MLS Playoffs

ASN previews and predicts the first round of the 2019 MLS playoffs

The postseason kicks off on Saturday and the MLS playoffs are often impossible to predict. That doesn't mean ASN's Brian Sciaretta won't give it a shot. As he will do over the course of the next month, here are his first wave of previews and predictions. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
October 18, 2019
8:00 AM
THE OPENING ROUND the 2019 MLS playoffs will take place all day on Saturday and Sunday. As with everything in this league, the results will be difficult to predict and it remains to be seen if the games will be entertaining, or will it be one-way traffic.

Here is a quick preview and a prediction for each of the games.

Atlanta United – New England Revolution

Saturday, October 19
1:00pm EST

Atlanta finished second in the Eastern Conference and is the league’s defending champion. Still, predicting an upset remains tempting. Until the all-star game, Atlanta’s players were not too enthusiastic about playing under Frank de Boer. Josef Martinez missed games towards the end due to an injury and now central defender Miles Robinson is out after picking up an injury on U.S. national team duty. As the defending champion, there is always the issue of complacency.

Meanwhile, New England has been playing well as of late and had its chances to upset Atlanta in the season finale before losing 3-1. Before that, it defeated New York City at home and drew Portland away.

But there is the Bruce Factor in this. The team completely turned its fortunes around when he replaced the faltering Brad Friedel. This seems like a type of stage where we can see Arena pulling off an upset and then basking in the spotlight.

Prediction: Picking an upset is understandable but I still believe Atlanta still has too much talent and Robinson’s injury seemed to suggest this team is angry about it (based on de Boer’s press conference on Thursday. It could be close, but I can’t bet against Martinez in this type of game

Atlanta 2-1 New England

Seattle Sounders – FC Dallas

Saturday, October 19
3:30pm EST

The Seattle Sounders are the deserved favorites heading into this match. While FC Dallas demolished Sporting Kansas City on Decision Day to seal a playoff berth, it is still hard to see them pulling an upset. Of course, many fans of U.S. Soccer have taken FC Dallas to heart with its massive footprint on U.S. youth national teams and its willingness to play young players, Dallas hasn’t been convincing on the road (just two points from its last six road games). Now it will have to play in one of the toughest home field advantages in the league.

It will be interesting to see how Dallas’ young players react. The club did not release Paxton Pomykal, Brandon Servania, or Jesus Ferreira to the U.S. U-23 team this past break to prepare for this game. Only Reggie Cannon left, but he went to the full U.S. team.

Also for Dallas, Zdenek Ondrasek should be feeling optimistic after scoring the game winning goal for the Czech Republic against England during the international window.

Dallas is certainly trending up. But this Seattle Sounders team is tough to bet against in the playoffs – especially when playing at home. The team has balanced scoring with the likes of Nicolas Lodeira, Jordan Morris, and Raul Ruidiaz. Seattle simply has so many different ways it can score.

Prediction: If FC Dallas wins this game, it would a remarkable statement. The team’s youthful approach is so endearing. But Seattle gives us no reason to think they won’t get it done.

Seattle 3-1 FC Dallas

Toronto FC – DC UNITED

Saturday, October 19
6:00pm EST

Jozy Altidore is listed as questionable for this game and that makes this game perhaps the hardest to predict of the entire first round.

DC United has looked like both solid and terrible at times this season. The team also came up completely empty on Decision Day when a simple win over a nine-man FC Cincinnati would have seen the club host the first-round game.

Toronto, meanwhile, relies heavily on Altidore and the drop-off between Altidore and Mullins is huge at center forward. Alejandro Pozuelo is going to have to put Toronto on his back.

Prediction: In a season where DC United has been impossible to predict, we’re going to almost baselessly say they’ll get it done. Bill Hamid has made some incredible saves down the stretch he’ll probably find a way to tip the balance again. Wayne Rooney’s time in the league is drawing to a close but perhaps this won’t be the final chapter and he’ll help DC United live to fight another day.

