MLS playoffs Spherical 1 preview and predictions

The most dramatic Decision Day in Major League Soccer historical past is behind us, and whereas we’re unhappy to see the season finish for 13 unfortunate golf equipment (and their even unluckier followers), our enthusiasm for the start of the MLS Cup playoffs is aware of no bounds. The New England Revolution and Colorado Rapids will take pleasure in a bye in Spherical 1’s opening salvos, leaving the Nos. 2 via 7 seeds in each the Jap and Western conferences to kick off the postseason starting on Saturday.

ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle, Kyle Bonagura, Caitlin Murray, Dan Hajducky, Danny Guerra and Austin Lindberg preview all six Spherical 1 matchups, predicting which golf equipment shall be transferring on to the convention semifinals and whose gamers ought to start reserving journey preparations for holidays in far-flung locales through the all-too-short offseason.

Leap to: Philadelphia-Red Bulls | Nashville-Orlando | NYCFC-Atlanta | Seattle-RSL | Sporting KC-Vancouver | Portland-Minnesota

Jap Convention

Two stingy defenses duking it out on the Delaware, similar to George Washington supposed. Their three earlier conferences yielded a 1-0 Philadelphia win and two 1-1 attracts, so the nets at Subaru Park ought to be spared an excessive amount of motion. Philadelphia allowed solely 35 targets all 12 months, whereas New York conceded 33, two of the 4 fewest totals in all the league. With 2021 Goalkeeper of the 12 months finalist Andre Blake in internet, Philadelphia has misplaced solely as soon as to the boys from Harrison since 2018. — Hajducky


The Crimson Bulls appear to be getting the cling of Gerhard Struber’s high-pressing ways, however the Union normally discover a solution to get a outcome. — Carlisle

This match has 1-0 written throughout it, both means. A Kacper Przybylko objective seems like a becoming means for the Union to advance within the MLS playoff for simply the second time ever. — Bonagura

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After years of incremental development beneath coach Jim Curtin as a staff better than the sum of its elements, the Union are resulting from lastly make a deep playoff run. — Murray

Logic typically will get thrown to the wind when one staff’s using a scorching streak. The Crimson Bulls misplaced one among their previous 12 league matches going again to mid-September. In the event that they patiently climate the storm and capitalize on a well-timed counter, they might stun Philly. Crimson Bulls in a nail-biter. — Hajducky

Like RBNY, the Union have rebounded properly from a summer season dip to complete robust. In a showcase of nice keepers Blake and Carlos Coronel, Philly can rely on its elimination-match expertise from the CONCACAF Champions League run and may sweat out a one-goal win. — Guerra

New York has scored a couple of objective simply as soon as in its previous 11 matches. That does not bode nicely going right into a contest in opposition to Blake, one of many league’s premier goalkeepers. — Lindberg

The three clashes this season between these two groups have led to attracts (together with a controversial result on Halloween) — so lastly one aspect will come out on prime.

Nashville, led by MLS Defender of the 12 months candidate Walker Zimmerman, must hold Orlando’s offensive threats of Daryl Dike, Mauricio Pereyra and Nani at bay. However Nashville must restrict the fouls, as three of Orlando’s 4 targets scored in opposition to Nashville have come from a set piece or penalty.

Nashville will hope MVP candidate Hany Mukhtar (16 targets, 12 assists) can produce sufficient magic to maintain the Tennessee aspect rolling into the convention semis. It hasn’t misplaced at Nissan Stadium all season (8 wins, 9 attracts) and keeper Joe Willis completed with 13 clear sheets (T-1st in MLS). — Guerra


The groups met thrice through the common season and drew whenever, so count on this encounter to be a good affair. Nashville tied for the league’s stingiest protection through the common season and has MVP candidate Mukhtar in assault. — Carlisle

Orlando Metropolis has the expertise to make life troublesome for Nashville, however after the groups drew thrice since August, the league’s greatest protection will stand tall at house. — Bonagura

Nashville has been an image of consistency this season, shedding simply 4 occasions, the least in MLS. Orlando has been, nicely, the other, operating cold and hot via the 12 months. Nashville is the favourite, particularly if Mukhtar balls out like we have seen earlier than. — Murray

Orlando Metropolis limped to the playoffs, whereas Nashville, in its second MLS season, grit-and-grinded its solution to a third-place end within the East. Nashville barely concedes (tied for fewest targets allowed within the league) and is undefeated at house in 2021 — however that features 9 ties. If any match is sure for a PK shootout, it is this one. Nashville backstop Willis was one among two MLS keepers with 100-plus saves and a sub-1.00 targets in opposition to common. Benefit Nashville. — Hajducky

