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MLS: Nashville SC at Toronto FC

MLS Cup Conference Semi-Finals Preview

After a wild opening round, eight teams are getting ready for the Conference Semifinals.

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Well that was certainly an interesting first round in the MLS Cup Playoffs. From upsets, to multiple penalty shootouts, to strange rules decisions and controversial calls, it had a bit of everything. For Vancouver Whitecaps fans, there were also a couple good news stories. First and foremost, the Whitecaps will be the only Canadian team not to lose an MLS Cup Playoff match in 2020, which you can never take away from them. But more so than that, both the Portland Timbers and Toronto FC suffered agonizing defeats at the hands of underdog rivals.

Not only was this positive in the sense that the Whitecaps got to watch some of their key rivals suffer, but also in the fact that Nashville SC and FC Dallas more accurately reflect the model that the Whitecaps are supposedly trying to build. You could also point out the New England Revolution, who other than a couple high priced DP’s, have spent pretty frugally on their roster, and yet still managed to knock off the Supporters Shield champions in the Philadelphia Union. Does this mean that the Vancouver Whitecaps are bound for the MLS Cup second round stardom next year? Probably not, but at least there might be some light at the end of the tunnel. As my intrepid colleague, Caleb Wilkins, recently touched on in his piece, it’s certainly up for debate as to how close VWFC is to being a relevant playoff team, and purely based on the eye test from what I’ve watched over the past week, they look a decent ways removed from that standard. But hey, we can still dare to dream. With all that being said, I’m going to tee up this week’s round of MLS Cup Playoff action:

Orlando City (4) vs. New England Revolution (8) - Sun., Nov. 29, at 3 pm ET

Is there a team you would want to face less than the Revs right now? After shaking off the playoff jitters with a late winner against Montreal, New England simply dominated Philadelphia, and it goes to show just how different MLS teams can be when their designated players are at their best.

Orlando meanwhile secured a wild win against NYCFC, but it didn’t look hardly as convincing and came at a heavy cost, as both goalkeeper Pedro Gallese and defender Ruan will be unavailable after their red cards. Orlando star, Nani, has also not been at his best recently, but this Orlando team has been defying odds all season long, so it’s hard to know what we can expect from them.

It feels like the Revs are on a fairytale run right now, and for that reason, I have to back them to win this one.

Prediction: 3-1 New England

Columbus Crew (3) vs. Nashville SC (7) - Sun., Nov. 29, at 8 pm ET

Nashville has really shown some spark in these playoffs and proven that they are more than a simple bunker and counter outfit. Sure, their style of play might not be the prettiest thing on earth to watch, but they execute it well and have spent in the right areas. Walker Zimmerman never fails to impress me, and Randall Leal, as well as Hany Mukhtar, have proven themselves to be primetime contributors. Does beating TFC mean that this team is destined for a deep run? I’m not sure, but I’ve enjoyed the storyline so far.

I think that the Crew might have the most comprehensive rosters is MLS. There’s the right mix of quality, depth and star power in every important position, and the only thing that has really slowed them down this season is injuries. The scariest part of their win over New York is how far the Crew looked from their best. I think Nashville’s best chance in this one might be to take this to penalties.

Prediction: 3-0 Columbus

Seattle Sounders (2) vs. FC Dallas (6) - Tue., Dec. 1, at 9:30 pm ET

Can anyone stop Seattle in the West? I sure hope so, but I’m hardly confident. Ruidiaz, Lodeiro and Morris always show up in big moments, and no team understands how to win this trophy quite like the defending champions. Do they have a weakness? Maybe a little bit defensively, but it still feels like it’s going to take something special, or perhaps lucky, to beat this Sounders team, who have to be the MLS Cup Favourites at this point.

Can Dallas overthrow another Cascadia foe? Maybe, but Portland was a bit of a mirage this year and never looked as good as their record indicated. The 17-year-old Ricardo Pepi provided a massive boost for Dallas last time out, but the big guns for Dallas (in Jara, Ricaurte and Santos) will have to come up big once again if the Toros want to stay in the match.

Prediction: 2-0 Sounders

Sporting Kansas City (1) vs. Minnesota United (4) - Wed., Dec. 2, at 9 pm ET

This particular matchup will be a battle of reputation versus momentum. While Sporting Kansas City is the better team on paper, it took them penalty kicks to overcome the Earthquakes. Meanwhile, the Loons are coming off their first playoff win in franchise history, which was a resounding 3-0 showing over the Colorado Rapids.

These results should be considered in context though, and I would make the argument that the Rapids really shouldn’t have been a playoff team at all. That’s not to say that they don’t possess the quality on their best day, but the Rapids simply didn’t look organized or ready for their playoff matchup.

On the flip side, I rated the Earthquakes as a team to be reckoned with in the single-match elimination format, and SKC experienced just how unpredictable San Jose can be, but I don’t necessarily think that speaks poorly about them as a football team. It was a bit of a messy match but Sporting always seems to find a way to get it done at the end of the day.

In the one game format, I have to side with the experience and guile of SKC.

Prediction: 1-0 Kansas City

Have you enjoyed the chaos of these MLS Cup Playoffs so far?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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