Major League Soccer
Toronto and L.A. Should Prevail in Do-or-Die Games
October 26, 2016
Toronto FC - Philadelphia Union
The 2016 MLS playoffs will kickoff Wednesday night north of the border when Toronto FC hosts the Philadelphia Union (7:30pm ET, ESPN2) in the first knockout game of the postseason. As of now, all the momentum favors the hosts which boast a first-rate attacking duo of Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco.
The game should not be close. Philadelphia faded badly down the stretch and ended the season winless in its last seven. Despite the addition of U.S. international Alejandro Bedoya, the club has come apart at the seams
Keys to a Toronto FC win: When a team is heavily favored, the worst thing it can do is let the underdog hang around. Toronto needs to be explosive in the attack, finish well, and put Philadelphia out of the game early. In the midfield, Michael Bradley must outperform Bedoya and control the center of the field and play the forwards into dangerous positions that expose Philadelphia’s backline.
Keys to a Philadelphia Union win: Multiple players must have their best game in at least several months. Bedoya needs to be a leader and combine well with Chris Pontius who was the Union’s best player this year. C.J. Sapong hasn’t scored since August 13 and his lack of finishing was a big part of Philadelphia’s collapse. But the true key will be goalkeeper Andre Blake, who might be the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, and his young backline. They must play to their potential to stop Toronto’s potent offense.
Prediction: Toronto takes care of business at home with a convincing 3-0 win.
Los Angeles Galaxy - Real Salt Lake
The five-time champion Los Angeles Galaxy will bring a wealth of experience to this postseason, including, of course, Landon Donovan who rejoined the team in September after nearly two years of retirement. While the Galaxy won just once in its last five games, it still has the best goal differential (+15) of any Western Conference team and has the experience edge over a Real Salt Lake squad that was winless in its past seven (three draws, four losses) and faded to the sixth seed in the conference.
Home field advantage should factor heavily into this game (10:30pm ET, UniMas) and Real Salt Lake has lost five straight games away from Rio Tinto. The Galaxy will be motivated and energized at home and boast many players who have been on this stage, and far bigger stages, many times before.
Keys to a LA Galaxy win: The most important player for the Galaxy in the post season is Jelle Van Damme as the Belgian has been a rock in the backline and has really bailed the Galaxy out of many dangerous opportunities. At this stage, any team can pull off a win and Van Damme will likely need to work more magic to avoid RSL goals against the run of play.
Of course injuries have plagued the Galaxy this year with Steven Gerrard and Gyasi Zardes not being able to contribute during the second half of the season and Robbie Keane missing most of the last month. But that will force others into the spotlight. Now six weeks into his comeback, can Donovan thrive in the spotlight he loves? If Keane is healthy for this game, what level is he at? The most responsibility in the attack falls to Giovani Dos Santos who is the most healthy and talented Galaxy offensive threat at the moment. These are the type of games he was brought in to win.
Keys to a Real Salt Lake win: The Galaxy is dealing with injuries, so if Real Salt Lake wants to shake its slump, there should be openings. First, the defense must contain Dos Santos. This will be the biggest test in the young career of U.S. U-20 central defender Justen Glad who has emerged as a mainstay on the team. On the flip side, Jamison Olave has shown signs of aging and will need to turn back time to keep Real Salt Lake involved. The same holds true for Nick Rimando, who still remains a highly competent keeper (and if this game goes to a shootout, Rimando will make Salt Lake the favorite at that point).
In the attack Joao Plata and Yura Movsisyan will have to finish their chances. The Galaxy should maintain a possession edge but Plata and Movsisyan will get opportunities and their ability to convert could be a deciding factor in the event of an upset.
Prediction: This game will be closer than some might think but I believe the Galaxy will find a late winner in a 2-1 victory. I will also predict that this will be an exciting and entertaining one to watch.