Dike completed the season robust (seven targets in 9 video games), however count on Mukhtar and Nashville’s midfield to manage the sport, hold its house document streak intact and advance. — Guerra

There’s been so little to separate these two groups down the stretch: Every took 13 factors from its ultimate 10 matches, a points-per-game tempo that might fall under the playoff line if continued all season. I will give the nod to Nashville and the league’s joint-best protection. — Lindberg

Each groups completed the common season robust, with the Blues unbeaten of their final 5, whereas the 5 Stripes did one higher, going 3-0-3. However the truth that this sport shall be in Yankee Stadium, the place NYCFC went 6-1-2, looms giant. The Cityzens love taking part in within the cozy confines, the place it has outscored opponents 25-4. The lack of midfielder Keaton Parks to a blood clot in a leg will weigh closely, particularly with James Sands filling in at right-back. How a lot the availability line to Golden Boot winner Valentin Castellanos shall be impacted stays to be seen.

Atlanta is actually able to springing an upset, particularly with midseason arrival Luiz Araujo augmenting an assault already boasting Ezequiel Barco, Marcelino Moreno and Josef Martinez. Defender Miles Robinson ought to be loads rested after getting despatched off late in opposition to Mexico and avoiding a visit to Jamaica with the United States nationwide staff. — Carlisle


NYCFC have as huge of a home-field benefit as any staff within the league, whereas Atlanta has struggled to beat different groups within the playoffs. — Carlisle

Few groups play higher at house than NYCFC, which owns a league-best plus-24 objective differential on house turf. — Bonagura

Though Atlanta has managed to undo a number of the harm from sacked coach Gabriel Heinze, the 5 Stripes have struggled in opposition to playoff-caliber groups all 12 months, even amid the strides of latest supervisor Gonzalo Pineda. NYCFC, in the meantime, is among the greatest possession groups in MLS, which is able to solely make it even tougher for Atlanta. — Murray

The profession sequence is actually lifeless even, as had been their 2021s, each ending with 51 factors, with NYCFC getting the upper seed on objective differential. However the type has been divergent of late: NYCFC gained solely 4 of its final 14 league matches, whereas Atlanta — on its third head coach of 2021 — misplaced solely two of its previous 18. The sport is within the Bronx, however search for Martinez to reiterate that nobody has scored extra MLS targets since 2018. — Hajducky

Robinson and Alan Franco will do sufficient to restrict Castellanos and an NYCFC aspect that has some damage points. Regardless of the slim discipline that can give NYCFC a bonus, one among Atlanta’s offensive stars will rise to the big-stage event to tug off the highway upset. — Guerra

Martinez is probably probably the most established and celebrated ahead in these playoffs, but it surely’s arduous to think about him overshadowing NYCFC’s Golden Boot-winning entrance man, Castellanos. — Lindberg

Western Convention

Whether or not via regular-season qualification or a playoff victory, the Seattle Sounders have by no means failed to succeed in the convention semifinals since their debut MLS season in 2009. To make it 13 for 13, the Sounders need to get via a Actual Salt Lake staff that was one of many league’s greatest attacking groups, that includes Damir Kreilach (16 targets) and Albert Rusnak (11 targets). No staff within the league allowed fewer targets this season than Seattle, making this a power vs. power matchup to sit up for. It will even be attention-grabbing to see how a lot Jordan Morris elements into coach Brian Schmetzer’s plan, after making two substitute appearances in Seattle’s ultimate two video games of the common season. — Bonagura


Seattle has been in scuffle mode these days, however with Morris, Raul Ruidiaz and Nico Lodeiro again on the sector, the Sounders ought to have sufficient to get by RSL. — Carlisle

Selecting in opposition to Seattle within the first spherical of the MLS playoffs — whatever the opponent — does not make a lot sense. And on this case, the Sounders profit from the experience of assistant coach Freddy Juarez, who spent most the season as RSL’s head coach. — Bonagura

The Sounders of the previous month have not appeared just like the totally dominant Sounders we have seen the remainder of the 12 months, however they may certainly discover their mojo once more. That is the Seattle membership that has reached 4 of the previous 5 MLS Cups, overcoming loads of setbacks alongside the best way, whereas RSL barely even squeaked into this 12 months’s playoffs. — Murray

Actual Salt Lake nabbing the final playoff spot on a Ninety fifth-minute volley on the ultimate day of the season was large, however Seattle was tied for the second-best objective differential within the league and it has gained two of the earlier 5 MLS Cups. The dream stops right here and the Sounders breeze via. — Hajducky

A six-game winless streak raises some eyebrows, however Seattle’s defensive unit will guarantee Salt Lake will not recreate any late drama. Ruidiaz stayed within the Golden Boot chase all season regardless of accidents and Peru responsibility, and can ship once more. — Guerra

Put apart Seattle’s historical past as a perennial playoff performer, and simply take into consideration the course the membership has been on for the reason that appointment of Coach Schmetzer in 2016. Now recall that RSL hasn’t had a full-time supervisor since Juarez walked out in August to grow to be an assistant … to Schmetzer in Seattle. — Lindberg

Alan Pulido hasn’t featured since Oct. 3, following the Mexico ahead present process knee surgical procedure that stored him out the rest of the season. He returned to coaching final Thursday, however will he be able to go? With out Pulido, SKC averaged 1.33 targets per sport down the stretch, however with him, Sporting averaged two a sport.

