A New York derby in the Eastern Conference final? How about a Canada derby instead
MLS's two New York teams entered the postseason as the top two teams in the Eastern Conference and the two highest scoring teams in the league. People were dreaming of a New York derby in the Eastern Conference final — one that would bring an already-heated rivalry to the forefront and serve as an incredible showcase for the league. But neither scored on Sunday and now it looks like both could go out of the MLS Cup Playoffs, setting the stage for an all-Canada Eastern Conference final.
First, the Montreal Impact beat the top seeded New York Red Bulls, 1-0. Then, Toronto FC downed New York City FC, 2-0. All of a sudden, the Impact and TFC look like they're on a collision course that would put Canada's fiercest rivalry in one of the biggest spotlights MLS offers.
The Canadian clubs have met in the postseason before. They did it just last season, with the Impact topping the Reds in the knockout round. But that's the only time Montreal have ever advanced in a playoff series and, until Sunday's win over NYCFC, that was the only playoff game Toronto had ever played in. They are two teams with histories somewhere between underwhelming and atrocious, but who have arguably their best teams ever and certainly just pulled off two of their biggest wins in their respective club histories.
Getting a rivalry clash in the conference final would be a dream. It would be everything the playoffs are intended to be — dramatic, intense and with everything on the line. Not just their seasons, but pride and bragging rights. We thought we'd get that with the New York sides, but instead it's the Canadians who looked like the teams ready to take center stage in the first legs of the conference semifinals.
Both Montreal and Toronto still have a long ways to go. They won their matches at home and now have to go to New York, where things will be much tougher. They have the advantage of conceding no away goals in the opening leg, so a single goal in the second leg will give them the tiebreaker, but the Impact in particular have a lot left to do. They only won by a single goal and the Red Bulls have the league's leading goalscorer and assist man. But if they can get the job done at Red Bull Arena, and TFC can hold on at Yankee Stadium, we may have the biggest matches in Canadian club soccer history ahead of us.
Or the New York clubs could come back and give us the Hudson River Derby Eastern Conference final so many dreamed of to start the postseason. After all, you can't rule anything out in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
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