Photo by Shaun Clark/Getty Images

2019 MLS Cup Playoffs Power Rankings: LAFC v. the field

Leave a comment

The 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs field is set. With the league going to a single-elimination format for every round of the postseason, the working theory is that the better team will prevail more frequently, thus adding a bit more weight to pre-playoff Power Rankings.

[ MORE: Christian Pulisic reacts to assist, being back in Chelsea team ]

With the higher seeds set to host the one-off matchups, don’t be surprised to see the below rankings read a lot like the final regular-season standings…

LAFC v. the field

1. Los Angeles FC

No matter how you wish to frame any discussion around this year’s playoffs, you have to first ask yourself, “Is it even worth talking about a team not named LAFC?” There’s a case to be made that, no, it’s not worth taking about any other team, but for the sake of this exercise we’ll say that there is. Very quickly, the case for LAFC:

  • Single-season MLS points record (72)
  • MVP-to-be Carlos Vela’s single-season goals record (34 – in a 34-game season; he played in 31) and 15 assists
  • Single-season goals scored record (85 – tied for most)
  • Fewest goals conceded (37)
  • +48 goal differential (2nd-best is +21, followed by +15 and +9)

Simply put, LAFC’s level of dominance rewrote the MLS history book from front to back. If they don’t win MLS Cup, it’ll mostly likely be because they found a (silly) way to beat themselves.


Strong upset contenders

2. Atlanta United
3. New York City FC
4. Seattle Sounders

Atlanta spent all season lying in the weeds, perhaps realizing the Supporters’ Shield was an unrealistic target given LAFC’s pace, before hitting their stride in the final two months of the regular season (eight wins from their final 12 games). What’s more frightening, Josef Martinez is on fire after bagging an astounding 22 goals during his 15-game goalscoring streak from mid-May to mid-September. Assuming he’s healthy (he missed games no. 32 and 33 before returning on Sunday), there’s no one in the Eastern Conference who can take over a game — or an entire postseason — like he can.

There’s not a more tactically flexible team in MLS than NYCFC, who’ll spent most of the season morphing from a three-man backline to a four-man unit and vice versa. After jostling with Philadelphia and Atlanta most of the summer, Domenec Torrent’s side finished nine and six points clear, respectively. With just one loss in their last 11 games, NYCFC, though devoid of the global superstars they’ve been known to recruit, might just be the most in-form team at the right time of year.

[ MORE: Carlos Vela sets single season MLS goalscoring record ]


The wild, wild cards

5. Philadelphia Union
6. LA Galaxy
7. Toronto FC
8. Real Salt Lake
9. Portland Timbers

No team in MLS history has ever entered the playoffs with a greater range of outcomes than the 2019 Galaxy. Given the fact they’re yet to lose to LAFC in two seasons of meetings, they might be the most likely (if undeserving) side to slay the giant. If they can get by Minnesota in the first round (a big if, away from home), they’ll get their chance in the next round. Oh, the things Zlatan Ibrahimovic would do to be at the center of that conflict. Sure, the Galaxy concede the most goals of any playoff team this year, but between Ibrahimovic and Cristian Pavon they might actually have the best 1-2 punch in all of MLS right now. In a knockout scenario, they only need one moment each to make their mark.

10 games unbeaten to finish the regular, but only four of them wins — are Toronto FC in great form or just a so-so run? There’s something to be said of securing results down the stretch, but drawing Orlando, Columbus and Chicago in that same period is hardly a ringing endorsement. Then there’s the quad injury to Jozy Altidore, suffered on the final day of the season. He’ll have an MRI and almost certainly skip USMNT camp in hopes of being ready in two weeks, but given his injury history it seems a long shot. Like most of the East’s non-Atlanta teams, TFC’s best path forward might just be to play for clean sheets and take very few risks, and hope.


Long odds worth a look

10. Minnesota United
11. D.C. United
12. New England Revolution

How did Minnesota, the West’s fourth-place team, end up down here? Their 3W-3D-3L record down the stretch of the regular season was hardly impressive and left more questions than answers. Osvaldo Alonso’s influence has been plain as day in recent weeks; same goes for Ike Opara, who’s been excellent and thoroughly deserving of Defender of the Year should he win it again. They’re great, but who else has shown they’re cut from the same cloth when the games get tense and tight? As stated above, the Galaxy could no-show or score six at Allianz Field, and neither outcome would have a whole lot to do with Minnesota’s performance on the night. Adrian Heath’s team got the worst draw of all the home sides in the first round, and their reward for a potential win is to go play the other team from LA. Woof.

[ MORE: Orlando City fire James O’Connor after 1.5 dreadful seasons ]


Long odds for a reason

13. FC Dallas
14. New York Red Bulls

One of these teams will reach the conference finals, because this is MLS at the end of the day.

Petr Cech earns win with 2 penalty saves in hockey debut

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Former Chelsea and Arsenal goalkeeper joined English fourth-division hockey team Guildford Phoenix four days ago and made his debut on Sunday.

He did not disappoint.

The 37-year-old saved two penalties in the shootout, earning Man of the Match honors.

Cech is reportedly a fan of the Guilford Flames, the first-division side who use the Phoenix as their developmental side. He was signed to be the team’s third-choice goalkeeper, just a chance for him to get in on the action before his body gives way for good, but he was given a chance to play right away. He wore number 39, a nod to famous Czech goaltender Dominik Hasek. His custom helmet was adorned with Arsenal and Chelsea colors. Regulation finished level at 2-2 before Cech’s shootout heroics.

