CLTFCPlayoffGuide

Updated November 3rd, 2022

For the first time since 2003, the number one seeds in both conferences will meet each other in the MLS Cup Final. Los Angeles FC and Philadelphia Union deservedly will be the protagonists of the 2022 MLS Cup Final on Saturday, November 5 at 4:00 pm ET on FOX and TUDN (at least I got one of the finalists right in my predictions). If MLS could have had a dream final, this would have been the one and we got it.

The two teams were fighting at the top for the Supporter's Shield throughout the regular season but LAFC managed to edge out the Union after Charlotte FC's 4 - 0 victory over them (you're welcome LA). Both finished with 67 points, the first time that both finalists collected more than 60 points in the regular season. It will be a clash of titans as both sides have been dominant in almost every facet this season. However, they contrast in the way they went about building their success.

Matchup Preview

LAFC living up to the city's reputation by bringing in star players, on high wages, and supplementing them with clever under-the-radar foreign acquisitions. They epitomize the modern attacking style of play with a fluid system that can break opponents down in possession but is even better at overwhelming in transition. They can beat you in multiple different ways, and one of those ways is just a moment of brilliance from the plethora of game-changers they have.

The Union is more one-dimensional, but they're incredibly effective in what they do best and that is being direct. They are a reflection of the blue-collar city they are in relying on hard defensive work and discipline to force mistakes from their opponents and punishing them by hitting a long ball in behind to quickly transition. Their superstar is not a singular player but rather the unit as a whole.

The home field will play a big factor in this match considering these have been a couple of the best home sides in all of MLS. Philadelphia is THE best home team as they've gone the whole season not losing a single match at home but that won't mean anything when they'll be the visitors in the final. LAFC's Banc of California will host the final where the home team has won their last 11 of 12 matches in. History does not favor the visiting team in the MLS Cup Final but hey, neither did it favor both number-one seeds reaching the final yet here we are.

So far the 2022 MLS Playoffs have not disappointed and I think the final will be no different. You have two MLS giants who have reached elite levels but used contrasting methods of sporting and recruitment philosophies to get there but neither has won MLS Cup in their history. LAFC looks like an unstoppable side that is primed to win it all but if there is anyone that can spoil the show in Hollywood it's the gritty, no-nonsense Philadelphia Union.

October 28, 2022

Welp, having a perfect bracket was fun while it lasted. We are now down to the final four teams in the MLS Cup playoffs: Los Angeles FC, Philadelphia Union, Austin FC, and New York City FC. For the first time in a while, I can honestly say that there are no underdogs in the Conference Finals. There is a real argument to be made for every one of these teams being more than capable of winning the MLS Cup.

LAFC goes up against one of the few Western Conference teams they couldn't manage to beat in the regular season, second-year club Austin. While the number one seed in the East, Philadelphia, will have a chance to get revenge against NYCFC who eliminated them at this stage last season. If the last round was incredibly difficult to predict, this one is near impossible with how evenly matched the sides are.

Los Angeles FC (1) vs Austin (FC)

3 - 0 Win for LAFC

Even though LAFC has been touted as favorites to win MLS Cup, a kryptonite of theirs in the regular season has been Austin. Back in the middle of May, LAFC was beaten by Austin 2-1 at home to them and then got routed in Austin with a 4 - 1 loss. They have had a difficult time of breaking down Austin but they have an opportunity to get their first win of the year against Austin in their most important matchup.

Los Verdes have been up to the task of LAFC all season long and there is no reason to think why they wouldn't be up for it again with bigger stakes on the line. However, the question becomes can Austin get a second win on the road against LAFC in the same year? Austin lost their last two away matches of the regular season in Seattle and Vancouver and have yet to play on the road in these playoffs. Both sides have history against them but these are the playoffs, so forget the past because the only thing that matters is what you do right now.

Philadelphia Union (1) vs New York City FC (3)

3 - 1 Win for the Union

The Eastern Conference final is a rematch of last season's. The Union will feel it is time to rectify what happened last season when NYCFC eliminated them last year when they were missing several key starters due to COVID protocol. This time around, the Union will have their full strength team along with the burning desire to get revenge and reach their first MLS Cup final. Not to mention that they still remain undefeated at home.

Even though Montreal completely outplayed them in the previous round, NYCFC did what the best teams do and that's winning ugly. NYCFC bouncing back from a poor stretch of games to come into the playoffs hot is reminiscent of their MLS Cup winning run last season. They've picked up momentum at just the right time and will look to repeat what happened last year. It's going to take something special to become the first team to beat Philly in their own stadium this year but if anyone look no further than the Pigeons.