Whereas Vancouver’s goals-against figures are quite pedestrian, the distinction between anticipated targets in opposition to and targets in opposition to is second widest within the league. A lot of that may be attributed to goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau, whose 7.47 targets prevented (anticipated targets on track minus targets conceded) is third greatest in MLS.

It isn’t a lot of a stretch to counsel this sport will hinge on Pulido’s participation. — Lindberg


SKC did not impress down the stretch, shedding three in a row, however the excellent news is that Peter Vermes ought to have one thing near his first-choice lineup — together with the entrance trio of Pulido, Daniel Salloi and Johnny Russell — accessible. — Carlisle

Sporting Kansas Metropolis could be the higher seed, the favourite and taking part in at house, but it surely misplaced three straight to finish the common season, whereas Vancouver has misplaced simply twice since mid-July. — Bonagura

That is the primary time these two sides will face off in an MLS playoffs, and it is arduous to wager in opposition to Vermes and SKC. The midseason teaching change placing Vanni Sartini in cost in Vancouver has actually made the Whitecaps a greater, extra entertaining aspect, however their defensive vulnerability is a priority. — Murray

Between Vancouver successful solely two away matches all season and Sporting KC boasting two attacking gamers with 15-plus targets and not less than eight assists (Salloi and Russell), this has the makings of a drubbing. Search for Vermes’ squad to glide via to the convention semis. — Hajducky

Cannot deny Salloi’s excellence this season for SKC, however Vancouver is taking part in confidently behind Ryan Gauld and Brian White. All sides has defensive struggles, so count on a shootout and for the Caps to remain scorching. — Guerra

Previously month, the Whitecaps have overwhelmed playoff outfits Sporting, Portland and Minnesota, and earned a draw with Seattle. I will take the in-form aspect with the new goalkeeper. — Lindberg

The Loons have seemingly had the Timbers’ quantity this season, successful each of their conferences house and away — however notably, these wins got here earlier than the return of mercurial Timbers midfielder Sebastian Blanco, who helped usher in a 10-game unbeaten stretch to show the Timbers’ season round. If Blanco performs nicely Sunday, he’ll most likely be the very best participant on the sector in Windfall Park. Bolstered by the shock breakout season of Dairon Asprilla — beforehand nicknamed “Mr. November” for a cause — the Timbers have a chance to win in model in opposition to a gritty, hard-to-beat Minnesota aspect. — Murray



Alejandro Moreno previews the matchup between Minnesota United and the Portland Timbers within the MLS Cup Playoffs.


Portland was streaky over the course of the season, and whereas the return of Blanco has been a giant increase, questions stay concerning the staff’s protection. Amongst playoff groups solely RSL conceded extra targets. The Loons have the weapons to make the Timbers pay via Robin Lod and Emanuel Reynoso, and so they have playoff expertise too. — Carlisle

With three straight wins by not less than two targets to finish the common season, Portland is taking part in nicely on the proper time. Minnesota gained each regular-season video games between the 2 groups, however they have not performed since late July. — Bonagura

The Timbers have too many difference-makers on their roster, from Blanco and Asprilla to the Chara brothers and an off-the-bench Diego Valeri, and Portland is solely in a lot better type than Minnesota. — Murray

To paraphrase a youthful, higher Kanye: Dwelling-field benefit is alive — I really feel it breathin’. Minnesota has had Portland’s variety of late, successful every of their previous three matches, however Portland is unstoppable on house turf: Solely New England was higher at house this season, owing big to the Timbers Military and that historic (lately — devastatingly — concluded) 163-match sellout streak. — Hajducky

This sport appears to be probably the most unpredictable. The Timbers have any variety of gamers who can get you a game-winner, as do the Loons. Let’s go along with the house staff rising regardless of an anticipated valiant effort from Reynoso. — Guerra

The Loons have appeared out of kinds for a lot of the season, discovering methods to earn outcomes from matches wherein they’ve appeared decidedly second greatest, and are the one staff within the playoffs with a unfavourable objective differential. — Lindberg

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