Five storylines to follow in 2016 MLS Cup playoffs

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The first round of the 2016 MLS Cup playoffs was full of excitement and included plenty of drama, but now eight teams turn their attention to the league’s greatest prize.

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Both the Eastern and Western Conferences possess strong talent and feature their own set of storylines leading up to the MLS Cup in December.

Now, PST takes a look at the five most intriguing stories to follow during the postseason.

Will FC Dallas add to their hardware in 2016?

Oscar Pareja is certainly in the conversation for Manager of the Year after guiding his Dallas side to the top of the Western Conference for a second straight season. While 2016 has had its share of ups and downs for the Texas club, including the drama surrounding Fabian Castillo’s transfer, Dallas has continued to thrive out west.

Not only does Dallas possess one of the deepest rosters in MLS but also one of the strongest in terms of star-caliber players. They’ll be tasked with taming one of the hottest teams in the league, the Seattle Sounders, but that’s something that Dallas has been able to do before. If they can get by the Sounders, Dallas could very well add to its Supporters’ Shield and U.S. Open Cup titles already obtained in 2016.

Can NYCFC overcome its New York demons?

There’s been a noticeable difference from 2015 to now when looking at New York City FC. Much of that has to do with the system implemented by first-year manager Patrick Vieira. However, if NYCFC is to make any noise in the East, they’ll have to do something that they have struggled mightily to accomplish in their young history; defeat the New York Red Bulls.

It’s not a guarantee that the two sides will face each other in the East final, however, the Red Bulls do hold the top seed in the conference and have not lost an MLS match since July 3 (which ironically came against NYCFC). Just this season alone, NYCFC has been outscoring 11-3 in three matches against the Red Bulls.

Are the Rapids for real?

This is a loaded question, so bear with me. As a firm believer in what Pablo Mastroeni has done this season with the Colorado Rapids, it’s difficult to bet against a side that conceded just 32 goals in 34 matches.

However, the Rapids managed the second-fewest goals in MLS this season (39). All three of their potential remaining opponents in the West are high-flying, exciting squads that can bag three or four goals in the blink of an eye. While that likely won’t be the case against MLS’ best defense, the Rapids will still have to manufacture goals, and the question remains — who will be the player to take on that role when the team needs a finish?

Is anything short of a title a failure for Toronto?

Toronto FC got a massive monkey off its back when they knocked off the Philadelphia Union in the first round of the playoffs. Up until that point, TFC had never won a playoff game. But that’s not good enough.

After revamping the backline during the offseason, as well as adding Will Johnson in the midfield, Toronto should be considered among the favorites to win MLS Cup because of the starting XI that Greg Vanney is able to field on a regular basis. With both Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore healthy and firing on all cylinders, TFC likely has the best one-two attacking punch of the remaining eight teams. While the Red Bulls are the only team remaining in the East to have ever advanced to an MLS Cup, all four are looking to become the first of the bunch to win a title in 2016.

Will Jordan Morris have enough to carry the Sounders attack?

It’s almost certain that the young American forward will earn Rookie of the Year honors in 2016, but he and his side are still a long way from finished in the Western Conference. After pulling out a narrow and controversial win over Sporting KC, the Sounders turn the attention to FC Dallas, who knocked them out of the playoffs a season ago on penalty kicks.

That said, Jordan Morris will have remain electric in the postseason in order for the Sounders to overcome a key absence in the attack. The Sounders continue to play without Clint Dempsey as he battles a heart condition, leaving Morris as the team’s go-to guy up front. Players like Nicolas Lodeiro and Nelson Valdez will have to assist in the attack as well, but make no mistake, Morris will be the focal point of the Sounders playoff success or shortcomings.