October 20, 2022

There was never a doubt in my mind that I would go six for six in my MLS Cup Playoff predictions in the first round \nervous laugh\.

For the first time in my time watching this league, I got all my predictions right on who would advance into the conference semifinals from the first round. However, I'm afraid this is where my streak comes to end. The conference semifinals are STACKED with good teams that are all evenly matched. I would go as far as to say that these are the best slate of games for an MLS conference semifinal perhaps... ever?

Starting in the Western Conference, you have two heated rivalries duking it out for a spot in the conference finals. Los Angeles FC hosts LA Galaxy in the Hollywood rivalry that has been labeled fittingly as El Trafico. Then you have the Texas Derby, or whatever it's called, as MLS original FC Dallas faces second-year side Austin FC. In the East, Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin goes up against his former assistant, Pat Noonan who has spearheaded FC Cincinnati's remarkable year. Then the number two seed Montreal Impact will battle against the reigning MLS Cup Champions, New York City FC. So many juicy storylines and I honestly can't wait for the madness to begin tonight.

Philadelphia Union (1) vs FC Cincinnati (5)

1 - 0 Win for the Union

Things weren't looking good for Cincinnati 65 minutes into their match against the New York Red Bulls. The Red Bulls were doing an excellent job of stifling Cincinnati's attack by limiting touches to their star trio of attackers. FCC were down a goal and it didn't look like they were ever going to break down the well-organized Red Bull side. However, after being silenced all game, Cincinnati won a pen that Lucho Acosta buried in the 74th minute which breathed life into the team eventually leading the team to complete the comeback with an 86th minute goal from none other than Brandon Vazquez.

While Cincinnati are considered underdogs against the Philadelphia Union, they are one of the few teams in the conference that weren't beaten by the Union this season. They drew in Philadelphia and in their most recent encounter, thrashed them 3 - 1 at home but they're coming up against a Philly team that has not lost a single match at some this season. The Union are on a mission to prove that they aren't just a "great team" but a "championship team" according to their captain Alejandro Bedoya. This is Philadelphia's game to lose but Cincinnati is a legitimate threat that can't be underestimated.

Los Angeles FC (1) vs LA Galaxy (4)

3 - 2 Win for LAFC

Despite being younger than many other MLS rivalries, El Trafico has left us with some jaw-dropping matches in recent memory and so far never failed to live up to its expectations. These teams do not like each other, and the stakes of the match will just add more fuel to the fire. Galaxy lead the all-time series between the sides with six wins compared to LAFC's four. However, one of those wins for LAFC came in the one and only time these teams have met in the playoffs.

The Galaxy beat an uninspiring Nashville SC side comfortably in the first round but will come up against what is the complete opposite of a practical, rigid Nashville team. LAFC are dynamic, look to dominate possession, and are overflowing with attacking talent. They are the clear favorites to win MLS Cup, but if history has shown us anything it's that the Galaxy always rise to their rival's level when playing against them.

C.F. Montreal (2) vs New York City FC (3)

3 - 1 Win for NYCFC

These teams have no sort of rivalry but maybe we should make it a derby simply based on the fact that they're the two sides who play arguably the most beautiful brands of soccer in the league. La Beau Derby anyone? Anyways this is a fascinating matchup because both sides like to play positive, attacking soccer. I'm expecting an exciting, end-to-end match with a whole lot of scoring opportunities for both sides. Montreal will be at home but that's not so much of a factor against an NYCFC team that is all too used to playing outside of their home stadium. They don't even play in their own stadium when they are the home team.

Out of all the conference semifinal matchups this one is probably the most difficult of the matches to predict the winner of because it's two excellent teams who are in good form. Both teams completely outplayed their previous opponents and both have players who can single-handily win them games. Even though I predicted Montreal to go through, NYCFC do have an edge because of their experience in the tournament. They know what it takes to win MLS Cup and even though they lost their star striker Taty Castellanos in the summer they still have one of the best rosters in MLS.

Austin FC (2) vs FC Dallas (3)

2 - 1 Win for Austin

Look I'm not going to lie to you, the FC Dallas and Minnesota United game was one of the worst games I've ever had to watch. It was brutal but I can't say it was surprising. FC Dallas are rock-solid on defense and look to grind out 1 - 0 results. It's not pretty, but this style of soccer is suited to tournament competitions like the MLS Cup Playoffs. That's why I have Dallas getting past Austin and reaching the MLS Cup Final as crazy as it sounds but we've seen teams with similar styles prevail in tournaments around the world.