“I wanted to win, that was the main thing, and I’m glad we did,” Cech said after the match. “I was surprised that I wasn’t more nervous. I didn’t know what to expect so it was nice how quickly my body switched into matchday mode.”

Giroud upset with reserve role at Chelsea

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Olivier Giroud does not look back on his transfer to Chelsea and wish he had done things differently, but that doesn’t mean things are all sunshine and roses for the 33-year-old.

Giroud, who moved to Chelsea from Arsenal in the winter of 2018 after six years with the Gunners, has played just 43 times in the Premier League, averaging just 35 minutes per appearance. That has him frustrated, hoping to prove his loyalty to the club and work harder than the other options up front.

“I had competitors in attack – [Alvaro] Morata, [Gonzalo] Higuain, who ended up leaving,” Giroud said. “I won at the end: I played the final of the FA Cup in 2018 and the [Europa League] final in 2019. Once again, I’m starting the year in a difficult situation. But as my brother says, I have always built myself in the face of adversity.”

Giroud is trying to be smart about how he approaches the competition for time with the likes of Tammy Abraham and Michy Batshuayi, but he says it is emotionally taxing.

“You do not have to be fatalistic in certain situations,” Giroud says about keeping a level head. “I have always been respectful and humble. Even if I do not agree with the coach, I do not criticize him. But in myself, I cannot accept it because I know what I’m worth on a pitch.”

The French international has made just three league appearances this season, mostly thanks to Abraham’s scalding form. Abraham, still just 22 years old, has snatched his opportunity for first-team minutes with eight goals in eight games to start the campaign. That has left Giroud on the sidelines for each of the last five league games, missing out on a spot in the matchday squad altogether for the last three.

Despite his struggles at the club level, Giroud has maintained his place in the French national team, missing just five matches of France’s last 64 games, including 37 of the last 39.

James says he was not knocked unconscious in Wales draw

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Head injury awareness again rose to the forefront in the 1-1 draw between Wales and Croatia in Cardiff when Daniel James went down after colliding with a pair of opponents.

The Manchester United winger looked to almost sure have been knocked unconscious when Domagoj Vida’s knee appeared to tap the back of his head while challenging for a ball in the air. Vida went toppling over the back of teammate Borna Barisic who ducked out of the way, but it was James who many were concerned for as he lay motionless on his back with his eyes closed.

Yet James was allowed to come back onto the field and completed the full 90 minutes, sparking criticism from injury advocates and fans who were concerned for James’ safety on the field, at potential risk for even more serious consequences should he indeed have suffered a concussion.

After the game however, despite what fans saw as James lie on the turf, the 21-year-old insisted he was not knocked unconscious. “I’m fine,” James claimed after the match, speaking to Sky Sports. “I think he just caught me in the head but I didn’t get knocked out fortunately.”

Wales boss Ryan Giggs backed up the decision as well, calling James’ motionless display “a bit of acting.”

“The medical staff went over, he was compos mentis and we did all the checks at half-time and he was fine,” Giggs said, referring to the latin phrase for “of sound mind.”

If James was indeed faking unconsciousness, it’s natural to wonder if he should face a fine from UEFA for looking to con referees, and in the process possibly confusing the independent neurologists on site assigned to assess head injuries.

ESPN broadcaster Taylor Twellman, who has been outspoken over the past few years advocating for head injury awareness after his career was cut short by concussions, took to Twitter to criticize Wales for allowing James back into the game. Twellman, who was on the ESPN call of the broadcast with Ian Darke, said more needs to be done to prevent players from being able to force their way back onto the field, lest someone be killed by second impact syndrome.

Former Hull City player Ryan Mason, who was forced to retire after a serious skull fracture saw him fighting for his life, was also seriously concerned about the incident.

Interestingly enough, later in the match just seconds after the second half restart, young Wales midfielder Ethan Ampadu was whalloped from behind by Croatia’s Bruno Petkovic in a wild and reckless aerial challenge. Petkovic’s elbow went clattering into the back of Ampadu’s head, and the was left writhing on the ground holding his head. The Chelsea youngster was taken off the field and immediately replaced by Joe Morrell, while Petkovic was lucky to escape with just a yellow card.

Kane reflects on Tottenham, England struggles

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Harry Kane keeps finding the back of the net, but his teams keep losing.

The 26-year-old striker has bagged five Premier League goals in eight games for Spurs thus far, plus another seven goals for England in five Euro 2020 qualifiers this cycle. Yet Tottenham sits ninth in the table after three losses already this season, while England slumped to its first Euro defeat last time out, putting its seeding at the Euro finals next summer in jeopardy.

Kane is hoping to be a leader through the tough times for both club and country, wearing the armband for both as it currently stands.

“I think you need to lead by example,” Kane said ahead of England’s visit to Bulgaria on Monday. “Not getting too down when you lose a game, not getting too high when you win games. It is a long, old season for club and country ahead – a lot of games to be played so there are going to be tough periods.”

Kane has taken over the England captaincy on a permanent basis, and is filling in for the injured Hugo Lloris at Tottenham. “I am still the same person,” he said. “I still try and lead by example on and off the pitch and I will continue to do that. I have been in high pressure situations before in my career, whether that is going through goal droughts, playing in high-pressure games or not playing well as a team. It is something I will take in my stride and improve on.”

Leading by example includes finding the back of the net, while also supporting teammates both on and off the pitch. He knows even if he’s in good personal form on the stat sheet, there’s always ways to improve and help the squads through tough times.

“I am scoring goals but can I get more assists, create more chances? So yeah, I always look at little things I can get better at. Yes, the England form has been good but as ever, it can be better. We will see if I can continue scoring. It has been a good campaign but important I do not stop now.”