The fine folks in the Seattle Sounders social media department said it best: “Here’s where the fun begins.”
Sure, the 2014 Major League Soccer regular season was pretty great and chock full of breakout stars, spectacular goals and lots of even crazier results, but not only is it now playoff time — it’s championship time.
Over the next three weekends, the 2014 MLS Cup Playoffs will whittle its field down from four hopeful competitors, to one champion.
That process begins Sunday afternoon when the East’s No. 4-seed, the New York Red Bulls, host the East’s No. 2-seed, the New England Revolution, in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Championship at Red Bull Arena (Watch live on NBC and online via Live Extra, 1:30 pm ET). Shortly after the conclusion of the day’s action in the East, the West’s No. 1 and 2 seeds, the LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders, do battle in the first leg of the Western Conference Championship (5 pm ET) at StubHub Center.
In many ways, it’s the best possible final four teams MLS could have hoped to still be competing the last two weekends of November.
First and foremost, there’s the stars boasted by each and every team — Thierry Henry and Bradley Wright-Phillips; Lee Nguyen and Jermaine Jones; Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane; Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins, to name a few.
Among those eight players you’ll find six 2014 All-Stars; the three finalists for the 2014 MLS MVP award — and very unlucky first snub; the league’s first-, third-, fourth-, fifth- and seventh-leading regular-season goalscorers — plus the No. 6 (Gyasi Zardes), who gets left off his own team’s marquee; the regular season’s first-, third-, fourth- and fifth-leading assist providers; one star who’s already announced his retirement at the end of the season and another whose final departure has been widely speculated of late — the two of which could face each other in a send-off showdown at MLS Cup.
Essentially, whichever two teams end up advancing from the conference championship round, this year’s MLS Cup final has the potential to be one of the best ever matchups.
Amazingly, only one of the final four teams has ever lifted and the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy (Galaxy, four-time winners). On the opposite end of MLS Cup joy, the Revs are four-time runners-up, including a staggering trio of shortcomings from 2005 to 2007, while the Red Bulls have lost MLS’s title game once (2008). And then there’s the Sounders — only six years into their MLS history — who have never played an MLS Cup final.
Roll on, the weekend, and take us one step closer to MLS Cup.