverpool, who haven’t publicly lambasted Suarez but another bite was likely the final straw.

source: Getty Images
Suarez bit Italian defender Chiellini as the Uruguayan bit another player for the third-time in his career.

Chile, Colombia showcase South American depth…

Adding flair, poise and flavor to the World Cup, Brazil’s South American neighbors put on a real show on their home continent. Colombia were the darlings of the tournament as their young squad spearheaded by James Rodriguez (more on him shortly) and missing superstar Radamel Falcao, dazzled neutrals with their fluid attacks and swaggering panache. Chile should have knocked out hosts Brazil in the round of 16 but Mauricio Pinilla hit the crossbar in extra time and Brazil edged through on PKs. With Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal, Chile beat Spain and Australia comfortably and showed they are set to stick around on the world stage. Along with Colombia (who were also knocked out unconvincingly by Brazil) South America has become a continent crackling with top class national teams. Colombia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay all made the knockout stage.

James (pronounced HA-MIS) shines, as a star is born…

Heading into the tournament not many people earmarked James Rodriguez as the Golden Boot winner. With six goals and two assists the 23-year-old Colombian excelled and scoring some stunning goals. His chest control, then swerving volley from distance against Uruguay was the goal of the tournament. He only scored nine goals for AS Monaco last season in Ligue 1 after a big money move from FC Porto, but Rodriguez may now be on the move again as Europe’s elite queue up to sign the star of the summer.

Tweet, tweet…

This was the first World Cup where Twitter truly took over. More people Tweeted about this World Cup than any other sporting event in history. Germany’s incredible 7-1 win over Brazil almost broke the social media site, as over 35 million messages were sent about that match. That was a record for a sporting event on Twitter, as the previous best was Seattle’s Super Bowl win back in February, that had 25 million Tweets.

source: AP
Rodroguez’s stunner opened the scoring, as Colombia’s tremendous tournament won them plenty of friends.

Endless Extra Time…

We certainly got our money’s worth this summer! Five of the eight round of 16 matches went to extra time (two of which went to penalty kicks) and overall eight of the 16 knockout matches went to extra time. Tension, pressure, moments of magic… we had it all. From the goalkeeping heroics of Keylor Navas, Tim Krul and Julio Cesar in penalty kicks to the despair of being dumped out when the tank is empty and you’ve given all you have (see: Belgium 2-1 U.S.). This World Cup was both beautiful and brutal. Entire nations held their breath, celebrated, cried and consoled each other in unison. The tension of extra time intensified these emotions. Is it time to bring back the golden goal, though?

Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar, Suarez…

Okay, the star players we were all keeping an eye on before the World Cup didn’t really set the thing alight like we expected… did they? Messi won the Golden Ball (albeit somewhat shockingly) as the best player of the tournament but many would argue if he was the best player on Argentina’s roster, yet alone the tournament. Anyway, Neymar bagged four goals (like Messi) but the big story surrounding him was his brutal back injury at the quarterfinal stage. In fits and starts we saw the real Neymar but the Brazil fell apart without Neymar and the entire country were praying he somehow recovered from a broken bone in his back in days, rather than weeks. Cristiano Ronaldo, and his Portugal side, were perhaps the biggest disappointment of the tournament. Ronaldo bent in a beauty of a cross late on against the U.S. to set up the equalizer and scored against Ghana, but Portugal were dumped out and Ronaldo was robbed of showing the world what he’s made of in his prime. Suarez? Well, we’ve covered that. He let himself, his country and his team down. Inexcusable.

source: AP
Neymar’s injury was the main story for Brazil, as their star man was ruled out.

Concussions come to the fore…

In the U.S. we’ve got to hear ESPN’s Taylor Twellman and his thought on concussions in soccer. The lack of sincerity shown towards the issue by FIFA became a real concern as the tournament progressed. It seemed like every other day, at least, we were discussing what FIFA is going to do to try and protect players and to stop players playing on after receiving serious head injuries. From Uruguay’s Alvaro Perreira carrying on and waving away doctors to Germany’s Christoph Kramer trying to carry on but having to come off dazed and confused in the final, we saw head injuries in soccer up close this summer. It was ugly to see players treated like Roman Gladiators. We are in the 21st century. New measures are needed before more serious damage occurs. NBC News has more details on concussions in soccer.

Protests? What protests? 

Remember before the World Cup, back in early June, when everyone and their mother was predicting huge violent protests from the Brazilian people and mass brawls to breakout in the favelas? What happened to those? Okay, without being behind-the-scenes we had to rely on the media reports we received, but hardly any of the news was negative apart from the odd FIFA ticket scandal here and there. Even that was bush league stuff.

source: Getty Images
Close, but not quite close enough for the Oranje.

