MLS Cup Playoffs: Schedule, Storylines, Semifinal Scenarios

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The MLS regular season is eight, long months; but, a few playoff berths didn’t come to fruition until the season finale. For the others, their seeding in the postseason was decided. Sunday proved to be one of the best MLS regular season finishes in history. The Houston Dynamo and New England Revolution clinched a playoff spot with wins; Colorado had already earned a berth, but fell in the standings after a loss to the Whitecaps dropping them to the fifth seed and forcing the team to play in the knockout round. In that game, Camilo Sanvezzo took the league’s Golden Boot, awarded to the MLS regular season leading scorer. The New York Red Bulls earned a trophy of their own, clinching a number one seed and the Supporters’ Shield for the best regular season record.

The first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs starts tomorrow with the fourth and fifth seeds of each Conference facing off in the knockout round. The one, two, and three seeds of each conference have a bye and automatically qualify to the Semis. The winners of the knockout round will advance to the Conference Semifinals to play the No. 1 seed in their respective Conferences (the two and three seeds play each other). The Semis consist of two legs, two games total. The higher seed will play their first game away and the second at home. The team with the most goals in the two games combined advances to the Conference Finals that has the same format. The eighteenth MLS Cup Playoffs culminates with the MLS Cup Final on December 7, in which the finalist with the better regular season record will earn home-field. In the past, the Championship was held at a predetermined neutral site. Unlike the Conference Semifinals and Finals, the MLS Cup Final is just one game.

The top storyline heading into the playoffs is whether or not the Los Angeles Galaxy will three-peat. It has never been done in the history of MLS but the Donovan-led squad will give it a shot in their first year without David Beckham. As the third-seed in the West, a lot rides on the health of the league’s all-time scoring leader and MLS Cup 2012 Man of the Match, Omar Gonzalez. Both are expected to play through the pain and welcome the week off that the team earned before the playoffs start. The duo can thank Robbie Keane for his goal in the season finale for the team’s third place standing which allowed for the time off; Keane is considered the best player in the MLS Cup Playoffs by many.

After 18 years in the league, the New York Red Bulls earned their first Supporters’ Shield in franchise history this season. Because the Red Bulls earned the trophy after boasting the best regular season record, many have penciled them into the Final. While NY has no doubt earned the title of favorites after a two month undefeated streak, it’s important to note that only six Supporters’ Shield winners have won the MLS Cup. And this season, the ten playoff teams are separated by just 10 points in the standings which makes for a competitive race. Red Bull stars Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill both played a significant role in New York’s win over Chicago Sunday; both will be leaned on this postseason to find the back of the net and give New York their first Cup, ever. The best analogy we found to describe the duo came from the New York Post:

“Thierry Henry might be the ace of the Red Bulls, but Tim Cahill is increasingly becoming their heart. Henry, the World Cup-winning French superstar, is the team’s captain, but the hard-working Aussie is clearly their talisman.”

New York opened the season against Portland, is that how they’ll finish it?

The most expensive semifinals round is a potential Sounders vs. Timbers matchup. If Seattle can overcome Colorado in the knockout round, expect to pay a pretty penny for the Pacific Northwest matchup. The teams make up the league’s biggest rivalry, the stadiums regularly sell out during the season, and given the relatively close proximity, traveling to the other stadium is no problem. In fact, it was just released that for the fifth straight year, the Sounders set an MLS attendance record by averaging 44,038 fans per game at CenturyLink Field. The game would have more than just a regional draw as well; soccer fans want to see U.S. national team captain Clint Dempsey compete for a title. The league’s highest-paid player scored his first goal since returning to MLS, Sunday night, against the Galaxy. But the bigger question here is: Can Seattle turn around their late season fall? The Sounders have not won a game since September 13th. Tickets to the impending 11/2 Western Conference Semifinals game in Seattle start at $37 while prices for the Western Conference Semifinals game in Portland (Date: TBD) range from $66 – $147.

MLS Playoff Schedule

UPDATE (10/30): Complete MLS Playoff Schedule Announced
MLS Cup Playoff Schedule

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