We've reached the end of the season in Major League Soccer, but now the real fun is about to begin. The playoffs begin this Saturday, and as always there's plenty of potential wackiness within the opening round matchups. The single elimination, cup style bracket format is sure to provide plenty of drama, and possibly an unexpected team lifting the trophy at the culmination of it all.
Without a doubt, New England is the odds on favorite to win. The Revolution are indeed my pick, because I may or may not have taken a bet early in the season for them to win it all. :)
The Bruce Arena led squad won the Supporters Shield for the best team in the regular season, and has finished with a league record 73 points on the season. They get a bye in the first round of the postseason.
In the Western Conference, the Colorado Rapids surprisingly locked up the first seed and the opening round bye on the last day of the season. They squeaked one point above the two-time Cup winners, Seattle Sounders.
Lets take a look a quick look at all of the opening round matches this weekend, and we'll preview the games taking place next Tuesday the 23rd, early next week.
Saturday Nov. 20 - 2:30 PM ET TUDN
This is a match made in heaven for both sets of fans. No love lost between these clubs, and their supporters. Subaru Park just outside of Philly will be the venue, and there WILL be some fireworks. The Union won the first matchup against RBNY this season, and that was followed by 1-1 draws in the final two games against one another. But this is a different Red Bulls team than the one that took on Philadelphia earlier this year. New York has the best defense in the league over the last 2 months, and their goalkeeper Carlos Coronel could be one of the best in MLS. Manager Gerhard Struber has built an identity with this team. Have the Red Bulls struggled to score goals? Yes they have. But they have proven to be able to shut down opponents that scores lots of goals. It will be a challenge with the likes of Jamiro Monteiro, Kacper Przybyłko and captain Alejando Bedoya. But this is a rivalry match, so expect to see a tight and physical affair.
Saturday Nov. 20 - 5:00 PM ET TUDN
One of the great surprise stories of the season, is that of the Whitecaps. Not a whole lot of the "experts" had Vancouver as the sole Canadian representative in the MLS Cup Playoffs, but here we are.
It's quite the opposite for Sporting Kansas City who continue their model of consistency clinching yet another playoff berth, something manager Peter Vermes is pretty accustomed to at this point. He set a league record by clinching his 17th appearance in the MLS Cup Playoffs as a player or a coach. Considering the league is only 26 seasons old, that's pretty incredible.
SKC will be at home, where they were 9-3-5 this season, while Vancouver has the worst road record among playoff teams this season, with just 2 wins. For Sporting, beware of Daniel Salloi who had a breakout season. The Hungarian led the team with 16 goals this season, and that's saying a lot for a squad that also boasts dangerous Mexican striker Alan Pulido.
For the Whitecaps, their push for the playoffs began with a trade. Brian White arrived from the Red Bulls in an early season transfer, and has gone on to score 12 goals to lead the club. Also watch out for Colombian winger Deiber Caicedo who tallied 5 goals and 7 assists and was second on the team in shots with 51.
Sunday Nov. 21 - 3:00 PM ET ABC
This has the potential to be the most interesting game of the opening round. NYCFC has been both one of the best teams of the season, but also had several stretches of very poor play. Like when they went over 400 minutes without scoring a goal.
Meanwhile Atlanta United has gone through a whirlwind of a season. It started with the hiring and firing of Argentine manager Gabriel Heinze, who was let go after refusing to follow CBA rules on the amount of training he put his team through, among other things. After the appointment of Mexican manager Gonzalo Pineda, the team began to respond and take flight.
Both of these teams finished with 51 points in the regular season. This is the 4 vs. 5 matchup. NYC will be hosting at Yankee Stadium, the narrowest field in the league. That alone makes for some wacky results, as well as that up and down play of the Bronx based club.
What might mark the difference in this one, is which of the two strikers has a day. Josef Martinez for Atlanta, and the Golden Boot winner for most goals this season with 19, Valentin Castellanos for New York City.
Sunday Nov. 21 - 5:30 PM ET ESPN
This is another intriguing matchup in the Western Conference, as the ever dangerous Timbers and their raucous crowd, host a Minnesota United squad that got off to a horrible start to the season in 2021, only to turn it around and lock up that playoff spot.
Portland has historically been one of those teams that is always a tough out in the postseason, even if their regular season ends in an average fashion. The team won the "MLS is Back" Tournament back in Orlando during the pandemic, and has that experience of being able to shine when the pressure is on. This year, they relied heavily on Colombian Striker Dairon Asprilla, who finished with 10 goals, including this wondergoal late in the year.
For Minnesota, a rough start to 2021 did not deter them from making a run and making the playoffs. You knew English manager Adrian Heath was just not going to let them quit. Same goes for their captain, Osvaldo Alonso, who has seen many battles against Portland during his championship winning days with Seattle. United has had trouble scoring this season, but does have the likes of Robin Lod and Argentine midfielder Emanuel Reynoso that can finish an opportunity when it presents itself.
Enjoy the games, and all the sports this weekend! We'll talk to you next week!