Dutch courage…

HUP! Holland were breath of fresh air under Louis van Gaal as they deployed a 5-3-2 formation which bamboozled the opposition and showcased their attacking talents. Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie led by example in the group stage and Holland rode their impressive 5-1 demolition of Spain all the way to the semifinal where they lost on PKs to Argentina. The Dutch were revived under incoming Manchester United boss LVG and the World Cup was a better place for it. HUP! Honorable mention: France performed wonderfully and Didier Deschamps has a superb young squad with the likes of Raphael Varane and Paul Pogba leading the way. Bright future for the French.

So, what do we do now?

Sit tight, twiddle our thumbs and wait for four years for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Apparently it is going to be the most expensive tournament in history with Vladimir Putin set to spend $20 BILLION on the showpiece event. Between now and then, you can watch the Premier League (who delivered more players to the WC than any other league) every weekend live on NBC Sports from August until May.

We’ve got your soccer fix sorted, right here.

Griezmann wins best player award in Spain for last season

SEVILLE, SPAIN - OCTOBER 23:  Antoine Griezmann of Club Atletico de Madrid looks on during the match between Sevilla FC vs Club Atletico de Madrid as part of La Liga at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuanon October 23, 2016 in Seville, Spain.  (Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images)
Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images
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VALENCIA, Spain (AP) Antoine Griezmann has won the best player award in the Spanish league for last season.

The Atletico Madrid forward was announced as the winner in a ceremony organized by La Liga in Valencia on Monday. The Frenchman was not at the ceremony.

[ MORE: Ballon d’Or omissions ]

Atletico also had Diego Simeone win the best coach award, Diego Godin earn the best defender award, and Jan Oblak clinch best goalkeeper.

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi was selected as the best forward, and Real Madrid’s Luka Modric as the best midfielder.

Team captains voted for the top players in each position, while a data-analysis system generated the best player award.

Barcelona won the Spanish league last season, ahead of Real Madrid and Atletico.

Biggest omissions from the Ballon d’Or shortlist

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24: Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal (R) is chased by N'Golo Kante of Chelsea (L)  during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium on September 24, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

France Football released the 30-man shortlist for the Ballon d’Or award given to the world’s best player.

As expected in a EURO year, there are several Portuguese standouts to go with the usual suspects.

There are also some odd omissions.

[ MLS: Pre-playoff power rankings ]

Alexis Sanchez was Arsenal’s second-leading scorer as the Gunners finished second in the Premier League, and the South American attacker scored three goals as Chile won its second-straight Copa America, this one on American soil. It’s baffling that he’s not on the list.

N'Golo Kante enjoyed a season as the engine of the best story in Premier League history, manning the midfield for Leicester, and followed it up by helping France reach the EURO 2016 final. Pretty good, right?

Javier Mascherano and Ivan Rakitic were key pieces in Barcelona’s run to the La Liga crown despite being limited by the transfer ban. Mascherano followed it up by captaining Argentina to the Copa America Centenario final, while Rakitic starred alongside Ivan Perisic as Croatia won a tricky EURO 2016 group before falling to eventual winners Portugal.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 11: Fernando Torres of Club Atletico de Madrid is surrounded by (L-R) Javier Mascherano, Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic, Gerard Pique and Luis Suarez of FC Barcelona during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Club Atletico de Madrid at Camp Nou on January 11, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
Mascherano (far left) and Rakitic (second from right) are among several Barcelona players who didn’t make the cut (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images).

Harry Kane may’ve not been a good choice to take corner for England, but he also was one of the best all-around attackers in the world as Tottenham surged into the Top Four of the Premier League.

With four goalkeepers making the cut, it shows that club success is more important than performance. David De Gea‘s season was certainly on the same plane as Buffon, though the latter won the league with Juventus and edged Spain at EURO 2016.

Marcelo, Leonardo Bonucci, and David Silva were also players who succeeded for both club and country and could’ve found their way onto the 30.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

Finally, let’s see how I fared in projecting the 30 men back in mid-September:

— I got 24 on the nose, wrongly guessing that Kante, Kane, Alexis, Mascherano, Rakitic, and Olivier Giroud would make the cut. Giroud led Arsenal and France in scoring, but if Alexis wasn’t going to make it the coiffed Frenchman had no hope.

— Of the six I didn’t get, only one brings me great shame: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang should’ve been in the first 15 names on any list, not missing the post entirely. Paulo Dybala is a bit of a shocker from the crew, and Koke is a tricky miss. Luka Modric was our No. 31, while Rui Patricio was our 35. Diego Godin was a bad miss.

— What to learn from this: Atletico Madrid was obviously credited for its return to the UCL final, so Godin and Koke prove that carried a bit more weight than Kante and Giroud making the final with France, and Alexis thriving at the Copa America.

