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

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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.

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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.

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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.

El Tri’s Vela lifts Supporters’ Shield for LAFC (video)

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Bob Bradley‘s Los Angeles Football Club completed their inevitable capture of the Supporters’ Shield with a 3-1 defeat of the Houston Dynamo very early Thursday.

Record-breaking forward Carlos Vela hoisted the Shield in front of his teammates, as LAFC became the 13th different MLS team to finish with the most points in the league.

Vela was joined on the score sheet by Diego Rossi and Eduard Atuesta, as LAFC improved 68 points with two matches to play.

New York City FC had pulled to 61 points earlier in the evening but now maxes out at 67.

LAFC had folks clamoring to call it the best in league history before claiming just four points from the last five matches prior to Houston, but can still break two records.

They need four points from their final two matches to break New York Red Bulls’ one-season old record of 71, which broke Toronto FC’s one-year-old record of 69.

Their 2.12 points per game is level with the 1998 LA Galaxy. LAFC finishes up with a trip to Minnesota and visit from Colorado, and will finish behind the Galaxy with any other than two wins.

Individually, Carlos Vela has 30 goals and can match or pass Josef Martinez’s one-year-old record of 31.

LAFC’s Adama Diomande voluntarily enters MLS’s health program

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LOS ANGELES (AP) Los Angeles FC forward Adama Diomande has entered Major League Soccer’s substance abuse and behavioral health program.

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MLS announced Diomande’s voluntary decision Friday.

Diomande won’t play for LAFC at least until the program’s doctors complete their evaluation and he is cleared by program officials.

The 29-year-old Norwegian scorer has eight goals and seven assists in 25 appearances this season, including 15 starts. He has played a valuable complementary offensive role alongside MLS scoring leader Carlos Vela.

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Diomande is in his second MLS season after joining LAFC from Hull City. He also previously played under LAFC coach Bob Bradley in Norway.

LAFC (19-4-7) has clinched the Western Conference title, and it leads the overall MLS table by seven points despite a four-game winless streak.

Report: LAFC hot in pursuit of Juventus, Croatia star Mandzukic

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The rich are (reportedly) about to get much richer.

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Los Angeles FC, the team set to claim the MLS Supporters’ Shield by a record margin in the next few weeks, are in “advanced negotiations” with star Juventus and Croatia forward Mario Mandzukic, according to a report from Sky Sport Italia.

Because, if there is a team that needs to add a veteran of two World Cups and two European Championships with 33 career international goals to his name, it is the team that needs 10 more goals (in five games) to break the league’s single-season goals record. Mandzukic retired from the national team shortly after helping Croatia to final of the 2018 World Cup. He scored three goals during the tournament, including one each in the semifinals and final.

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According to the report, Mandzukic, who Juventus desperately tried to sell during the recently completed transfer window, has received a few gaudy offers from clubs in Qatar, but it would appear that the 33-year-old feels he still has more to give in a more competitive league. Mandzukic’s highly productive career has taken him from NK Zagreb and Dinamo Zagreb in Croatia, to Wolfsburg and Bayern Munich in Germany, to Juventus in Italy.

While Mandzukic has not appeared in either of Juve’s two competitive fixtures this season and they would be happy to move his salary off the books tomorrow, MLS’s secondary transfer window recently closed as well, therefore he wouldn’t be able to join LAFC until preseason 2020.

12 months from now, we might be counting down the goals needed for LAFC to break their own record.

Unstoppable LAFC end Revs’ 11-game unbeaten run (video)

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The game in 200 words (or less): Coming into the weekend’s premier matchup in MLS, Bruce Arena’s New England Revolution found itself above the playoff cut line on the back of an 11-game unbeaten run that began all the way back on May 11. In that time, the Revs took down the likes of San Jose, LA Galaxy, Houston and Orlando, to name a few, but they had face no one on par with runaway Supporters’ Shield leaders Los Angeles FC. All of the above changed on Saturday, when Bob Bradley‘s men walked out of Gillette Stadium with a 2-0 victory. Diego Rossi and Latif Blessing scored the goals — one in each half — and LAFC ran their modest recent run of results to five wins in their last six games. Their lead in the Shield race walkover is 13 points with 11 games left to play.

[ MORE: Saturday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Three moments that mattered

8′ — Rossi loops it high and back down for the opener — How many players in MLS even see the 10-foot-high looping finish as an option in this scenario, let alone have the technical wherewithal to pull it off? The answer is a small number, but it includes Rossi.

41′ — Farrell saves his own embarrassing blemish on the goal line — Andrew Farrell almost scored an embarrassing, if unlucky, own goal, but managed to sprint to the goal line and clear the ball away in the nick of time.

72′ — Blessing finishes a fantastic team goal for 2-0 — Champagne football from LAFC, innit? There should be about five secondary assists handed out on this one.

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Man of the match: Jordan Harvey

Goalscorers: Rossi (8′), Blessing (72′)