Major League Soccer’s playoff format has made the route to the MLS Cup Final a bit easier for a Cinderella.
Yes, the home games have dried up for Team Nos. 5-7 in all likelihood.
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Yes, home games in MLS have provided a wild advantage, with only three teams posting sub-.500 records at home and only two teams above . 500 away from home.
And yes, having so many playoff teams should allow for the top seeds to waltz — Less than 42 percent of the league misses the playoffs.
But making the final means winning three games now, instead of outlasting a superior team over 180 minutes home and away. And that means it’ll be difficult to rule out anyone.
So here is at least one reason all 14 teams can lift the MLS Cup.
New England Revolution — Bruce Arena is on a revenge mission, and Carles Gil and Gustavo Bou have been let loose to worry about little besides scoring. Easily the longest of long shots.
FC Dallas — Young and hungry, FCD has the sixth-best possession numbers in MLS (52.6 percent) and passes better than anyone other than Toronto.
New York Red Bulls — Only four teams scored more goals from open play than the Red Bulls’ 39, and New York leads the league in tackles. They are a tough out, but their 68.6 percent passing percentage is shocking.
Portland Timbers — One of five teams to score double-digit goals from set pieces and the leader in goals off the counter (7), the Timbers have a sneaky good tactician and obviously strong motivator in Gio Savarese.
DC United — Only LAFC allowed fewer goals than Bill Hamid and his center back pairing of Frederic Brillant and Steve Birnbaum. Also, Wayne Rooney is a difference maker and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him ride out of MLS on top of the league.
Toronto FC — Haven’t lost since Aug. 3, and have made two Cup final runs under Greg Vanney. Experience is key, and TFC is the best passing team in MLS (85.3 percent).
LA Galaxy — Zlatan Ibrahimovic is one of the best attackers in the history of football, even without any defenders.
Minnesota United — Their path to the title demands overcoming both LA sides, but Ike Opara and the Loons have been solid at deploying Adrian Heath’s defensive game plan. Vito Mannone at the back is capable of stealing games, and Jan Gregus and Osvaldo Alonso are about as tough a midfield duo as you’ll find in MLS.
Philadelphia Union — Take a walk around the advanced stats pages, and you’ll see Jim Curtin’s men at or near the top of the league is just about everything. A complete if unspectacular team who can catch opponents off guard.
Real Salt Lake — The lack of an out-and-out star scorer scares us, but RSL gets scoring from all over the team sheet and has motivation to send Nick Rimando out on top.
Seattle Sounders — Another team which has done this dance before, they have a pair of game-changers in Nico Lodeiro and Jordan Morris.
Atlanta United — They did it last year, Pity Martinez is finally firing on all cylinders, and you know they’d love to send Michael Parkhurst out on top. Don’t rule out the champs.
New York City FC — For at least two rounds, Dome Torrent’s men will host more weary opponents on their postage stamp pitch at Yankee Stadium. That’s a huge advantage, and they would be one LAFC misstep away from hosting the final.
LAFC — I mean, come on. This is the best regular season team of all-time with a top-end manager in Bob Bradley. As long as they respect their opposition and dodge heat in El Trafico should it happen, the title is theirs.