MLS play-offs roundtable: our novelists pick the postseason winners

4 months, 1 day ago

The MLS postseason begins on Wednesday, and its all to play for. Our writers give their verdicts on wholl win, wholl go close, and wholl go home early

Im excited by

The possibility of one more Hudson River Derby. The Red Bulls and NYC FC could face one another is again, in the playoffs and this game could be the best one yet. NYC FC, who are a totally different squad since the 7-0 debacle earlier this season, would salivate at the prospect of facing their local rivals in the playoffs. As for Jesse Marschs humen? Another opportunity to show why they still regulation New York is too good to turn down. LME

The fact that both of last years finalists, the Portland Timbers and the Columbus Crew, failed to qualify for this years playoffs bodes well for the leagues famous parity. Seeing if this young squad can carry FC Dallas all the way to an unprecedented treble. The midseason turnarounds staged by DC United and Seattle. The serious prospect of an NY derby in the Eastern conference finals. And, most of all, for the cold, bitter November games at altitude in Denver, and watching how much the Rapids will construct the road squad suffer. GN

DC United. Theres always a wildcard heading into the play-offs and DC United appear to be that side this season. Pressing questions were being asked of Ben Olsen not so long ago, but five straight wins sent them into the postseason, scoring 12 times in the process. They procured their groove, a deep one. Are they 2016 s Portland Timbers? GR

Some excellent teams going deep: Dallas, the Red Bulls and NYC FC have serious quality, and I fully expect them happening there at the end of it all. Even though the prospect of an unheralded team doing well is fun, I love the idea of the best squads being there in the conference finals. TH

Im turned off by

The prospect of sub-par officiating. MLS refereeing is often blamed, and the fact that the stakes are now higher worries me. Being an official is extremely difficult, so my hope for 2017 is that Don Garber does everything he can to attain referees tasks easier. LME

The knockout games on short rest. The phrase Audi MLS Cup playoffs. Mauro Diazs season-ending injury in the penultimate game, entailing were robbed of the chance to see one of the leagues best playmakers orchestrate the leagues most scintillating attack. The style Real Salt Lake and the Montreal Impact limped into the playoffs. And, most of all, for how the goals seem to dry up once teams reach the conference finals. GN

Sporting KC. Consistency has become the calling card of Peter Vermes. KC have now built the play-offs for six successive seasons, but with defensive stability and physicality their greatest strengths they arent exactly the most compelling side to watch. Such traits might serve them well in a knockout format, though. GR

The dreadful format. The MLS Cup final isnt until 10 December! Why we need six weeks to ascertain a winner is beyond me, and six teams from each meeting is at least two too many. I know we live in a prizes-for-all world, but allowing the 11 th- and 12 th-best placed teams to compete in the postseason is a farce. TH

The dreaming MLS Cup final is likely to be

FC Dallas v NYC FC. Dallas are the best squad in this league, and they deserve no less than a hat-trick of trophies this season( US Open Cup, Supporters Shield .) In merely their second year as a club, Patrick Vieiras humen managed to climbing enormous steps thanks to attractive, mature football with one of the most interesting squads in the league and all this after losing 7-0 against the Red Bulls. Talk about comeback monarches. LME

Boys in blue: David Villa and Andrea Pirlo. Photo: L Argueta/ ISI/ REX/ Shutterstock

NYCFC v LA Galaxy. Frank Lampard, David Villa and Andrea Pirlo v Steven Gerrard, Gio Dos Santos, Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan at Yankee Stadium. The leagues most well known starrings and the two largest media markets taking each other on for the grand prize. Never mind the tactical headache that would result if all those players were on the pitching at once, or the nauseating amount of advertising that would accompany it, it would be a fitting swansong for the aging European DP era of MLS, right before it starts to give way to more youthful and mobile squads. GN

NYC FC v Seattle. NYCs turnaround under Patrick Vieira this season has been remarkable. He has determined a shape and formation to get the best out of his big names, building Yankee Stadium a go-to-destination for goals. An MLS Cup final appearance would be symbolic of their progression. The Seattle Sounders have also completed their own turnaround, but in a much shorter timeframe. Just a few months ago they were on the brink of an existential crisis, firing Sigi Schmid after the club slipped to second bottom of the Western Conference. Since then they have won eight from 13 games, largely without Clint Dempsey, and now have real momentum behind them. You could say I fancy a common narration of redemption. GR

