Good Friday morning Caps fans, only one more sleep until the first playoff match in four years. Given that fact, it might be a sleepless night ...
In seriousness, the first round of playoff games always seem to bring more than their fair share of drama and intrigue and this year is no exception, largely due to a batch of teams who, like Vancouver, closed the year on a strong run of form. And, well, its MLS — what would it be without a bit of craziness?
My playoff predictions at the beginning of the season involved the Columbus Crew in the finals so I’m officially an idiot (to be fair, so are a lot of other pundits who are lot more pundit-y than I am). But because I can’t leave well enough alone, here are my #takes on how the first round of matches will play out.
The Red Bulls are an intriguing team, one who managed to punch above their weight all season. Gerhard Struber has the energy drink mavens playing in a high press but the goals have not necessarily followed. It won’t get any easier against a stingy Philadelphia Union side, complete with Andre Blake, who is a newly christened finalist for goalkeeper of the year. The Red Bulls are pretty good defensively as well and I could see this one headed to extra time and, potentially penalties. Still, the Union seem to be clearly the better side.
Prediction: Union advance
One of the tastier first round matchups involves two teams which ended the regular season in good form, with Atlanta in the “teams which got better after sacking their head coach” club. All Valentin Castellanos does is score but NYCFC will be without Keaton Parks to help set up their Golden Boot award winner. Atlanta is probably the better team but NYCFC has a major home field advantage. Give me the home side in a toss up.
Prediction: NYCFC advance
Two teams which are not quite the sum of their parts. While I picked Portland to make it to the MLS Cup final in the preseason, it turns out a) their defense is much shakier than anyone initially thought and b) they are really streaky. Sebastian Blanco will need to show up if they are to advance and Minnesota’s gritty, defensive ability will make that hard. Portland is playing well at the right time, however, and has shown they can milk those hot streaks for all they’re worth.
Prediction: Timbers advance
Nashville SC vs. Orlando City, 5:00 p.m. Monday
Another really good game on the Eastern Conference side, Nashville have been perhaps the most dependable, sneaky good team of the past two seasons. You can make a good case for Hany Mukhtar as MVP and Nashville haven’t lost at home all season. Orlando have their typically strong attacking band but will have to contend with a well drilled defensive side. Both teams have drawn their previous matchups this season, making it a bit of an unknown.
Prediction: Nashville advance
Call it the Freddy Juarez revenge tour or not, but this seems to be a matchup that is tailor made for the Sounders. RSL will be happy to be in the playoffs, thanks to a refereeing snafu and an assist from Minnesota United on decision day. They aren’t a bad side and Damir Kreilach and Albert Rusnak are firing on all cylinders. But Seattle is a cut above, despite a shaky end to the regular season.
Prediction: Sounders advance
Am I forgetting one? Oh yeah ...
This is going to be a tight one — I think Vanni Sartini had it pegged right as a 51/49 match, with a slight edge to Sporting KC. The Caps have struggled outside of BC Place but this is a team brimming with confidence and it remains to be seen which of Sporting KC’s dinged up key players will actually start. I picked the home side in our match preview but would love to be proven wrong — and think the Caps can do it.
Prediction: Sporting KC advance
Best of the Rest
A win over Mexico at the Ice-teca has put Canada on the precipice of a World Cup berth and earned them some well deserved attention globally
And when that happens, why not celebrate in the snow?
The regular season has wrapped for Pacific FC — here’s a look at how things went
A neat profile of a longtime Caps fan in Kansas City. Good to know there will be at least one away fan at the match Saturday
Mark-Anthony Kaye was not pleased with the choice of Ricardo Pepi over Tajon Buchanan for young player of the year