The Audi 2020 MLS Playoffs begin Friday night, which means it’s time for another daring/foolhardy stroll out on to the predictions limb.
After a home stretch that included squad rotations as piled on top of the standard MLS unpredictability, I’m actually relieved that the postseason is here. Everyone has the same aim and everyone will go with their best available lineups.
It’s a good thing, too, as I have some face-saving work to do. The last two weekends of the season saw me annoyingly finish under break-even, in large part thanks to being felled repeatedly by result-altering and waning-moments goals. The number of games that saw late strikes that cost me wins over these two rounds? Five. The number of late goals that rescued a result for me? One. Woof.
As you’d expect, I’ve got a heart and mind consumed by revenge. Let’s get down to brass tacks for both the weekend’s Round One action.
New England Revolution vs. Montreal Impact
Fri., Nov. 20 (6:30 pm ET | FS1 in US; TSN 1/4, TVA Sports in Canada)
While the Revs have often played better than their roller coaster results, you can thank Philadelphia and Toronto FC for a lot of that (New England went a combined 0-4-2 against that duo). Thierry Henry’s visitors scrambled into the playoffs at the last moment, but lack the structural solidity of the Revs. With Carles Gil back to exploit the leakiest defense in the East, I’m going with a 2-0 New England win.
Nashville SC vs. Inter Miami CF
Fri., Nov. 20 (9 pm ET | ESPN2, ESPN Deportes in US; TSN 1/5, TVA Sports in Canada)
Led by Defender of the Year Walker Zimmerman, the hosts have the edge at the back. Inter Miami have the more advanced weaponry in attack, but now look set to be without Gonzalo Higuain. With him potentially missing, I’ll have to revise my original prediction here. Randall Leal and Daniel Rios are heating up at just the right time to spark a 2-1 Nashville SC victory.
Orlando City vs. New York City
Sat., Nov. 21 (12 pm ET | UniMas, TUDN in US; TSN 1/4, TVA Sports in Canada)
This is among the harder games to call. The Lions have proven they’re for real, and are especially tough to beat at home. On the other side, NYCFC are as structurally sound as any team in the league now that Maxi Moralez and Taty Castellanos have heated up. They’ve won four in a row, and have a +13 goal differential over their last 10 matches. It says here that the teams reach a tense 1-1 draw that sends it to penalties, where Orlando City extend their magic season to advance.
Columbus Crew vs. New York Red Bulls
Sat., Nov. 21 (3 pm ET | UniMas, TUDN in US; TSN 1/4, TVA Sports in Canada)
It must be said that the Crew have struggled to regain top form since September. Meanwhile, we know the Red Bulls will scrape and claw until the final whistle. It may seem like I’m hinting at an upset, but this is just a classic misdirection. Caleb Porter has the horses and it’s time they resume full gallop. There will be no last-gasp Red Bull heroics in a tidy 2-0 Columbus victory.
Sporting KC vs. San Jose Earthquakes
Sun., Nov. 22 (4 pm ET | FS1, FOX Deportes in US; TSN 3/5, TVA Sports in Canada)
The Quakes will likely feel confident after closing the season on a 6-3-1 run that included two wins over LAFC. They might take hope from the fact that Sporting Kansas City‘s Alan Pulido and Gadi Kinda are in heavy doubt for this game. However, San Jose have only won once in their last 15 trips to Kansas City, who have solid back-ups in case those two aces must sit out again. This one looks like a 3-1 Sporting KC victory.
Minnesota United vs. Colorado Rapids
Sun., Nov. 22 (7:30 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes in US; TSN 3/5 in Canada, TVA Sports)
Perhaps no club was as relieved that the use of charter flights will allow most returning internationals to jump right into the playoff swing as the Loons. Jan Gregus and Romain Metanire are vital cogs in their machinery, while Robin Lod has six goals to go with five assists in his last dozen games and Kei Kamara is their lone healthy striker. Without these guys, the warming Rapids might look like favorites. As it now stands, they look a lot more like the impending latest victim of a team that rarely loses at Allianz Field. A selection crisis averted means a first ever playoff win, Minnesota United 2-1.
Portland Timbers vs. FC Dallas
Sun., Nov. 22 (10 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes in US; TSN 3/5, TVA Sports in Canada)
Typically as full of fight as anybody in the league, the Timbers should have a little extra because Diego Chara will be fully rested after sitting out closing day. That doesn’t bode well for FC Dallas, who need Andres Ricuarte to be their main spark plug. Nor does how FC Dallas have managed one win in 11 competitive tries at Providence Park. Nor does the fact that Yimmi Chara and Diego Valeri have combined for nine goals and 13 helpers in the last 16 games. You get the idea… 3-1 Portland.
Seattle Sounders vs. LAFC
Tue., Nov. 24 (10:30 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes in US; TSN 1/4, TVA Sports in Canada)
This is obviously a tough one to call, especially with LAFC sure to be overflowing with motivation. It’s a shame that we must lose one of these titans so early in the playoffs. In the final analysis, four factors leaned me to one side. First, Diego Rossi‘s COVID-19 diagnosis won’t just cost Bob Bradley the Golden Boot man’s attack prowess, it should allow Kelvin Leerdam more license to get forward. On the other flank, Nouhou has the wheels to at least slow down Carlos Vela. Up that same side, I can’t see any LAFC right back that can handle Jordan Morris. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Nico Lodeiro has had time to recharge his batteries. This is my long and winding way of picking a 3-2 Seattle triumph.
Toronto FC vs. New England Revolution
Tue., Nov. 24 (6 pm ET | FS1, FOX Deportes in US; TSN 1/4/5, TVA Sports in Canada)
The Reds have tons of playoff experience, but injuries down the stretch have dulled their offensive output (multiple goals scored just once in their last eight). Do they have enough time to get all of Jozy Altidore, Marky Delgado, Jonathan Osorio and Pablo Piatti into prime working order? “Outlook not so good,” says the Magic 8-ball. And yet, I can’t help but think that New England doesn’t have anyone to contain Alejandro Pozuelo. It won’t be easy, but a 2-1 Toronto FC victory gives them more time to gain fitness before they tackle a prime contender.
Philadelphia Union vs. Inter Miami CF
Tue., Nov. 24 (8 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes in US; TSN3, TVA Sports in Canada)
Dating back to last season, the Supporters’ Shield winners have won nine straight at home by a combined 24-4 count. The Herons have it in them to give them a fight, but the Union‘s balance of strength all over the field will be too much when all is said and done. I foresee Inter Miami eventually worn down in a 3-1 Philadelphia win.