Galaxy v NYC FC. It might not thrill the purists, who despised the emphasis on highly paid veterans, but a confrontation between these two heavyweights would be undeniably alluring. MLS fights to find space in the competitive US sports market, but final between the two glitziest clubs in Americas two biggest cities, boasting a roster of stars and enough charisma to sink the Titanic, would help the league to gain traction. Im aroused already. TH

The actual MLS Cup final is likely to be

Colorado Rapids v New York Red Bulls. The Red Bulls thanks to their do-or-die stance and Bradley Wright-Phillips, the leagues MVP favorite seem unstoppable right now. In the West, Mauro Diazs injury is a big deal to Dallas, and although theyll make it to the conference final, I think that might be where their season ends yes, Diaz is that important. Enter the Rapids, who have not lost a single game at home this season and if they can hold on when they are away from Dicks Sporting Goods Park, they should make it all the way. LME

Speaking of young and athletic squads, the New York Red Bulls v FC Dallas. Yes, its the easy picking because they are the respective No1 seeds, but the Red Bulls have the one-two punch of the leagues golden boot winner in Bradley Wright-Phillips and assists leader in Sacha Kljestan, and FC Dallas have been the best squad throughout the course of the season. To gamble against either seems foolish. GN

Red Bulls v Rapids. Surely one of these days the New York Red Bulls will actually translate their regular season form into a play-off operate? Theyve been here enough times before, and their inclination for the big occasion sure to set them up well for the play-offs. The Colorado Rapids let their grasp on the Supporters Shield slip, but Pablo Mastroeni has forged a side that doesnt lose often. They were guilty of drawing too many games in the regular season, but being able to not lose games can be more important than being able to win them in play-off football. GR

Dallas v Red Bulls. Theyre the two best squads in the league, and they should reach the final with relatively little problem. Colorado dont score enough objectives, LA and NYC FC are too flighty, and the likes of Philly and RSL just dont have enough quality. Seattle are probably the one dark horse, but expect a Dallas-Red Bulls final. TH

The MLS playoff format: good or bad?

Somewhere in between. I enjoy the two-legged format in the conference semis and final matches, but the final needs a make-over. I love Beau Dures notion of a mixed two-legged final match: it balances the playing field as well as rewarding the team with the best record. Heres another one for you , not totally unrelated: too many squads qualify for the playoffs lets make it eight instead of 12 so we can all go home sooner. It would also improve the quality of the league as a whole: fewer places mean tougher competition. LME

Good enough. The actual format is straightforward and fair, but the scheduling constructs it unnecessarily awkward. Why have midweek knockout games on two days rest between Decision Day and the start of the conference semifinals? It builds for tired players, which builds for worse games. And then the two-week international violate comes between the conference semi-finals and the conference finals, followed by a 10 -day break before the MLS Cup itself. The schedule is both too truncated and too spread out; there must be a better style to distribute the dates. GN

Good I think. MLS needs all the spectacle it can muster to describe mainstream attention, and the play-offs surely help it do that. Pitching the best squads against each other in a knockout format is what many wish the Champions League still was. The knockout round constructs it a little clunky, but other than that it runs. GR

Bad. Its neither one thing nor the other. Why play 34 matches per season only to have another six weeks to decide everything? Forget trying to ape the other big US athletics play-off formats: theres genuinely no need for this protracted postseason jamboree. How about the top two from each meeting play one another over two legs, and the wins face each other in a grand final on neutral territory? Easy. TH

Team you wish had attained it

Honestly , no one. The 12 heading to the playoffs are the most deserving, and if youre not one of them then you need to attain some serious changes. Chicago once again objective up dead last in the East and Portland, last years champions, failed to win a single game away from home. Thats merely not good enough. If anything I would like to induce that group smaller, but Ive already beaten that drum. LME

Kaka and Orlando City wont be participating. Photograph: Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/ AP

Orlando City. They only finished one point( and many tiebreakers) out of the playoff spots, but it would have been nice to see Jason Kreis get some measure of redemption after failing to get into last year with NYC FC. Although their defense wouldnt be organized enough for a deep run, their offense can be thrilling, and this might have been our last and merely chance to see Cyle Larin in the playoffs before he makes the rumored switch to Europe. GN

Portland. Its not much fun when the defending champs dont get the chance to defend their title. The Portland Timbers were denied that on Sunday, simply dedicating themselves too much ground to make up over the final few weeks of the regular season. At their best Caleb Porters side are among the most captivating in the league , not to mention the ambiance and fervour big games at Providence Park boast. The play-offs are worse off without them. GR

