MLS Cup Playoffs preview: State of play after a wild weekend

MLS Cup Playoffs
Photo by Shaun Clark/Getty Images

If Major League Soccer needed to pull eyes to its postseason, the first few days delivered the required jolt. Here is what lies ahead in the MLS playoffs.

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Consider how the postseason began following the pandemic- and MLS is Back-interrupted regular season.

  • An improbably-ridiculous penalty kick scenario saw Orlando City outlast New York City FC despite a field player finishing the shootout in goal.
  • One expansion team outlasted the other after reported positive COVID-19 cases stopped an international superstar from hitting the pitch.
  • San Jose scored the sixth goal of the game in the seventh-minute of stoppage time — courtesy the league’s all-time leading scorer Chris Wondolowski — before Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia made amends for allowing three goals by stopping all three of San Jose’s penalties.

All that fails to mention a 95th-minute winner in New England, an 8-round shootout between Dallas and Portland, and two other matches.

Three more matches are set for Tuesday, with big names angling for weekend places in the conference semifinals

Toronto v Nashville SC – 6 pm ET Tuesday

Greg Vanney’s TFC might’ve failed to claim the Supporters’ Shield, but the MLS Cup Playoffs have been their friend to the tune of three final appearances and one win in the previous four seasons.

Alejandro Pozuelo is arguably the league’s best player and the Reds have gotten 18 goals between Pozuelo and breakout Canadian-American forward Ayo Akinola. With Michael Bradley, Jonathan Osorio, Chris Mavinga, Jozy Altidore, and others, there’s a lot of experience here.

But Nashville is stingy and led by Gary Smith, who has experience in managing an underdog to an MLS Cup win. With Walker Zimmerman and Dax McCarty, the expansion side will hope to keep TFC in check but the absence of newly-injured Anibal Godoy makes that a tall task.

Philadelphia v New England — 8 p ET Tuesday

Philly scored more goals than anyone in the East and allowed the conference’s fewest markers, too. In five matches against the Revolution between MLS is Back and the regular season, Jim Curtin’s Union won four times and drew once with a combined score line of 7-2.

Bruce Arena’s men had trouble scoring this season but have bagged five goals in their last two outings after beating Thierry Henry’s Montreal Impact in a play-in game. Can the legendary MLS manager conjure an upset of the Supporters’ Shield winners?

Seattle v LAFC — 10:30 pm ET Tuesday

The Sounders won eight of 12 matches to start the season, but have won just twice in their last seven. They’ll hope a 4-1 win over San Jose to finish the regular season was the fuel to kickstart a run to a fourth final appearance in five seasons. USMNT winger Jordan Morris has been wonderful for the Sounders, who won it all in 2016 and 2019.

LAFC is seventh in the West, a far cry from its incredible 2019 campaign, but Bob Bradley’s a heck of a coach and he’s got a lot of firepower between 16-goal man Diego Rossi, savvy veteran Bradley Wright-Phillips, and reigning MVP and record breaker Carlos Vela.

Reason to stay up late.

Conference semifinals

Western Conference

Sporting KC v Minnesota United — Dec. 1 or 2

Seattle Sounders v FC Dallas or
FC Dallas v LAFC — Dec. 1 or 2

Eastern Conference

Philadelphia v Orlando City or
Orlando City v New England — Nov. 29

Toronto v Columbus or
Columbus v Nashville — Nov. 29

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