2020 MLS Cup Playoffs Preview

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Graphic made by Andrew Hale

Andrew Hale, Assistant Sports Editor

After 265 days, the MLS Cup Playoffs have arrived. Major League Soccer opened their 2020 season on Feb. 29 with the plan to start the MLS Cup Playoffs on Aug. 11 and award the MLS Cup to the champion on Oct. 4. Like most things in 2020, that did not happen with the postponement of the season coming on March 11.

It wasn’t until July 8 that the MLS finally got back on the field – the first “major” sport to do so – in a Disney World bubble in Orlando, Florida.

With this bubble, the MLS did something that no other sports bubble did. Instead of resuming the season on July 8, every MLS team participated in the MLS is Back Tournament, an in-season tournament that didn’t affect regular season standings.

The bubble was not perfect though. Both Nashville SC and FC Dallas had to be removed from the tournament due to major outbreaks in each respective team before the tournament even started. As innovative as the MLS is Back Tournament was, it was probably too soon to have close-contact sports back.

Nonetheless, the MLS is Back Tournament was ultimately a success with the remainder of the games being played out in its entirety. After the Portland Timbers defeated Orlando City SC in the MLS is Back Tournament Final on Aug. 11, the regular season resumed the very next day on Aug. 12.

For the remainder of the season, teams played in their home stadiums aside from Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact, who couldn’t play in Canada due to Canadian COVID-19 guidelines. The prolonged 2020 MLS regular season came to a close on Nov. 8.

Now that we have come full circle, it is time to preview the first round of the 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs.

Eastern Conference Play-In Round (Nov. 20)

#8 New England Revolution vs #9 Montreal Impact

The 8-8-7 New England Revolution, who are making their second consecutive postseason appearance, have a tough matchup against the 8-2-13 Montreal Impact who clinched their playoff ticket in the last game of the regular season. 

Many playoff games are fueled by home field advantage, but the Revolution have gone just 2-5-3 at Gillette Stadium.

In the four matchups between these teams during the regular season, the Revolution won the season series 3-0-1. 

The big focus point in this matchup is the Impact’s defense. Montreal has given up 43 goals and have only scored 33 themselves. If the Revolution can get out to a quick start, this game could be over quickly.

#7 Nashville SC vs #10 Inter Miami CF

This matchup will feature two of the newest and most exciting expansion teams in the MLS. Inter Miami started the season off very slow as they went winless in their first five games, but they finished the season 7-3-13 to grab a playoff spot.

Nashville played surprisingly well in their inaugural season, finishing with a record of 8-8-7.

In these teams’ two previous matchups, Nashville just barely outdid Inter Miami, winning the first game by a score of 1-0. The second game ended in a 0-0 draw.

Nashville’s Walker Zimmerman was awarded MLS Defender of the Year, so Inter Miami’s offense will have to be explosive in order to pull off their first playoff win in their MLS Cup Playoff debut. 

Western Conference: Round One (NOV 22 & 24)

#1 Sporting Kansas City vs #8 San Jose Earthquakes 

12-3-6 offensive powerhouse Sporting KC will be taking on the 8-6-9 San Jose Earthquakes, who are appearing in their 10th postseason game and their first since 2017.

The Earthquakes have struggled quite a bit defensively, allowing 51 goals throughout the season. As for Sporting KC, they have scored 38 goals and have just allowed 25. 

These teams have yet to meet, so it should be intriguing to see how they go about their vastly different gameplans. If the Earthquakes look to pull off the upset, they can’t afford to allow many goals and must play their best defensive game of the season.

#4 Minnesota United FC vs #5 Colorado Rapids

The 9-7-5 Minnesota United, who are playing in their second playoff game in franchise history, are taking on the 2010 MLS Cup Champion Colorado Rapids, who finished the season with a record of 8-4-6.

This young but talented Minnesota team is coming into the playoffs rested, having clinched a playoff spot on Oct. 29. However, they should not underestimate the Rapids. Colorado won three of their last four games with the one loss coming to Minnesota by a score of 1-0 in their only meeting of the season.