It also doesn't Austin's case when they struggled to get past seventh-seed Real Salt Lake City who played with a man down for over an hour and managed to hold out for a penalty shootout. I said in my preview of that match that Austin were going to need Sebastián Driussi and Brad Stuver at their very best to make a run in the playoffs and sure enough it was the two of them that carried their team into the conference semifinals. I expect Austin to control possession at home while Dallas sits back and absorbs pressure, waiting for an opening to strike on the counterattack. Both sides are evenly matched but only of them has a match-winner and that's Austin's Driussi. Everything will come down to whether Dallas can limit Driussi's impact on the game. If they can keep him quiet, they have a good shot of scraping together a win.

October 14, 2022

Look, I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I feel confident about how these Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs are going to go. I’ve followed this league religiously for ten years and to this day I still get predictions disastrously wrong. Nevertheless, that’s the beauty of Major League Soccer and why we love it.

These playoffs are no different. In fact, this is one of the years I’m most excited about because there are a lot of good teams. The league prides itself on parity and the tight race for playoff spots in both conferences (in which Charlotte FC’s late surge came up just short) all but epitomized that.

The bracket is set, and I look to bring some sort of clarity in this playoff preview heading into what should be another chaotic finale to the 2022 MLS season.

Eastern Conference

NY Red Bulls (4) vs FC Cincinnati (5)

2 - 1 Win for Cincinnati

After barely sliding into the playoffs last season, the Red Bulls improved their spot in the standings this year and are now hosting a playoff match. Their notorious high press has caused teams problems all season, leading to an NYRB team that has conceded the 4th least amount goals. Oddly enough, though, their inconsistency has come when playing at home. Homefield advantage may not be much of an advantage at all for the Red Bulls as they had a better record outside of Red Bull Arena this season.

Another surprise this season has been the unprecedented rise of F.C. Cincinnati. The three consecutive Wooden Spoon winners finished with 29 more points than they had in 2021 and a lot of that credit goes to first year head coach Pat Noonan. He’s been aided by breakout seasons from strikers Brandon Vazquez and Brenner with former D.C. United talisman Luciano Acosta having an MVP-caliber season behind them. These three stars have combined for 46 goals and 33 assists. Contrary to the Red Bulls, Cincinnati has all the attacking firepower, but their defensive fragility could be their downfall.

C.F. Montreal (2) vs Orlando City (7)

2 - 0 Win for Montreal

Normally Montreal would have been considered dark horses to win MLS Cup, but with their play in the regular season and the talent at their disposal, all headed by Wilfried Nancy who’s a candidate for MLS Coach of the Year, they are a legitimate contender. The key to their success will be Djordje Mihailovic and Romell Quioto who can both be match-winners. They’ll both need to be for Montreal to make a deep run.

As for Orlando, it was ugly, but they managed to claw their way into the playoffs. As a team, they don’t really have any prominent strengths. However, they do have one of the best young wingers in MLS in Facundo Torres. Orlando’s head coach, Oscar Pareja, said Torres has “carried the team” in the U.S. Open Cup and on Decision Day and the young Uruguayan will have to carry his team once again if they want to upset Montreal.

New York City FC (3) vs Inter Miami (6)

3 - 0 Win for New York City

How NYCFC’s 2022 season has panned out is parallel to that of their 2021 MLS Cup winning season. They started out really strong but had a bad run of games in the mid-to-late stretch of the season before picking up momentum heading into the playoffs. This team is still very much capable of winning MLS Cup, however injuries to 22 Under 22 winger Talles Magno, right back Tayvon Gray, and Alfredo Morales complicate things. Still, NYCFC has shown this season and the last that they are capable of overcoming injury woes to accomplish great things.

Miami feels like this season's destiny team. No one had Inter Miami in the playoffs heading into the season, and even less people (maybe no one) had an inspired Gonzalo Higuain leading the charge to do so after being benched early in the season. Higuain is retiring from soccer after this season, and it seems that the stars could be aligning for Miami to have a fairytale run in the playoffs.

Philadelphia (1)

The Union are a good team away from home, but they turn into an incredible team when they play in Subaru Park. They didn’t lose a single game there in the regular season. As the number one seed in the East, Philadelphia will be hosting at least every Eastern Conference match on their path to the MLS Cup Final. In addition to home field advantage, they boast one of the most balanced and deepest rosters in MLS with many players being the best in their positions in the league, including the two-time MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, Andre Blake.

They’ve had a clear system of play with a very good roster that is bought into head coach Jim Curtin’s vision but have never been able to make waves in the playoffs. The reason being? They didn’t have enough game changers on the offensive side, but this year, it’s different. Attacking midfielder Daniel Gazdag, who has 22 goals and 10 assists this season, is that game changer they have been missing. Gazdag isn’t alone as the team can also rely on the striker pairing of Julián Carranza and Mikael Uhre who have been brilliant additions to the team this season.