Whose historic hiccup was worse: Portland or Columbus?

PORTLAND, OR - MARCH 6: Kei Kamara #23 of Columbus Crew and Liam Ridgewell #24 of Portland Timbers go after a ball 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)
Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images
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It’s been less than a year since we discussed who was best suited to return to the MLS Cup Final following Portland’s 2-1 win over Columbus in the 2015 title match.

Now we’re wondering who’s fall was more shameful, the Portland Timbers and Columbus Crew each missed the playoffs, just over 11 months after contesting the final. That’s never happened before.

[ MORE: Pre-playoff power rankings ]

We asked our staff to take a stand on the matter of who flubbed worse: Gregg Berhalter’s Crew or Caleb Porter’s Timbers.

Andy Edwards

Columbus: 2016 was Gregg Berhalter’s third season in charge in Columbus, and in each of his first two years, Crew SC took a gigantic step forward — from non-playoff side to in the playoffs in 2014; from young, naive playoff team to MLS Cup hosts in 2015 — which meant 2016 was supposed to be the culmination of a truly great revolution in Columbus.

They started the season slow, with no wins in their first five games. But they had done the same thing just 12 months earlier and there they were playing for the Cup in December. The Crew looked to be slowly turning this season’s corner when the Kei Kamara/Federico Higuain thing exploded and effectively ended their season in May.

(Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

The big knock on Crew SC last year, at least for me, was that they never seemed to figure out a Plan B — if “hit it long for Kei, he’ll knock it down, and Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram will run onto it and toss the alley-oop back to him inside the six” wasn’t working, you’d already beaten them.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

2016 exposed Berhalter, perhaps more than any player on the roster, because of the elongated nature of those struggles — literally the entire season. Finlay (6 goals, 9 assists) and Meram (5 goals, 13 assists) put up fine numbers once again, but they rang hollow for a losing team going nowhere all season long.

Wil Trapp’s age-23 season was completely wasted — he’s no longer “a young player” — and I’d take a long, hard look at Europe this winter if I were him. The defense has been an unmitigated disaster the last two season (53 and 58 goals conceded), mostly due to the all-out attacking nature of Berhalter’s game plans — hint: defending 2-on-4 against counter-attacks almost never ends well. The “other” Kamara, Ola, actually panning out was the saving grace that kept them within a mile of the playoff race.

Nick Mendola

Portland: Maybe it’s an odd year thing; Portland won the 2015 MLS Cup after claiming the West’s best record in 2013.

Or maybe, just maybe, the Timbers ran out of luck under newly-extended Caleb Porter in his fourth season on the job. This time, no one bailed them out.

Portland came out of nowhere to claim the West’s No. 1 seed in 2013, as Porter engineered an astounding 15 draws including 10 on the road. The tactics and lineup selection helped, but so did the arrivals of Diego Valeri and Will Johnson (pretty important, no?).

The Timbers missed the playoffs by a point in 2014, a 3W-1D end to the season not enough to make up for a horrible start to the season.

The next season saw the Timbers win it all, but not without needing a three-match winning streak to leap ahead of four teams and claim the third-seed (Seattle, LA, and KC all finished two points back). Six games later, they went from almost out to on top of the MLS world.

So what happened this year, with many falling all over ourselves to praise the long-term prospects of a Timbers dynasty? A giant failure. The Timbers failed to win a single road game, tossing aside their strong home field advantage (Portland was 12W-3L-2T at Providence Park).

SANDY, UT - APRIL 19: Head coach Caleb Porter of the Portland Timbers encourages his team during their game against Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium April 19, 2014 in Sandy, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)

The Timbers scored the second-most penalties in the league this year, with five, so it’s not like fortune avoided them (The Red Bulls didn’t score one).

But, oh, this was ugly.

Portland took three of its the final 12 points available to it. The Timbers lost big in Vancouver and Houston, two non-playoff destinations. In its last 13 games, Portland lost nine and won four.

[ MORE: Yedlin on Newcastle, EFL Cup ]

The Timbers completed the fewest passes in Major League Soccer, 400 less than the closest competitor and 4,300 behind the league-leading Revs. Portland couldn’t take the ball away, either, with the second-fewest interceptions in the league.

You could even argue that losing 4-1 in Vancouver on Decision Day — a loss to a knocked-out Cascadia Cup rival — makes it worse than Columbus’ season alone. This was awful stuff, albeit schadenfreude for the anti-Porter brigade.

Oh, and they bombed out of a poor CONCACAF Champions League group without a Liga MX or MLS opponent in it.

Alright, so Andy tabbed Columbus and Nick took Portland. Let’s get a tiebreaker in here.