The 12 play-off teams are pretty strong, and theres no huge name missing from the party, although its perhaps disappointing that Portland wont be there to defend their title. Its a shame that Kaka hasnt constructed it, ditto the excellent Cyle Larin, but this group of 12 is penalty. TH

Player you wish had induced it

Diego Fagundez. On Decision Day, the first homegrown player in New England history scored a ridiculous free-kick, as the Revs objective the season with an impressive 3-0 win against Montreal. Fagundez who scored six goals this season is a tricky winger who appears set have a fantastic 2017 season. Also, losing Mauro Diaz to injury is a travesty for MLS, and not just Dallas. LME

In tight play-off games, a strong finisher who can also build his own opportunities is worth his weight in gold. I think David Accam, with nine goals and five assists and a better aims per 90 ratio than top tier MLS strikers like Chris Wondolowski, Yura Movsisyan, and Kei Kamara would thrive in the play-offs. Whether hell ever get there with Chicago is a different question altogether. GN

One of the greatest players of the past two decades has played in MLS for the past two seasons, and we have yet to see him in the play-offs. Kaka might not be the force he once was, but he remains one of the best things about North American soccer right now. Its a dishonor that once again he has been denied one final platform. GR

Kaka. His Orlando team are still a work in progress, but the Brazilian remains a shining star, even at 34 years old. His grace and lan will be missed. TH

One bold prediction

NYC FC will win it all. Once the play-offs start , nothing is off the table and Patrick Vieiras men, though still inconsistent at the back, are extremely dangerous going forward. No other team in the league scored more goals than NYC FC( 62) this year and if they are able maintain a strong defensive shape when they are away from home, who knows what could happen. LME

For the Philadelphia Union to cause an upset on the road against Toronto. TFC have Giovinco back, but have seemed far away from persuading with only one win in their last six. Philly is on an even worse operate of kind, with seven straight games without a win. Both of these squads have backed into the play-offs, and it is hard to see TFC winning it on star power alone. This might be one where home field is more of a curse than a bles, as the nervousness in the stands at BMO Field sometimes translates to the players on the pitch. Its a tall order for the Union, but not an impossible one. GN

Toronto FC to crash and burn. Much is expected of TFC this year, with Greg Vanney resulting the maligned club to their highest ever regular season finish. But while some sides are well-equipped to deal with play-off football TFC appear to be the opposite. They have conceded five times in their last two outings. If they are to finally make a post-season impression they must tighten things at the back. Otherwise their attacking prowess and Sebastian Giovincos brilliance will count for little. GR

LA Galaxy to lose at home to Real Salt Lake. LAs home form has been excellent all season, and RSL are generally rubbish on the road, but lets run big and bold: Jeff Cassars team to win this one. TH

The Eastern Conference final will be

The Hudson River Derby. Im going to be a romantic here and hope this happens. I havent seen anything from the Red Bulls that forces me to believe they shouldnt be there and as for NYC FC, yes I know, Ive been heavy on them today but guess what? The table doesnt lie. Quite simply, these are the best two teams in the East. LME

NYCFC v New York Red Bulls. The match-up that everyone wants, and the most probable one too, with merely a surging DC United looking like serious challengers to the New York teams. Gauging how good NYC FC actually is can be very hard, but their road form has been impeccable in 2016, which is always a good tool for a play-off team to have. However, when the Red Bulls get their pressing game right, there is not a squad in the league that can match them. We all know who holds the lead in this series, but look for NYCFC to opposed to the final whistle in an attempt to overturn their immensely painful record in this matchup. GN

Red Bulls v NYC FC. The conference final MLS head office has been waiting for. New Yorks two teams are the strongest in the East right and so theres no reason to believe this match-up wont come to pass on November 22 and November 30. MLS always wanted a second NY franchise to capitalise on the citys simmering soccer culture. This is the dream fixture to help that happen. GR

Everyone will pick this match-up, but its difficult to bet against a NYC FC-Red Bulls derby in the conference final: the pair from either side of the Hudson river have more going for them than anybody in the East. If Giovinco has a huge postseason Toronto could be in the mixture, but its hard to make a example for anyone else. Philly havent won in two months, Montreal are erratic, and DC absence quality. TH

