Three Big Storylines:
- New York Red Bulls versus Toronto FC: Toronto FC set the all-time record for points in a single season this year with 69 points over 34 games, but after being the losing team in last year’s MLS Cup they know that regular season records only go so far. Win the Cup and they will go down as the best MLS team of all time, lose in the playoffs and they will be a historical footnote along the lines of the 116-win Seattle Mariners. The pressure will be immense for Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, who already have a spot in the historical (US Soccer) register this year as a footnote in a failed campaign. The Red Bulls come into this match with nothing to lose. They are the Eastern Conference’s No. 6 seed but demolished the No. 3 Chicago Fire 4-0 in Bridgeview to earn the chance to knock off the presumed MLS Cup favorites.
- Houston Dynamo versus Portland Timbers: The Houston Dynamo knocked out Sporting Kansas City 1-0 in 120 minutes on Friday night in a forgettable game in Houston played on a beat up field that adversely affected play all night long. The Dynamo finished the season with a stellar 12-1-4 (W-L-T) home record and a putrid 1-9-7 away record, so they know that even on short rest they need to get a result in Houston that that they can defend in Portland. The Timbers have the presumptive MLS MVP in Diego Valeri (21 goals, 11 assists) and are mostly healthy and rested coming into this match, with only Fernando Adi a question mark. With Houston’s backline short-handed, (A.J. DeLaGarza tore his ACL at the end of the season and Leonardo is a question mark after leaving the game on Friday,) look for the Timbers to try to get an away goal or three to take back to Portland.
- Columbus Crew SC versus New York City FC: It’s a spooky matchup for NYCFC after the Crew knocked out Cup favorites Atlanta United FC in penalty kicks in one of the most entertaining nil-nil matches in MLS playoff history on Thursday. Zack Steffen was immense in net for the Crew for all 120 minutes and PKs in a game that might be looked back upon as the moment Steffen became the “Next Great USMNT Keeper” and the presumptive heir to Tim Howard. NYCFC will feature their own “Next Great USMNT Keeper” in Sean Johnson who had a stellar campaign in the regular season. This game will be played with the spectre of Crew owner Anthony Precourt, who recently revealed plans to move the franchise to Austin, Texas. The #SaveTheCrew movement should be out in full force and may loom over the 90 minutes on the field.
From a Sounders Point of View:
The Seattle Sounders opened the Conference Semifinal round on Sunday night in Vancouver with a nil-nil draw. The return leg will be in Seattle on Thursday night, the first priority is to survive and advance from this round over the Vancouver Whitecaps.
The only team in the Eastern Conference that Seattle would host MLS Cup against is the New York Red Bulls. Go Energy Drinks!
If the Sounders survive, this space will be much more opinionated previewing Sunday’s MLS Triple Header of conference semifinal return legs. But pick your opponent, do you want to stay in Cascadia and have a rivalry match for a berth in MLS Cup but have to play the return leg in Portland? Or do you want home field advantage and a Houston Dynamo team that has been great at home and horrible away this year?
National TV Listings:
New York Red Bulls v Toronto FC
Date/Time: Monday, 4:00 PM
Streaming: Fox Sports Go
Houston Dynamo v Portland Timbers
Date/Time: Monday, 6:30 PM
Streaming: Fox Sports Go
Columbus Crew v New York City FC
Date/Time: Tuesday, 5:00 PM
Streaming: Watch ESPN
This is your Sounder at Heart MLS Cup Playoffs Conference Semifinals open gamethread. Watch with us.