DC, New England, Seattle, Los Angeles. In March, you would have put good money on these teams meeting in the conference finals. Even three months ago, this seemed a likely scenario to decide the MLS Cup participants. Yet, here we are. These four teams will all meeting on Wednesday night in the Knockout Round with two of them going home after just a 90 (or 120) minute stay in the playoffs.
While Wednesday night has two very intriguing match ups, don’t sleep on Thursday. With the Knockout Round being just one game, anything can happen in MLS. With that being said, let’s dive in to the games and try and pick some winners.
DC United vs New England Revolution – October 28, 7:30 PM ET, UniMas/TSN2/MLS Live
United limps in to the playoffs after an embarrassing defeat on Decision Day. New England needed a win at Yankee Stadium on the final day of the season to secure their entry in to the playoffs.
DC has played well at home this season and their defense will be key in this match up. The Revolution have a number of attacking threats, all the way to their back line.
Key Players: Bill Hamid (DC) and Chris Tierney (New England) – Hamid has played out of his mind at times this year and he will have to make a few good saves against the aforementioned Revs attack. Tierney was huge in New England’s run to MLS Cup last season and his ability to get forward will test the stout United back line.
Pick: DC United 1-3 New England Revolution
Seattle Sounders vs Los Angeles Galaxy – October 28, 10:00 PM ET, UniMas/TSN2/MLS Live
A rematch of the 2014 Western Conference Final sees two teams who have been up and down all season but come in to the playoffs looking to find their form that is unrivaled by many teams in the league.
Both sides bring a trio of DPs who could make this a high scoring encounter. Defense has been LA’s Achilles heel, so look for them to try and keep Seattle on the back foot. Seattle will look to push the middle of the field and pin Steven Gerrard back in to a defensive role. Ozzie Alonso’s health remains in question and will be a big loss for Seattle if he is unable to go.
Key Players: Erik Friberg (Seattle) and Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles) – Friberg will be the player for Seattle tasked with attacking the center of the Galaxy defense and pinning Gerrard back. His possession will make a big impact on the result. For Gonzalez, and the rest of the Galaxy defense, it’s been a rough season. If LA is going to win at CenturyLink Field, the defense has to play well and neutralize Seattle’s attack, and that starts with the World Cup veteran Gonzalez.
Pick: Seattle Sounders 3-2 (Extra Time) Los Angeles Galaxy
Montreal Impact vs Toronto FC – October 29, 7:00 PM ET, UniMas/TSN1/MLS Live
No need to adjust your TV sets, these teams did just play on Sunday. Didier Drogba’s second half brace insured that the two teams would do it again at Stade Saputo in the Knockout Round.
Since Drogba’s late season arrival, the Impact have been a completely different side. His goal scoring binge has propelled the Impact to this home playoff game. The Reds also possess a potent attack, led by likely Most Valuable Player Sebastian Giovinco.
Emotions will be high for Toronto in their first MLS playoff game, against a rival, so they will have to stay composed early. If Montreal is to erase their disastrous appearance in the playoffs two years ago, they’ll lean on Drogba to do what he has done for the past month, while keeping Toronto at bay with a much improved defense.
Key Players: Ignacio Piatti (Montreal) and Michael Bradley (Toronto) – With all the talk about the Impact centering on Drogba, and rightfully so, Piatti has been the engine that drives the Impact. Look for him to get on the ball often and spearhead the Montreal attack. Much like on the national team level, Bradley’s play goes a long way in determining his team’s success. His link up play with Giovinco is key but look for his defensive tracking and box to box play as a vital cog in Toronto’s system.
Pick: Montreal Impact 1-1 Toronto FC (Montreal wins 3-2 on penalties)
Portland Timbers vs Sporting Kansas City – October 29, 10:00 PM ET, UniMas/TSN1/MLS Live
After spending parts of Decision Day on the outside looking in, Sporting Kansas City came alive in the second half against LA to punch their ticket to Portland. Darlington Nagbe is in fine form, winning NASR Player of the Week, and has scored three goals in his last two games.
Peter Vermes sent Benny Feilhaber a message on Sunday, starting the midfielder on the bench. Feilhaber’s second half inclusion was arguably the reason that Sporting was able to get the win against LA. With rumors of Vermes sitting Feilhaber again, will Kansas City be able to find that link between their midfield and forwards? Portland has that link with Nagbe feeding talisman Fanendo Adi with regular success of late.
Key Players: Adam Kwarasey (Portland) and Kevin Ellis (Kansas City) – Portland’s goalkeeper will likely be called on to make a few big saves Thursday night and he’s the guy you want back there making them, having tallied thirteen shutouts in his debut MLS season. Ellis has seen his good days and bad days in 2015 and he will have to find another good one against Portland to thwart the Timbers attack. His involvement on attacking set pieces can also be a difference maker for SKC.
Pick: Portland Timbers 3-2 Sporting Kansas City
Now that I’ve broken down the games in my way, I’m turning it over to my (almost) 1 year old daughter Harper to make her picks on these Knockout Round games. Her picks were made with the very scientific method of choosing a play ball with a sticky note labels on it. Without further ado, here is the video of Harper making her picks.
(image courtesy of timbers.com)