With decision day behind us, the MLS Cup Playoffs are right around the corner. The first slate of games on Oct. 19, there’s still plenty of time to speculate how these games will go.
This year’s festivities are going to be some of the best in MLS history. The most exciting first round game is probably the third versus sixth seed game in the Eastern Conference between the New York Red Bulls and the Philadelphia Union. Both of these teams rode hot streaks into the playoffs, so it will surely be the game to watch in the first round.
Our own DC United, the fifth seed, will be playing in an away game against Toronto FC. That game will be at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 18. DC United now holds the MLS record for consecutive shutouts with a count of five. The team can extend this record if they shutout (and hopefully beat) Toronto. The TFC game should be pretty manageable. With Rooney back in action, they will be at their strongest for the first time in a few games.
The real question is the second-round matchup with the first seed in the East, NYCFC. With a possession-based offense, they have been unstoppable in the second half of the year, so this will be a challenging game for the black and red. If DC somehow beats NYCFC (fingers crossed), it will set up the hardest matchup so far, their probable opponents being the Philadelphia Union or Atlanta United. Considering they’ll have to play either the reigning champs or a team that outscored DC 10-3 during the regular season, that round is likely unwinnable.
But, if they do happen to win that game, they will move on to the MLS Cup Finals. The matchup will most definitely include the aforementioned LAFC. And that game will also be — guess what — incredibly difficult. Did I mention that every single one of these matches will be played on the road? It’s gonna be quite the playoff run.
The most intriguing part of these playoffs will be the MLS Cup Final. With statistically the best team and the best player in MLS history on their team, LAFC are surely the favorites to win it all. Carlos Vela, their superstar Mexican winger, scored 34 goals and had 15 assists in just 31 games in the MLS this season.
On the other side of the country, we have Atlanta United, the reigning MLS Cup Champions, thus they deserve attention. Atlanta’s talisman, Josef Martinez, has 77 goals in 83 career games for the side. This season alone, he’s had 27. The Atlanta United versus LAFC matchup is expected for the final.
However, there is one more potential matchup that shouldn’t be overlooked. That is the second-round matchup between LAFC and LA Galaxy. If the Galaxy win their first-round game against Minnesota (which they should do quite easily), this matchup is set. El Trafico, the LA rivalry’s name, could make its way into the playoffs. This would be massive for LA soccer fans.
Galaxy’s star forward, who has one of the most recognizable personalities in soccer today, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, could finally show the world he is better than Vela. The Vela/Zlatan rivalry has almost outgrown the clubs’. All year, Zlatan has let the media know he thinks he’s better while Vela has stayed silent allowing his insane stats to accumulate. This matchup could really be one for the ages.
This year’s MLS Cup Playoffs seem to be the most competitive in history. The quality of the sides, and an ability for every team to have a chance of winning, combines to what will surely be a must-watch tournament.