Matt Reed

Every champion has a target on its back but the Timbers managed to essentially bring back all of its key starters from a season ago, despite losing Maxi Urruti. The Timbers were involved in 22 games separated by one goal or less in 2016, with Caleb Porter’s side winning only seven of those contests. Had one more game gone in their favor the Timbers would likely be back in the postseason. 

The case for (and against) every Eastern Conference playoff team

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 13: Benoit Cheyrou #8 of Toronto FC defends Andrea Pirlo #21 of New York City FC free kick at Yankee Stadium on March 13, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images
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Of the six teams remaining in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference, you could argue there are three distinct pairings.

You have red-hot traditional sides in DC United and the New York Red Bulls; There are the big-name driven, deep squads from Toronto FC and New York City FC, and finally the two relative unknowns truly deserving of “wildcard” status in the Philadelphia Union Montreal Impact.

[ MORE: Yedlin on Newcastle, EFL Cup ]

Sure the table tends to tell us who’s who in the pecking order. It’s hard to bet against the Red Bulls seeing they haven’t lost since July 3, and Frank Lampard has somehow quietly been a wrecking ball thanks to dynamite performances from captain David Villa and world-class maestro Andrea Pirlo.

But there are reasons those teams may not be the true favorite to advance to the MLS Cup final, just as there are ways to imagine Philly can punch their way through the East. We’re here to give you both.

Philadelphia Union (6)

Why they’ll win: The young unit might be too green to know it isn’t expected to knock off Toronto in Toronto, or a New York team in New York or New Jersey. Chris Pontius and Tranquillo Barnetta add veteran skill and savvy, while Andre Blake is capable of stealing some of the league’s more terrific strikes.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

Why they won’t: Their last win was Aug. 27, and we’re supposed to expect the Union to win on the road at Toronto, RBNY, and then either NYCFC or DC. Nah, dog (though it’d be quite a story and we’d be happy to watch it).

Montreal Impact (5)

Why they’ll win: Didier Drogba may not be mentally in it, but he’s still a fierce competitor who can score with the best of them. By the way, the “best of them” definitely includes Ignacio Piatti. The Argentine has been one of the top players in the league this season, and can take over any game (Yes, even three on the bounce).

Why they won’t: The dysfunction and fall-out from Drogba’s benching permeates the room before match against red-hot DC United, and an average road team fails to meet expectations.

Montreal Impact forward Didier Drogba heads the ball in front of D.C. United midfielder Marcelo Sarvas during the second half of an MLS soccer match Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016, in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP)
(Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP)

DC United (4)

Why they’ll win: A four-match win streak earned most of DC’s starters a well-deserved rest on Decision Day, and there will be a “Why not us?” cry coming from the DC dressing room. Patrick Nyarko has been a lot of fun to watch. Luciano Acosta is legit as well. Bill Hamid is an excellent shot stopper, and the four-time champion Black-and-Red is overdue for a final, having been absent since beating KC in 2004.

[ MORE: Pre-playoff power rankings ]

Why they won’t: Let’s be honest, most arguments against DC sound quite political. “Well, they can’t win because of the other guys being so good.” DC doesn’t have the firepower of TFC, NYCFC, and RBNY; Would you bet on them beating two of the above, which they likely would have to? (Actually, kinda).

Toronto FC (3)

Why they’ll win: Frankly, this is the best defensive team in the East, with a minimum of three game attacking breakers in Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley, and Jozy Altidore. Imports Drew Moor and Clint Irwin aren’t scared of the spotlight, and Will Johnson will be putting on for his city. And they’re good away from BMO Field. This could be TFC’s season, y’all.

Why they won’t: This is Toronto’s 10th season, and happens to be the first one in which it won more matches than it lost. TFC’s debut home match comes on Wednesday evening, and there’s something to be said for experience. While some of its players have plenty, the club does not possess much at all.

New York City FC (2)

Why they’ll win: One of only two teams (Toronto) to finish their road schedule with a .500 record, Patrick Vieira has been able to get the best out of the superstars and the lesser-known members of NYC’s squad. Tactically, we’re not sure there’s another coach in the East with his acumen.

Why they won’t: It’s also Vieira’s first playoffs as a manager, and the whole franchise hasn’t done that dance, either. They have one win in five combined matches against RBNY and TFC.

New York Red Bulls

Why they’ll win: Frankly, as stated above, because they don’t lose. Jesse Marsch hasn’t overseen a loss in three-and-a-half months, has two legit claimants to MVP honors in Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan, and have been reinforced by one of the deepest Academy production lines in MLS.

Why they won’t: New York won just three road matches all year, even if it managed 7 draws away from Red Bull Arena. On top of that, this is year No. 20 of MLS, and founding members RBNY have zero titles and one final appearance. Those ghosts could come creeping up to the door.