MLS Cup Playoffs: The how-to-root guide for neutrals/eliminated fans


So, chances are, your favorite Major League Soccer team has already been knocked out of the 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs — that’s if they even qualified in the first place. Don’t feel bad, though, you’re far from alone — your team is just like a vast majority (80 percent) of the league as a whole.

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I know, that probably does nothing to make you feel even the slightest bit better, especially if you’re a fan of the Seattle Sounders or Montreal Impact — brutal way to go out on Sunday, guys. But you’re still watching the rest of the playoffs. You know you are.

What’s the fun in not having a team to root for, even if only halfheartedly, though? In truth, there’s a lot to like — and very little to dislike — about this year’s last four standing.  Still not sure which of the remaining four teams best suits your personal soccer ideology, likable characters and/or need for U.S. national stars of the present/future? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered…

New York Red Bulls

What’s to like: They’re built on the smallest on-budget payroll in the league, yet they finished top of the league in the regular season; they got rid of D.C. United for the rest of us – thanks, Red Bulls; Dax McCarty is the hardest-working man in MLS, yet so often he goes unnoticed; they’ve never won an MLS Cup
What’s not to like: They’re “the New York team” (though they play in New Jersey), which on its own is enough to put off half the nation.
Who can/can’t root for them: Can’t – D.C. United or New York City FC fans; Can – Those hoping Matt Miazga is the savior of the USMNT
Root-a-bility ranking: 4th-of-4

[ LEG 2: FCD 2-1 (4-2 PKs) SEA | CLB 3-1(aet) MTL | VAN 0-2 POR | NY 1-0 DC ]

Portland Timbers

What’s to like: Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri, Lucas Melano, Rodney Wallace and Fanendo Adi is an extremely enjoyable attacking unit to watch, when set out properly; the Providence Park atmosphere (Timbers Army); they’ve never won an MLS Cup
What’s not to like: Does Caleb Porter rub anyone else the wrong way? Perhaps I hold a slight grudge over his refusal to accept that the Timbers could have been a dominant counter-attacking side for two full seasons, until October of this year.
Who can/can’t root for them: Can’t – Still-hurting Sporting Kansas City or Vancouver Whitecaps fans; Seattle Sounders fans; Can – Those hoping Nagbe is the savior of the USMNT; pretty much anyone else
Root-a-bility ranking: 3rd-of-4

[ MORE: MLS Player of the Week | Team of the Week ]

Columbus Crew SC

What’s to like: Lightning-quick, counter-attacking soccer that completely overwhelms opponents – they know no other way to play, for better or for worse; Kei Kamara‘s breakout season (22 goals) at age 30; Wil Trapp, Wil Trapp and Wil Trapp; their secondary kits (black checkered) are the best in the league, hands down
What’s not to like: If Plan A isn’t working, there is no Plan B, which can make them extremely frustrating to watch against a bunkered midfield and defense.
Who can/can’t root for them: Can’t – Still-hurting Montreal Impact fans; Chicago Fire and Toronto FC fans; Can – Literally everyone else
Root-a-bility ranking: 2nd-of-4

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FC Dallas

What’s to like: The youngest core unit in MLS, by some way (14 players appeared in 20 or more regular-season games — average age: 25.4 years old); they’re proof that academies are the way forward in MLS – all hail Oscar Pareja; Mauro Diaz and Fabian Castillo combined to create arguably the best one-two punch in MLS; they’ve never won an MLS Cup
What’s not to like: Blas Perez’s antics could singlehandedly make you hate any team in the world, unless you the type that roots for the villain.
Who can/can’t root for them: Can’t – Still-hurting Seattle Sounders fans; Houston Dynamo fans; Can – Those who enjoy the constructing of a team as much as the playing of actual games
Root-a-bility ranking: 1st-of-4

Atlanta heads into MLS playoffs looking to defend its Cup

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MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) It’s been a strange season for Atlanta United.

They’ve added more two more cups to their collection.

They’ve endured some rather baffling losses.

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After all that, the defending MLS Cup champions are heading into the postseason from essentially the same position as last season.

Atlanta, which was runner-up in the Eastern Conference, will host the New England Revolution on Saturday in the opening round of the playoffs, a rematch of their Oct. 6 game to close out the regular season.

“We’ve put ourselves in a pretty decent spot, as strange as the season has maybe been,” midfielder Julian Gressel said Wednesday after a training session. “We’ve already won two trophies, and now we have a chance for a third.”

In mid-August, United broke out the champagne after a 3-2 victory over Mexican powerhouse Club America to capture the Campeones Cup.

A couple of weeks later, they were celebrating again with a 2-1 victory over Minnesota United in the U.S. Open Cup final, guaranteeing a spot in next year’s CONCACAF Champions League.

“I felt like we were always there and pretty much at our best in those games,” Gressel said. “That’s why I’m pretty confident we’ll be at our best when it really matters.”

But there are reasons to be concerned. Atlanta struggled badly in some league games – especially on the road – and rarely looked like the dynamic team that won the MLS Cup in just its second year under former coach Tata Martino.