Toronto FC 0-1 DC United

Real Salt Lake – Portland Timbers

Saturday, October 19
10:00pm EST

Real Salt Lake earned the right to host this game after winning its last two games. But there are plenty of reasons to think Real Salt Lake is going to avoid the upset in this game.

For one, RSL has played well down the stretch after the dismissal of Mike Petke and under interim head coach Freddy Juarez. Second, RSL has a nice home field advantage where the altitude is high and the home support is dependable. Finally, RSL has many different ways to beat its opponents -
Damir Kreilach, Jefferson Savarino, Albert Rusnak are all tough to defend.

Meanwhile, Portland stumbled down the stretch, failed to take advantage of a 10-game homestand where it should have finished near the top of the table. It’s expensive forward Brian Fernandez is out of the picture after entering into the league’s substance abuse program (while also being suspended), and Diego Valeri’s contract negotiations have been a distraction. So Portland does not have a lot going for it.

It would take an upset for Portland to win this game and in addition to Valeri being at the top of his game, the club will need U.S. U-23 forward Jeremy Ebobisse to play up to his potential. One silver lining for Portland has also been the exceptional play of its goalkeeper Steve Clark in recent weeks.

Prediction: There are simply too many good reasons to think RSL will find its way to get it done. Yes, Portland does find ways to go on postseason runs, but the momentum is not there.

Real Salt Lake 2-0 Portland Timbers

Philadelphia Union – New York Red Bulls

Sunday, October 20
3:00pm EST

Last year’s Supporters Shield winners are a shell of their former selves. Manager Chris Armas has had his hands full this year. The front office did not adequately replace Tyler Adams. Father Time caught up to Bradley Wright-Phillips. Aaron Long, Kemar Lawrence, and Kaku were distracted by transfer rumors which all fell through.

Philadelphia, meanwhile, has had a lot go right this season and Jim Curtin has done a great job. It’s young central defenders answered the call. It had nice veteran leadership from Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin. Teenager Brenden Aaronson has been extremely impressive and forward Kacper Przybylko has scored some important goals.

Neither team can claim the momentum edge either. Philadelphia lost its last two games while the Red Bulls had a dreadful 3-0 loss to Montreal on Decision Day to blow its chances of hosting a first round playoff game.

The Red Bulls need its central defenders to step up and Tim Parker and Aaron Long have all the talent to do so. The potential loss of fullback Kyle Duncan is significant given how well he played down the stretch.

Philadelphia has never won a playoff game in its history and that is not a good thing. There is pressure on everyone to finally get it done. The Red Bulls have some players who are x-factors – players like Danny Royer and Josh Sims has been interesting since his arrival.

Prediction: This will be a close one but I have a sense the Red Bulls will find a way to get it done, barely. This team has been breaking the hearts of its fans since 1996. They’ll do it again during these playoffs, but not on Sunday.

Philadelphia 1-1 Red Bulls (Red Bulls win in a shootout)

Minnesota United – LA Galaxy

Sunday, October 20
8:30pm EST

Minnesota United is coming off a nice season where it finished in fourth place in the Western Conference. It earned this home game in the playoffs and Allianz Field will be an electric environment when Minnesota hosts the LA Galaxy.

For the Galaxy, there are two stories. Can Zlatan Ibrahimovic deliver a memorable performance? If he doesn’t, the Galaxy are likely done. The second is its defense. The Galaxy’s defense is the worst of any playoff team and has been playing poorly as of late. But can it find a way to give the Galaxy a fighting chance.

Minnesota is a well-balanced team that plays hard. It has the league’s Defender of the Year in Ike Opara. It has solid defensive midfielders and a decent attack with Darwin Quintero.

Prediction: There is a lot of pressure on Zlatan in this game because he’s the only player that can give the Galaxy a chance. Of course, the Galaxy has other big-name players like Cristian Pavon but it has never really clicked for this team. Zlatan has been a frequent critic of the MLS playoffs but the good news for him is that he might be over very soon.

Minnesota United 3-2 LA Galaxy

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