Winner Takes All as MLS Playoff Knockout Rounds Get Underway
SANTA MONICA, Calif. – The knockout rounds of the Major League Soccer playoffs take place this week as eight teams from two conferences square off a series of winner-takes-all clashes to decide who advances to next month’s semifinals.
Toronto FC vs. Philadelphia Union
Toronto FC are the heavy favorites as they welcomes Philadelphia Union to BMO field on Wednesday. The match is significant in that the two teams are among the least successful in MLS history and regardless of who wins, we will have a new team advancing to the semifinals as a result.
With Sebastian Giovinco on his way to wrapping up another league MVP season and Jozy Altidore having rediscovered his scoring touch, it’s difficult not to see Toronto edging out a Philly side that somehow managed to squeak into the postseason, despite not having won a game since August.
However, despite being favorites, Toronto have been less than spectacular lately. While they head into the playoffs on the back of a win over the Chicago Fire, that win against the league’s most dismal team, was their first in six. While Toronto should be able to find a way past the Union, it’s unclear whether the blistering form of Giovinco will be enough to see them any further than the semis.
LA Galaxy vs. Real Salt Lake
Los Angeles Galaxy have slunk rather than stormed their way into the playoffs this season; but will nonetheless be favorites at home against Real Salt Lake on Wednesday. Galaxy coach Bruce Arena rested several first team starters for the final game of the regular season – a lackluster 0-0 draw at home against FC Dallas.
That’s good news for Galaxy fans as the likes of Robbie Keane, Steven Gerrard, and top-scorer Giovani Dos Santos will all head into Wednesday’s match rested. Landon Donovan completed 90 minutes against Dallas and will be available, although possibly for an off-the-bench role.
But RSL have been something of a bogey team for LA in the past, beating them in the 2009 MLS Cup Final and eliminating them from the playoffs in 2013. The last time these two met, in a regular season match in September, things finished 3-3, so there will most certainly be goals on Wednesday.
However, on current form, the Galaxy looks the side more capable of scoring them, despite failing to find the net against Dallas.
D.C. United vs. Montreal Impact
Wayward striker Didier Drogba should be back in the fold for Montreal as the Impact travel to the to Face D.C. United on Thursday. Drogba had “excused” himself from the lineup earlier this month, after becoming disgruntled over being relegated to a substitute’s role against Toronto.
However, since then the player and the club have buried the hatchet, publicly at least, and the Chelsea legend will likely start on the bench behind the in-form Matteo Mancosu. Montreal coach Mauro Biello will also likely start Ignacio Piatti, who has 17 goals and six assists in regular season play.
D.C. come into this one on a hotter streak, having only seen their recent six game winning streak snapped on Sunday, when they lost to Orlando. United. D.C. have been particularly hot in the scoring department of late, with Patrick Mullins having notched eight goals since transferring from NYCFC in July. Of all this week’s knockout matches, this one looks the most like it really could go any which way.
Seattle Sounders FC vs. Sporting Kansas City
It took a late season surge for Seattle to turn their season around and steal their way into the playoffs. The Sounders, who remain perennial the bridesmaid in terms of a first MLS Cup, made the postseason having survived the sacking of long-term manager Sigi Schmid and the sidelining of star player Clint Dempsey for health issues.
While the loss of Dempsey is significant, Seattle will be able to call on Jordan Morris who is having a breakout rookie campaign for the club, with 12 goals in the regular season.
The Sounders should be in the drivers seat, playing in front of their emphatic home crowd against a Sporting K.C. side that’s only managed three wins on the road all season. Although, one thing Peter Vermes’ Sporting side will carry into the match is the confidence from knowing that they have already beaten Seattle twice this season – 1-0 in Seattle on opening weekend, and 3-0 in Kansas City last summer.
Featured image courtesy of Los Angeles Galaxy / Google Images screen shot.