This is the first year of the new MLS playoff format, as the league expanded the playoff to 12 teams and include four teams from each conference in the knockout stage. In previous years, playoff spots were determined strictly by points, with teams “crossing over” for the playoffs, according to Soccer America.
New England and D.C. United kicks things off on Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. Los Angeles-Seattle follows that game, and then there are two games on Thursday with Toronto-Montreal kicking things off at 7:30, followed by Sporting Kansas City and Portland at 10 p.m.
The New York Red Bulls, Columbus Crew SC, along with FC Dallas and Vancouver Whitecaps, received byes into the conference semifinals. The teams will be reseeded following the knockout stage, with the top seeds playing the lowest surviving seeds and the conference runner-up taking on the other survivor. Both the conference finals and semifinals are two-game series. The MLS Cup championship game is slated for December 6.
The Red Bulls and FC Dallas both finished with identical 60 point records (18-6-10) and are the top seeds in the Eastern and Western Conference, respectively. However, ESPN’s Soccer Power Index gives the Red Bulls a 24 percent chance at claiming the title, while FC Dallas comes in at 19 percent.
Eastern Conference Knockout Stage:
No. 5 New England Revolution (14-8-12, 50) at No.4 D.C. United (15-6-13, 51 points)
United cost itself a first round bye and is just 2-1-6 in their last nine contests. They are coming off a 5-0 shutout loss to Columbus on Sunday.
United is the second lowest scoring of the teams remaining in the playoff, tallying 43 goals with 10 coming from team-leader Chris Rolfe. Goalkeeping is a strength for D.C. as Bill Hammid has come up with 101 saves this year, but United has been outscored 19-5 in the last eight games.
New England is just 2-3-1 in its last six, though the Revs earned a 3-1 victory over FC New York City in their last game, which snapped a four game-winless streak. Charlie Davis (10 goals) and Lee Nguyen (10 assists) leads the Revs offensively.
No. 6 Toronto FC (15-4-15, 49) at No. 3 Montreal Impact (15-6-13, 51)
Toronto FC is entering its first playoff appearance, having lost its last two games. But Sebastian Giovinco leads Toronto with a league-high 22 goals, and Michael Bradley as well as Jozy Altidore are on the team. Toronto has tallied 58 goals, but they also have surrendered 58 goals, which tied for the most given up in the MLS this season.
No. 5 Los Angeles Galaxy (14-9-11, 51) at No.4 Seattle Sounders (15-6-13, 51)
Los Angeles are the defending cup champions and have three of thee past four titles. The Galaxy had a chance to move up to the No. 2 seed in the conference but their loss to Sporting K.C. on Sunday prevented that from happening. Los Angeles won the regular season series 2-1-0 and outscored Seattle 5-2.
Robbie Keane (20 goals, eight assists) and Gio dos Santos lead the Galaxy offensively.
Seattle is undefeated in its last eight games (4-4-0). Obafemi Martins (15 goals) and Clint Dempsey (10 assists) leads the Sounders. The Sounders have recorded two shutouts and haven’t given up more than one goal in their last seven contests.
No. 6 Sporting Kansas City (14-9-11, ) at No. 3 Portland Timbers (15-8-11)
Sporting Kansas City have advanced to their fourth straight postseason playoff appearance, despite going 2-1-3 in their last six. Benny Feilhaber tallied 10 goals and assisted on 15 others to lead Sporting KC. Dom Dwyer, who has 34 goals since 2014, leads the teams with 12 tallies.
Portland is 3-3-3 in its last nine games and scored just seven goals in those games. Timbers attacker Darlington Nagbe enters the postseason as one of the hottest players in MLS, having notched three goals and an assist in his past two matches. Goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey recorded 13 shutouts which tied for first in the league.
Only of the three regular season games between the squads ended in a win for a team, which Sporting KC won 1-0. The other two matches ended in a 0-0 tie.
[Photo courtesy of Major League Soccer]