The Major League Soccer (MLS) Cup - Play-offs get underway this weekend, with two Play-In matches to decide the final two teams going into the First Round of the MLS Cup. Eight teams from the Western and Eastern Conferences battle it out for supremacy, before the two winning sides meet in the MLS Cup Final, scheduled for December 12th.
Check out eight things to look out for in this season’s MLS Cup play-offs below.
Montreal Impact to Reach the First Round?
The Montreal Impact have reached the play-offs for the first time since 2016, with head coach Thierry Henry, eyeing a potential First Round match-up, however, the New England Revolution stand in their way and its the Revs that have had the better of recent meetings, winning three of the four match-ups this past season and winning 3-2 in October’s most recent game. Neither side is in great form at the moment, with the Revs winning just once in the last five games and that could be the catalyst for the Impact to take a big victory over the weekend.
A 50th Canadian Classique in the First Round?
The winners of the Play-In matches will play either Toronto FC or Supporters Shield winners, Philadelphia Union in the First Round, with seedings determining who goes where. Now, if Inter Miami and Montreal Impact both win their respective matches, the Impact should play Toronto FC in the biggest match in Canadian Soccer, colloquially known as the “401 derby”, which will be the 50th competitive match-up between the sides. Toronto FC have the advantage in terms of most wins, with 26 in total and 9 ties, but what a spectacle that will be, in this the 25th anniversary of the MLS.
Diego Rossi to continue his scoring run
Los Angeles FC are many experts top selection to win the MLS Cup, with the 2019 Supporters Shield winners, looking to go beyond the Conference Final, where they lost to eventual winners, the Seattle Sounders. Diego Rossi has become a central figure to LAFC’s hopes, having hit 16 goals in 21 matches so far, with Carlos Vela’s absence through injury. The 22-year-old Uruguayan is attracting plenty of European interest and that could blow up further with a goalscoring run in the play-offs.
Shutout King, Willis – Key to Nashville SC’s Play-In Debut
Being a goalkeeper is a thankless task. when you save shots, it’s “expected” and if you don’t then “you are a bad goalie”. So, when you see Joe Willis’s record of 9 shutouts in 23 matches for a Nashville team that have scraped into the play-in match against Inter Miami, his performances deserve special praise. Nashville had the third-best defence in the league, largely thanks to the 32-year-old and another top-class performance from the former Houston Dynamo goalie could lead them into the First Round of the MLS Cup in their inaugural season in Major League Soccer.
Union to Kick-On From First Shield Win?
Philadelphia Union’s first-ever Supporter’s Shield win is a huge statement from a club that only reached the MLS Cup quarter-finals last year, for the first time in their history. Their previous best in the Shield rankings, was third place, also in 2019 and it’s clear the Union and especially head coach Jim Curtin, who has been at the club since 2014, have been working hard to get to this point and a Conference Final is very much in the future of a team that has only lost once in the last eight matches played. If the strike duo of Santos and Przybylko can stay fit, they could go all the way.
Can Toronto FC Make It To Another MLS Cup Final?
Toronto FC are one of the most successful MLS sides in recent history, having won the title in 2017 and finishing runners-up in both 2016 and 2019. But can they go all the way, once again? Toronto FC finished second to the Union, in the Eastern Conference, just 3 points behind, but go into the upcoming First Round with some indifferent form of late, winning just one of the last four matches played, including a 5-0 loss to the Union. Head Coach, Greg Vanney will be hoping it’s nothing more than a blip from his players, but is this a sign of things to come for Toronto FC fans? Only time will tell of course, but with a straight knock-out format, there is no margin for error, if The Reds want to continue their impressive MLS Cup record.
New York City FC – The Form Team, But Can They Go Further?
In terms of sheer form, there is no one in a better state than New York City FC coming into the MLS Cup, having won their last four matches played. Ronny Deila has done a decent job, since taking over from Domenec Torrent, who led City to a record points total in 2019. Despite some big shoes to fill, the Norweigan head coach has guided them to a top-six finish and will fancy his club’s chances, especially having picked up a good 1-0 win over Toronto FC last month. New York City FC’s main issue is a lack of clinical finishers, with last year’s 15 goal hero Heber struggling for goals this season. NYCFC should make it to the last eight, but any further will be a tough ask for Ronny Deila’s side.
LAFC – Champions Elect?
Los Angeles FC as previously mentioned, are many experts tip to take the MLS Cup title this year and it’s clear to see why, when you look at Bob Bradley’s squad at his disposal. Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi hit 50 goals between them last season, while Bradley Wright-Phillips is the sixth-highest all-time scorer in MLS history. In midfield, Uruguayan pair, Brian Rodriguez and Francisco Ginella offer creativity and steel to really propel them in attack. They can be a little susceptible to pace at the back with several defenders in the mid-thirties these days, but on their day, LAFC can outscore any side. It may not take them all the way to victory here, but it will be an incredible ride for supporters.
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