Minnesota must continue being successful on the offensive side of the ball and must be prepared for the sneaky Colorado Rapids. 

#3 Portland Timbers vs #6 FC Dallas 

The 2015 MLS Cup champions and the MLS is Back Tournament champion Portland Timbers will be facing one of the ten original charter clubs in FC Dallas.

In the past two years, the Timbers have fared very well in the playoffs advancing again to the MLS Cup in 2018.

The 11-6-6 Portland Timbers will have a tough defensive test on their hands against 9-7-6 FC Dallas, who have only given up 24 goals during the regular season. 

If Portland looks to continue their reign in the Western Conference, they will have to continue to do what they do best, which is score goals. As for FC Dallas, they must stay stout on defense and stop the Timbers’ offensive threats.

#2 Seattle Sounders FC vs #7 Los Angeles FC

This matchup between the 11-6-5 Seattle Sounders and 9-5-8 LAFC has the chance to be the most exciting and action-packed game of the first round. 

The Sounders are an offensive powerhouse having scored 44 goals and only allowing 23 goals, but the 9-5-8 record of LAFC seems to be overlooked because they have scored even more goals (47) than the Sounders.

LAFC’s key players are Diego Rossi, who won the inaugural MLS young Player of the Year award, and MLS Comeback Player of the Year Bradley Wright-Phillips. If Seattle shuts those two players down, they could roll through LAFC. You should expect to see a high-scoring shootout that could go in favor of either team.

Eastern Conference: Round One (Nov. 21 & 24)

#1 Philadelphia Union vs Lower-seeded play-in winner

The Philadelphia Union, the 2020 Supporters’ Shield winners, finished the season on top of the MLS with the most points along with a 14-5-4 record and an outstanding +24 goal differential!

If you couldn’t tell already, the Union are the favorites to win the MLS Cup. The entire season has been a collective effort from the players and 2020 Coach of the Year Jim Curtin.

No matter who advances to play the Union, they will have a tough cliff to climb in order to pull off a miraculous upset.

#4 Orlando City SC vs #5 New York City FC

In 2020 Orlando City had their best season as a team, finishing with a record of 11-8-4 and clinching their first ever playoff appearance plus home field advantage in the playoffs. Orlando City SC was also the runner-up to Portland in the MLS is Back Tournament this summer.

NYFC also had a nice season themselves, finishing 12-3-8 with scoring 37 goals and only giving up 25.

In the second half of the season Orlando City went 12 games without being beaten, and got a lot of productivity out of rookie Daryl Dike who scored eight goals and assisted two this season.

These two teams are very similar. Both NYC and Orlando City came into the MLS in 2015, making them relatively newer teams. They both have new head coaches in Ronny Deila (NYCFC) and Óscar Pareja (OCSC).

If Orlando City can continue to get good minutes out of stars like Chris Muller, Luis Nani and Daryl Dike, they could be an extremely dangerous team in the MLS Cup Playoffs.

#3 Columbus Crew SC vs #6 New York Red Bulls

It has been over 12 years since the Crew have won the MLS Cup Championship, and over five years since they have gotten to the final game. In their 24-year history, they have always been in contention, but can’t exactly get over the hump.

This year looks as good as ever for them to make another run having finished with a record of 12-5-6 and having a +15 goal differential throughout the course of the regular season. 

The Red Bulls did not have as good of a season, but still a respectable one, posting a record of 9-5-9 and a -2 goal differential.

The Red Bulls absolutely cannot allow the Crew to get off to a hot start if they look to pull off the upset and make some noise in the playoffs.

#2 Toronto FC vs Higher seeded play-in winner

Toronto FC, who played home games in Hartford, Connecticut for the second half of the season, will play host to the higher seeded play-in winner starting on Nov 24.

Toronto just missed out on a second championship in three years in 2019 after losing to the Seattle Sounders in the MLS Cup final.

13-5-5 Toronto FC isn’t the most offensively gifted team, but they will have another great chance at appearing in back-to-back MLS Cup Finals if they continue to come out on top in close scoring games. 

More than likely Toronto FC won’t be blowing teams out of the water, but they must be solid on both sides of the ball.