MLS Cup Playoffs: What we learned in play-in/round 1 (so far)

MLS playoffs
The Columbus Dispatch / USA Today Sports

The 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs are officially underway with the two play-in round games and two of eight first-round fixtures already in the books.

[ MORE: Penalty shootout turns into farce, Orlando wins first playoff game ]

After four of 17 MLS playoffs games, here’s what we’ve learned so far…

1. MLS always finds a way to out-do itself: An excerpt from the frantic recap of events during the 21-minute, 35-second penalty shootout that sent Orlando City SC through to the conference semifinals and ended New York City FC’s season…

How’s this for burying the lede: Orlando City SC won its first-ever MLS Cup playoffs game on Saturday, surviving an encounter with New York City FC which saw the Lions finish regular time and extra time with 10 men — but, only nine by the end of a truly absurd penalty shootout — wildly  celebrate victory on three different occasions in said shootout, a failed sixth substitution during the shootout, and a shootout save made by defender Rodrigo Schlegel.

That’s only the bare-bones version of what happened. If your interest has been at all sparked, the full-length version (with extended video highlights) better captures the absurdity.

2. Home-field advantage matters (more than ever?): Through four games of the 2020 MLS Cup playoffs, home teams are a perfect 4-0. Switching to the single-leg playoff format was the best decision MLS has made in a long, long time, due to the fact that not only does every game singlehandedly carry the weight of progression or elimination, but also for the fact it re-established home-field advantage and rewarded the regular season’s top teams.


3. Veteran teams, coaches also at an advantage: Bruce Arena vs. Thierry Henry is unquestionably a lopsided mismatch if the competition is hitting curlers into the upper-90 from the edge of the box, just as it was on Friday when the competition was facing off in the MLS Cup playoffs. It was Henry’s very first playoff game as a head coach, while it was approximately Arena’s 274th. Arena and the Revolution came out on top in fantastically dramatic fashion.

Caleb Porter is an MLS Cup-winning coach from his time with the Portland Timbers, where he and star midfielder Darlington Nagbe reached the summit together; Nagbe then went on to win another MLS Cup after being traded to Atlanta United; Gyasi Zardes won an MLS Cup during his time with the LA Galaxy. Nagbe and Zardes each scored a goal in Columbus Crew SC’s 3-2 victory over the New York Red Bulls as Gerhard Struber made his MLS managerial debut in a playoff game. No one in the Red Bulls’ 20-man squad has ever appeared in, let alone won, and MLS Cup final.

Even Nashville SC’s 3-0 victory over Inter Miami CF — a battle of two expansion teams — saw the side with MLS Cup playoffs experience in the squad and on the sideline (midfielder Dax McCarty, who was instrumental for Nashville and scored goal no. 3 after going on a 40-yard jaunt through the heart of midfield, and head coach Gary Smith), and available to play, deliver in the end. Of course, Miami being without five players, including three starters, was a factor which cannot be overlooked.


MLS Cup playoffs results (so far)

Orlando City SC 1-1 (6-5 PKs) New York City FC
Columbus Crew SC 3-2 New York Red Bulls
Nashville SC 3-0 Inter Miami CF
New England Revolution 2-1 Montreal Impact

Sunday’s MLS Cup playoffs schedule and odds

Sporting KC (-150) v San Jose Earthquakes (+360) | Draw (+325) — 4 pm ET
Minnesota United (+115) v Colorado Rapids (+205) | Draw (+275) — 7:30 pm ET
Portland Timbers (+100) v FC Dallas (+245) | Draw (+270) — 10 pm ET

Tuesday’s MLS Cup playoffs schedule and odds

Toronto FC (+130) v Nashville SC (+200) | Draw (+245) — 6 pm ET
Philadelphia United (-110) v New England Revolution (+275) | Draw (+280) — 8 p ET
Seattle Sounders (+120) v Los Angeles FC (+190) | Draw (+290) — 10:30 pm ET