For all those reasons, the Union are the favorite to represent the Eastern Conference in the MLS Cup Final and potentially win it all. Not too bad of a bragging right for Charlotte FC who thrashed them four to zero at Bank of America Stadium just a few weeks ago.

Western Conference

L.A. Galaxy (4) vs Nashville SC (5)

1 - 0 Win for the Galaxy

The Galaxy are heading into the playoffs as the best version of themselves since the start of the season. The midfield additions of Gaston Brugman and Riqui Puig took an already solid team to another level. It’s also helped that Chicharito has found goal-scoring form with 11 goals in the last 11 games. However, it seems that he’s the only one finishing anything for them. The Galaxy have no problem creating scoring opportunities as they finished the season with the 4th highest Expected Goal total (xG). Their lack of clinical finishers and their transitional defensive are what limit the ceiling of this potentially elite team.

Nashville also only really has one reliable goal scorer, but he happens to be the favorite for this season’s Most Valuable Player award. Just when people thought Hany Mukhtar couldn’t get better after his breakout year in 2021, he one-upped himself with a 23 goal and 11 assist 2022 season. The German single handedly contributed to 65% of Nashville’s total goals this season (which is absolutely absurd!). With a top five MLS defense supporting him, if he can replicate his regular season form in the playoffs, Nashville has a real shot of being a dark horse to win it all.

Austin FC (2) vs Real Salt Lake City (7)

2 - 2 Draw Led to Penalty Shootout Win for Austin

Talk about a year two jump for Austin. After finishing second to last in the Western Conference in their inaugural season, they jumped up to second in the 2022 season. MVP candidate Sebastián Driussi and playmaker Diego Fagúndez have been their one-two punch on offense and Brad Stuver continues to come up big for their shaky defense. Since their 4-1 win against LAFC in late August, they have only won one match out of seven. Driussi and Stuver will have to be at their very best to avoid an upset against Real Salt Lake and to have a chance to win MLS Cup.

RSL are just one of those teams that is nearly impossible to analyze but somehow are back in the playoffs this season. It may be easy to shrug off this team, but let’s not forget this is the same one that upset the second ranked Seattle Sounders and third ranked Sporting Kansas City in the first two rounds of the 2021 playoffs. It was their defense that carried them then, and they will have to again because they lack any bite in the attack.

FC Dallas (3) vs Minnesota United (6)

2 - 2 Draw Led to Penalty Shootout Win for Dallas

When you think of defensive powerhouses in MLS you probably don’t think of Dallas being one of them... but, surprise surprise, they are. They have conceded the 2nd least number of goals in all of MLS, second only to the Philadelphia Union. What’s holding them back is a stale and predictable offense that lacks a true “put the team on his back” attacker. However, if they don’t concede and one of Jesús Ferreira, Paul Arriola, or Alan Velasco can find ways to sneak in a goal, it may just be enough to grind a deep playoff run.

Minnesota looked like they were one of the best teams in the West for large portions of the season until late August where they were winless in six straight matches. They were able to break that streak on Decision Day with a win against the Vancouver Whitecaps, but they still really only have one thing going for them heading into playoffs – Emanuel Reynoso. He’s been one of the best players in the league since his arrival in 2020. He has all the quality to carry his team but this time around it may be too heavy for even the likes of El Rey.

Los Angeles FC (1)

The City of Stars sure lived up to its name with some of their acquisitions this year. They bolstered an already stacked roster with Gareth Bale, Giorgio Chiellini, Dénis Bouanga, and Cristian Tello. But was it a mistake? None of their signings have really lived up to the hype and, if anything, have disrupted what seemed to be the unstoppable force that LAFC was up until late August.

Despite that bad run of six games in late August, LAFC still arguably has the best pound-for-pound starting eleven heading into playoffs. They have elite attacking talent, a balanced midfield containing potential MLS Best XI players, and a backline that conceded the third least number of goals in all of MLS. This team won the Supporter’s Shield and many would say it’s their MLS Cup to lose. But this is Major League Soccer baby, and the number one seeds aren’t guaranteed a thing in playoffs.

In fact, the only number one seed that has made the MLS Cup Final since 2012 is the 2017 Toronto FC team that went on to win it. If history has shown us anything, it’s that you could bet on the number one seeds not reaching the final. Still, if there is one team that could flip the script, it’s LAFC.

Even though you shouldn’t put any weight whatsoever on my MLS predictions I’m going to share them anyway. Feel free to clown me on Twitter and let me know why you think I’m wrong.