With Frank De Boer now at the helm, United got off to a sluggish start and spent much of the season juggling lineups and switching up tactics in a desperate bid to find some consistency. Atlanta never put together an unbeaten streak longer than five games – it had three such stretches a year ago – and finished with 58 points, 58 goals and a plus-15 goal differential. All were short of the 69 points, 70 goals and plus-26 differential from the 2018 season.

[ MORE: USMNT player ratings ]

Still, United’s second-place showing in the East behind New York City FC matches last year’s finish, guaranteeing the team at least one home game in the playoffs and another in the conference semifinals should it beat the Revolution.

That’s a crucial edge for a franchise that has essentially broken every MLS attendance record and again averaged more than 52,000 per game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, doubling up every team in the league except Seattle and Cincinnati. In 17 home games, Atlanta lost only twice.

While United closed out the season with a 3-1 victory over New England, the Revolution has been one of the league’s hottest teams over the second half of the season.

Atlanta will be further tested by the possible absence of its best defender, Miles Robinson, who is dealing with a strained left hamstring sustained during a workout with the U.S. national team last week.

If Robinson can’t go, United will have to change up their lineup once again and possibly adopt a more defensive approach to Saturday’s game.

“If I do push up, it’s more so getting back a little faster than I normally would, things like that,” said midfielder Darlington Nagbe, one of those who may be affected if Robinson can’t go. “Just feel the game out and see how it plays out.”

In the regular-season finale, Ezequiel Barco got the start over Pity Martinez, a lineup that de Boer might go with again in the playoffs.

Barco played only 15 league games this season because of injuries and a lengthy stint with Argentina at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, but he provided the sort of spark de Boer was looking for against New England. Martinez, who was the 2018 South American player of the year and Atlanta’s major acquisition during the last offseason, has struggled to find his nice in MLS with just five goals in 32 appearances.

“We have to see,” de Boer said. “The only thing that concerns me is to win the playoffs.”

MLS switched up the playoff format this season. Instead of the top two teams from both the East and the West receiving byes and two-legged rounds to determine the winner of conference semifinals and finals, only the first-place finisher gets the opening round off and every step of the playoffs is a single-game elimination.

There is no room for error.

“If you have an off day, you might be out,” Gressel said. “I feel like it’s a format that favors the underdog a bit more, or gives the underdog a bit more hope.”

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Zlatan paces MLS jersey sellers, offers fresh quip on Minnesota challenge

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic: He’s like a more charming, less anarchist version of Tom Hardy’s Bane.

The LA Galaxy man was revealed to again have the top-selling jersey in Major League Soccer on Wednesday, days before the club begins its 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs run with a match in Minnesota.

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Snow is in the forecast, but Zlatan is not bothered by such weather.

“I’m from Sweden I was born in the snow. When it snows, I’m a viking. When it’s warm, I’m a lion. We adjust for every condition there is.”

Back to the jerseys, the MLS MVP finalists are 1-2-3 in sales. Ibrahimovic is first, followed by Atlanta’s Josef Martinez, and LAFC’s Carlos Vela.

The top sellers amongst Americans are Seattle’s Jordan Morris (7) and Cristian Roldan (12). Chris Wondolowski of San Jose is 13th, while other domestic names on the Top 25 include Sebastian Lletget, Brad Guzan (!?!), Dom Dwyer, Jozy Altidore, and Graham Zusi.

Midweek El Clasico possible in December following political unrest

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Political unrest in Catalonia has both La Liga and the Spanish government looking to move the first El Clasico of the season.

Barcelona and Real Madrid are scheduled to meet at the Camp Nou on Oct. 26, but the jailing of nine Catalan separatists has caused uproar in-and-around Barca.

In fact, Barca as a club has denounced the imprisonment, so it plays more than a peripheral role in the controversy.

[ JPW: What now for Berhalter, USMNT? ] 

Players heading to and returning from international break have faced in challenges in getting to the club.

Instead, Marca says that we may see a midweek match played in Madrid on Wednesday, Dec. 18, with the reverse fixture in March moved from Madrid to Barcelona.

Dec. 18 would give both teams three matches in eight days before La Liga’s winter break. Barca would play Real Sociedad, Real Madrid, and Alaves, while Real would play Valencia and Real Betis in addition to the Clasico. Both difficult runs, but fairly even.

Reports claim Allegri linked with Manchester United, Spurs

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The international break can be a slow time for news, but what to make of multiple reports claiming that Max Allegri is in discussion with a pair of struggling traditional Premier League powers?

Tuttosport claims that Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur have interest in hiring the Italian manager, adding that United has had “intensified” contact with him.

[ MORE: Monster deal for Mbappe? ]

Noise out of Old Trafford continues to back Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, while there is no real buzz that Mauricio Pochettino is on the verge of leaving Spurs.

The 52-year-old Allegri has won Serie A once with AC Milan and five times with Juventus, claiming a Serie C title with Sassuolo in 2007-08.

Is there anything to it? He’d be a great hire for either side. In United’s case, he’d be a marked upgrade on their current boss.