The Western Conference final will be

Colorado Rapids v FC Dallas. Once again, Im pulling my predictable card, but the top two-seeded clubs in the west will also meet in the conference final. Even without Diaz, Dallas have just about enough to make it here and the Rapids have home-field advantage until they meet scars Parejas men. This one is a no-brainer. LME

FC Dallas v LA Galaxy. The Galaxy have blown hot and cold all year, and have been allowed to claim the No3 seed in the West more by default than by ability. Their track to the Conference final will have to go through Colorado on short remainder which is never easy but they have the canniest of coach-and-fours in Bruce Arena who knows how to grind it out. I expect FC Dallas to gallop through to the Conference final, and then blow past LAs tired legs, but this would be a fascinating matchup of the new and the old in the West. GN

Colorado v LA Galaxy. Knockout soccer should suit the Colorado Rapids perfectly, losing the joint-fewest games in the regular season. The LA Galaxy, on the other hand, are harder to call. They will have to make it from the knockout round all the way to the conference final, but with this likely to be a swan song for both Steven Gerrard and Landon Donovan( again) momentum and all that comes with it could be a factor. GR

Dallas v Seattle. Dallas are the strongest team in the West and they should reach the final with relative ease. I cant assure Sporting or RSL getting there, and I only have a feeling that Seattle could do something, especially if Nicolas Lodeiro and Jordan Morris continue their good form. TH

One player to build the difference

Giovinco. I havent mentioned Toronto FC merely because I guess the teams play-off chances heavily rely on his genius and the state of his fitness. Based on his 90 -minute performance this past Sunday, it seems that the Atomic Ant has finally shaken off his injury woes and is ready to help Toronto reach the MLS Cup Final for the first time in their history. The only issue for me is the workload, and whether the Italian superstar can withstand three matches in seven days. LME

Sebastian Giovinco should be fit to leading Toronto FC. Photo: John E. Sokolowski/ USA Today Sports

Nicols Lodeiro. He has been nothing short of phenomenal since he arrived in MLS, and will have to keep it up if Seattle are going to progress throughout the play-offs. He has vast tournament experience with Boca Juniors and Uruguay and will need to put the team on his back in the is a lack of Clint Dempsey. If his partnership with Jordan Morris starts to blossom in the knockout rounds, look for teams to human mark him in the later rounds in an attempt to neutralize him. Good luck. GN

Long considered the great white hope of homegrown American football Jordan Morris remains a raw and unpolished talent, but he has made quite the impression in his maiden MLS season. No rookie has scored as many game-winning objectives in one year. He has become the Seattle Sounders difference maker in Dempseys absence. GR

Sacha Kljestan. An excellent all-round midfielder whos had a really good season with the Red Bulls. He could lead Jesse Marschs team to the title. TH

Your 2016 MLS Cup winners

Colorado Rapids. In Leicester-esque fashion, Colorado will write the comeback narrative of the year. In 2015, Pablo Mastroenis humen finished dead last in the West, with only nine wins to their name. His undertaking was in jeopardy and the future seemed bleak. Fast forward to this year, and the 40 -year-old Argentinian American altogether changed the teams mentality and turned them into one of the best teams in the league. I only wish he grew his mustache back. LME

FC Dallas. The sentimental selection, but the correct one too, based on kind throughout the season and the fact that this young squad got a taste of the joy of winning a tournament with the US Open Cup. Mauro Diazs injury will present problems, but Dallas has learned to play without him through the years. An organisation with great chemistry and furious momentum, they will be hard to stop if they start getting into a groove. The allure of the treble will keep them motivated through the more brutal stretches, when teams will resort to cynical play to slow them down. Winning the treble would be a fantastic achievement, and one that this special squad deserves. GN

Everything is in place for the New York Red Bulls to finally claim the MLS Cup that has evaded them for so, so long. Jesse Marschs side have so far remained clear of any season-derailing traumata and with Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan sparkling brighter than most this year the Red Bulls have the individual talent and the tactical basis to prove themselves as genuine challengers this time around. GR

Red Bulls. They merely appear the best squad, and Im backing them to lift a first MLS Cup in their history. I often suppose objective change is a good show of a teams strength, and NYRBs total of +17 was the best in the league. Theyre strong and experienced, have the leagues best striker in Bradley Wright-Phillips, and I suppose Kljestan could attain the difference. Dallas should attain the final, but the Red Bulls will have too much. TH

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