A dramatic and action packed MLS Decision Day has now capped off an eventful regular season and now the race begins to claim the 2018 MLS Cup. New York Red Bulls(1), Atlanta United(2), NYCFC(3), DC United(4), Columbus Crew(5) and the Philadelphia Union(6) qualify from the Eastern Conference, while Sporting KC(1), Seattle Sounders(2), LAFC(3), FC Dallas(4), Portland Timbers(5) and Real Salt Lake(6) qualify from the Western Conference.
It was a dramatic last day that saw Zlatan and co. at LA Galaxy miss out on the playoffs thanks to a Houston Dynamo 3-2 comeback win.
Last year’s champions Toronto FC suffered a torrid year that saw them finish 9th in the east, 14 points behind 6th place Philadelphia Union.
Many top players around the league failed to make the playoffs, including Tim Howard, Mauro Manotas, Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Chris Wondolowski, Nemanja Nikolic, Ignacio Piatti and Alphonso Davies (amongst others). With the remaining 12 teams moving on to the postseason, I give you my predictions for the 2018 MLS Cup.
Biggest Chokers: Philadelphia Union
A run from early August to late September saw the Union record a 7-1-1 record, driving their playoff charge and being able to clinch their spot before MLS Decision Day. As a Union fan at heart, it pains me to think that I see my team as the biggest chokers.. But I have to be honest to myself and the team here. The Union can be one of the best teams in the league one week, and then the biggest chokers in the next. Heading to the US Open Cup final after that 7-1-1 record, the Union were heading to their 3rd Open Cup final since 2014, only to lose for the 3rd time. Even in the greatest form this team always manages to lose that ability to see off a game for go for a scrappy win. Now going 0-2 into the postseason, being able to finish as high as 3rd but now have to manage for a 6th place finish and an away game to start, it has been a rough few days for Philadelphia. Fresh off a 1-3 defeat to NYCFC, the Union now face the New York club again away from home in the first round of the playoffs. After such a demanding title charge (dwarfed by DC United’s meteoric rise), and the US Open Cup defeat, that is why I label the Philadelphia Union as the biggest chokers of the 2018 MLS Cup
Winners: Atlanta United
I mean is anyone really surprised here? Despite choking in the last game of the season to gift the New York Red Bulls the Supporters Shield, I don’t think anyone will bet against this team marching to the finals. With record goalscorer Josef Martinez having broken the 27 goal record reached by Chris Wondolowski and Bradley Wright-Phillips, he is the league’s biggest threat with no questions asked. Arsenal target Miguel Almiron has showed why he is generating Premier League interest with the type of goal-scoring and assist-making play he has showed this season. The Paraguayan has hit double digits for both goals and assists this season. Under the stewardship of outgoing manager Tata Martino, the head coach will want some silverware on his way out the door for greater pastures. After a heartbreaking PK shootout defeat to Columbus Crew in the conference semifinals last season, Atlanta will be looking for vengeance and I see them going all the way.
MLS Cup MVP: Josef Martinez
All aboard the Josef Martinez bandwagon! This MVP award for the sake of this article is given to the player I believe will have the biggest impact for the entire postseason as a whole. Last season I would say that award deserves to have Columbus Crew GK Zack Steffen’s name on it due to his performance against Atlanta United in the Semifinals. This season, I choose the man who has taken the MLS by storm. With 50 goals in just 53 MLS appearances, he boasts the best goal per minute ratio of any player in the league of all time. Last season was blighted by injury but this season he has remained healthy and looks to bring silverware to the ever present Atlanta faithful. With 70,000 fans rooting him on in the playoffs, it would seem like nonsense to bet against this guy to win MVP. I imagine many goals to come and the establishment of a legacy in United States soccer for the Venezuelan man.
Honorable mentions: Wayne Rooney, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Miguel Almiron, Nicolas Lodeiro, Gyasi Zardes
Written by: Andrew Diefenderfer