Following an action packed first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs some teams moved on in spectacular fashion while others left with their tail between their legs. After 4 games gone, the first round of the playoffs has concluded and we will take a look at those matches and what to expect from the 2nd round.
NYCFC 3-1 Philadelphia Union
As I predicted in my last article, I chose the Philadelphia Union to be this year’s biggest chokers, and boy was I right. After an emphatic playoff charge that could have seen them finish 3rd and secure a home playoff game, the Union slumped during their last 2 regular season games and had to go away to NYCFC, the team they lost to away during their last match. NYCFC went 2-0 up in the opening half hour before Maxi Moralez’s chipped finish put them up 3 with 12 minutes remaining. The Union pulled one back in spectacular fashion through Ilsinho’s magical assist to Cory Burke but it just wasn’t meant to be for Philadelphia. This loss now marks another for the Union in the playoffs, the Union have now lost every postseason match they have ever played in… safe to say the Union don’t show up in big games.
FC Dallas 1-2 Portland Timbers
A Diego Valeri brace was all that Portland needed to edge past the FC Dallas side that expected more from the match. Valeri’s stunning free kick was the only goal before a Portland Timbers red card for Larrys Mabiala in the 58th. From then on FC Dallas dominated possession and went open fire on goal, recording 22 shots by the games end. It was a rushed game for Dallas who attempted to get back into the game after another Valeri goal for the 10-men Timbers in the 71st minute put them 0-2 down. With 22 shots, Dallas only managed to put 6 of them on target, with Matt Hedges pulling one back in the 90th minute, but it was ultimately too late to spark a comeback. It is a disappointing result for Dallas who find themselves eliminated in the first round despite finishing 1st in the Western Conference.
DC United 2-2 Columbus Crew (2-3 after PKs)
In what was the most exciting game from the first round, the Columbus Crew won in a penalty shootout against the red hot DC United team. My pick for last year’s MLS postseason MVP, Columbus Crew GK Zack Steffen once again starred in a penalty shootout in the postseason and showed why he is one of the Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year finalists. A Federico Higuain brace sandwiched between a Fredric Brillant and Nick DeLeon wonder strike put the 2 teams even after 120 minutes of play. Steffen’s save against Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta followed by Nick DeLeon’s sky high miss won Columbus the game in a 3-2 PK win that saw only Gyasi Zardes’s PK saved by DC United’s Bill Hamid.
LAFC 2-3 Real Salt Lake
In what was the most surprising result, Real Salt Lake, who just managed to scrape the last seed playoff spot at the expense of LA Galaxy record a spectacular win against Los Angeles FC. A Damir Kreilach brace, including a ninja kick wonder goal tied the game up 2-2 in the 59th minute. A Walker Zimmerman own goal in the 69th minute was the ultimate decider of the game as Real Salt Lake managed to hold on to the lead to eliminate the impressive LAFC in the inaugural season in the MLS. It was a very promising season for the Los Angeles side who will be disappointed to be eliminated already but have a solid base of players they hope to retain going into the 2019 season. For Real Salt Lake it was an unexpected victory that they hope to build on going into the next round.
Conference Semi-Finals Matchups
Columbus Crew vs. New York Red Bulls
NYCFC vs. Atlanta United
Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Sounders
Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting KC
These matchups for the upcoming round will be based on a 2 leg aggregate total. Big guns, Atlanta United, NYRB, NYCFC, Sporting KC and Seattle Sounders come back after their bye week looking to advance to their respective Conference Finals.
Written by: Andrew Diefenderfer