MLS Cup Playoffs get under way with knockouts
The MLS Cup Playoffs are here and first up is the win-or-go-home knockout round. The top two seeds in each conference — Sporting Kansas City and the Seattle Sounders in the West, and the New York Red Bulls and Atlanta United in the East — get a pass for the opening stage. The two-legged conference semifinals start this weekend.
Real Salt Lake at LAFC, Thursday.
LAFC was vying to become the first expansion team to finish atop its conference in its inaugural season but the team fell to Sporting KC in the regular-season finale. Still, third-seeded LAFC finished with 57 total points, setting a record for an expansion club. Carlos Vela leads the team with 14 goals and 13 assists. LAFC defeated RSL twice during the regular season.
Salt Lake was the only team that was inactive on Decision Day, and only secured a spot in the playoffs because of the Houston Dynamo's victory over the LA Galaxy. The sixth seed is in the playoffs for the second time in the last three seasons. Midfielder Damir Kreilach leads RSL with 12 goals and eight assists. But overall the team has conceded 58 goals this season.
Portland Timbers at FC Dallas, Wednesday.
A 2-1 loss to the Colorado Rapids on Decision Day denied Dallas a knockout-round bye. The No. 4 seed heads into the postseason on a three-game losing streak. Over that span, the team has scored just one goal. Former Timber Maxi Urruti leads Dallas with eight goals and 11 assists. Dallas and Portland played draws in their two meetings this season.
The fifth-seeded Timbers won two of their last three games and finished with 15 wins this season to match the club record. Diego Valeri leads the team with 10 goals and 12 assists. Portland has won just four times on the road this season.
"It's going to be tough for sure but the playoffs are a different thing. All the effort that we put during the season, now it's the reward that we're in the playoffs. Now we have to go down there and try to do our game and try to win it," Timbers midfielder Andres Flores said.
Philadelphia Union at NYCFC, Wednesday.
For the second time since this playoff format was implemented, two teams that met on the final day of the regular season will meet in the knockout round. In 2015, Montreal beat Toronto on the final day then ousted the Reds in the knockout round to reach the conference semifinals. On Decision Day, NYCFC defeated the Union 3-1 to clinch the third seed. But it was just New York's second win in its last five matches. David Villa leads the team with 14 goals. New York has won five of the last nine matches against the Union.
Sixth-seeded Philadelphia is led by Corey Burke and Fafa Picault, who both have 10 goals. The loss to NYCFC was the second straight for the Union, which finished the season with just one victory in its last five matches. Philadelphia has never won at Yankee Stadium
"It's always going to be a tough task to come to NYC and try to get a win with the quality that they have on the field," Union coach Jim Curtin said.
Columbus Crew at D.C. United, Thursday.
D.C. United has not lost in 10 games, but the team's five-game winning streak was snapped on Decision Day with a scoreless draw against the Chicago Fire. The dramatic ascent earned them the No. 4 seed and the right to host the playoff game at their new home. And of course there's Wayne Rooney, who leads the team with 12 goals in the 20 games since his arrival.
"The fun part begins with a knockout game at home in front of our fans. It's a great opportunity and we don't want to squander that. We want to keep playing as long as we can," United coach Ben Olsen said.
Fifth-seeded Columbus earned its spot in the postseason by knocking off Minnesota United 3-2 on Decision Day. The victory ended the last-ditch hopes of Montreal and allowed the Crew to hop above Philadelphia in the final standings. Gyasi Zardes finished the regular season with 19 goals, including a hat trick in the win over Minnesota.
It's the first playoff meeting between the MLS originals since 1999.