MLS Playoffs Eastern Conference Roundup
The First Round of the MLS Playoffs will come to a close on Tuesday, with the final matchups for the Eastern Conference being decided on Friday night. Out of the 18 teams that started the playoffs, we are down to 11 teams left after the weekend games.
As we come into the final games from Round 1 on Tuesday, let's take an updated look at the field after an extremely close weekend of games.
MLS Playoffs Play-in Round
New England Revolution 2, Montreal Impact 1
Nashville SC 3, Inter Miami 0
MLS Playoffs Round 1
Orlando City 1, NYCFC 1 (Orlando City 6-5 on penalties)
Columbus 3, New York Red Bulls 2
Sporting KC 3, San Jose 3 (Sporting KC 3-0 on penalties)
Minnesota 3, Colorado 0
FC Dallas 1, Portland Timbers 1 (FC Dallas 8-7 on penalties)
With the Play-in Round of the MLS Playoffs being completed on Friday, the matchups are now set for the last few games of the Eastern Conference first round. We preview the Tuesday night games as we look to see the first and second seeded teams in their first games.
#2 Toronto FC vs. #7 Nashville SC
Start time: 6:00 PM EST
With the two expansion teams in the MLS matched against each other in the Play-In Round, it was inevitable that we would see a first year team advance in the MLS Playoffs. Nashville SC was the stronger of the new guys, beating Inter Miami 3-0 on Friday.
Nashville finished in a respectable seventh spot in its first season in the league with an average 8-8-7 record, and will have its biggest challenge yet on Tuesday. The game will be another first for the team, as the two teams have never played each other.
On the opposite side of the field will be the #2 seed Toronto FC, finishing with the second highest number of points in the MLS, three behind Philadelphia. The team has finished second by managing to win its close games this season.
Despite the records this season, each of these two teams come into this game in different form. Nashville have grabbed 11points from the past seven games, and are riding high on confidence after decisively winning its first playoff game. Look for a closer matchup than it would appear on paper.
Looking to Solidify Their Record Against a New Opponent
By chance of scheduling along with 2020 being Nashville’s first MLS season, these two teams will be meeting for the first time. The rest of the season has been excellent for Toronto, finishing second in the MLS with 44 points.
During which Toronto only lost five games out of the 23 played. While defensively the team has looked a little shaky, the team has made up for it with consistent offense. Toronto has only failed to score at least one goal in three games this season.
The thanks mainly goes to midfielder Alejandro Pozuelo, who has had an excellent season. Pozuelo has directly contributed to more than half of Toronto’s goals this season, finishing on top of the leaderboards with nine goals and ten assists.
Nashville has a similar story to Toronto this season, finishing with a goal difference of four. However, the team has only allowed 22 goals this season, among the lowest in the conference and shutting out Miami in the play-in round. Toronto will need Pozuelo and Ayo Akinola to help open the game up against a stingy Nashville team.
Keeping the Dream Alive in Nashville
Nashville is now decisively the more successful of the two new expansion teams this season. The team has come into the MLS and competed well, earning the seventh spot and decisively beating Inter Miami 3-0 in the play-in round of the MLS Playoffs.
Unlike fellow expansion team Inter Miami, Nashville has played consistently throughout the season, implementing a very defensive style of soccer. The team has only allowed 22 goals against them this season, which is the second lowest in the MLS.
Defense will again play a big role as the team looks to shut down the Toronto offense, most notably Pozuelo and Akinola. American centre back duo Walker Zimmerman and David Romney should be up to the task, having played brilliantly all year.
This game will likely start off slowly, as the two teams feel each other out for the first time. Nashville is coming off of an exhilarating win however, and will now look to go even further by taking out the second seed.
Two of the team’s top scorers in Hany Mukhtar and Randall Leal both scored again vs. Inter Miami, and will carry that confidence and form into Tuesday night.
#1 Philadelphia Union vs. #8 New England Revolution
Start time: 8:00 PM EST
2020 Previous Matchups:
7/25: Philadelphia 1, New England 0
8/20: Philadelphia 0, New England 0
9/12: Philadelphia 2, New England 1
10/19: Philadelphia 2, New England 1
11/8: Philadelphia 2, New England 0
New England came into the MLS Playoffs as the eighth place team in the Eastern Conference. The team played the first game of this year’s tournament as part of the Play-In Round, winning 2-1 over Montreal.
The team looked in control most of the game over an Impact team that it has thoroughly dominated this season, but failed to finish many of the chances they were given. The final breakthrough came on a goal in the 95th minute by forward Gustavo Bou.
Revolution stars Bou and midfielder Cales Gil provided the Revolution with the two goals. On Tuesday at 8:00 PM, New England will face the toughest opponent on paper in the Eastern Conference.
The Philadelphia Union have been outstanding this season, winning the Supporters Shield by finishing first in the entire MLS on points with 47. The team has done this with a goal difference of 24, allowing less than half the goals than it has scored on opponents.
Philadelphia Union: Best in the MLS
The winners of the 2020 Supporters Shield and a team who have dominated the league throughout losing only four times in the 2020 season. Right now might be the most dangerous time to play them, with the team losing only twice in the last 14 games.
Philadelphia has not lost against New England all season, winning or drawing each of the five games against them. This combined with the current form of the team and a home game makes them a near impossible giant topple.
Neither scoring goals nor defending has been a problem for the Union this season, as the team also boasts the best goal differential in the league at 24. Against a New England team that only scored twice in the five games against them, defense will again be a top priority on Tuesday.
Both midfielder Anthony Fontana and forward Sergio Santos have scored multiple times against New England this season and will look to add another game to that tally. With the Revolution only scoring two goals against the Union all season, a striker from either Fontana or Santos could be decisive.
New England's Path to Victory
These teams also know each other very well having played five times in all competitions this year. Unlike against Montreal, this is not particularly good news for the New England Revolution. Out of its five games against Philadelphia, the team has lost four and drawn once.
Even worse, the Revolution have only managed two goals from each of the five games, not scoring in three of them. If the Revolution is to waste chance like it did against Montreal on Friday, we could be looking at a similar result.
Thus, the main two things the Revolution will need to focus on are scoring a goal quickly and cutting out any mistakes. Both a red card and an own goal were decisive parts of two losses against Philadelphia this year.
Against the best team in the MLS, New England cannot afford to make any mistakes. The Revolution attack will also need to finish any chances it is given. The team will look to leaders Bou, Gil and Bunbury to net the team a couple of goals at least.