MLS Cup playoffs Round One preview and predictions

The fascinating 2022 Major League Soccer steady season is in the back of us, and whilst we really feel for the unfortunate enthusiasts of the 14 golf equipment whose campaigns are disappointingly over, we are energized via a recent having a look postseason box in a position to contest the MLS Cup playoffs. Supporters’ Shield winners LAFC and the Philadelphia Union will experience a bye in Round One’s opening salvos, leaving the Nos. 2 thru 7 seeds in each the Eastern and Western meetings to kick off the postseason starting on Saturday.

ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle, Kyle Bonagura, Bill Connelly, Dan Hajducky, Cesar Hernandez and Austin Lindberg preview all six Round 1 matchups, predicting which golf equipment can be transferring directly to the convention semifinals and whose avid gamers will have to start reserving shuttle preparations for vacations in far-flung locales all through the all-too-short offseason.

Jump to: Red Bulls-Cincinnati | Montreal-Orlando | NYCFC-Miami | Galaxy-Nashville | Austin-RSL | Dallas-Minnesota

Eastern Conference

4. New York Red Bulls vs. 5. FC Cincinnati (Saturday, midday ET)

Can now we have a second to have fun the Orange and Blue? FC Cincinnati took complete issues 11 occasions in 2022 after combining for simply 14 of their 3 earlier seasons as an MLS membership — a step ahead that can not be encapsulated right here. Conversely, the Red Bulls have not neglected a postseason since 2009 and this one’s in Harrison, New Jersey.

Though New York is preferred to advance, it is a lovely even fit. The traditionally stingy Red Bulls again line will have to have its fingers complete with Brandon Vazquez, Young Player of the Year finalist Brenner and an FC Cincy offense that completed 3rd within the league in targets scored (64). But it actually comes right down to a couple of key elements:

  • Who concedes first? Cincinnati received certainly one of twelve video games when doing so; the Red Bulls are tied for 5th in wins after taking place.

  • Who forces essentially the most mistakes? New York led the league in fouls dedicated. Although Cincinnati were not specifically adept at drawing fouls, a pricey mistake may loom huge.

  • Who pushes the tempo? Both New York (1.91, 1st) and Cincy (1.63, sixth) are within the six quickest groups — on a meters-per-second foundation — in MLS. This one can be fought immediately, with frenetic tempo at target, and little or no crossing play from the flanks.

If somebody’s poised to trip out a tie thru additional time and dance on via the outside in their tooth, it is Cincy. — Hajducky


The query here’s: How unpleasant can the Red Bulls make this sport to be able to thwart Cincy’s assault? The resolution is lots, however outdoor of Lewis Morgan, New York’s assault is not that compelling, whilst Cincinnati’s is. Look for FCC to get a highway win right here. — Carlisle

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Cincinnati’s skill to develop into from traditionally unhealthy to playoff group in twelve months speaks to one of the vital very best facets of the MLS construction. I’m now not of the thoughts that playoff revel in essentially issues, both, and like FCC to win a low-scoring sport. — Bonagura

Two regular-season attracts trace on the evenness of the matchup, and Cincinnati were placing up some gaudy target totals of overdue. But if playoff revel in is value the rest (even unhealthy playoff revel in), the Red Bulls dangle the slightest of edges. — Connelly

I’m a sucker for an underdog arc. I believe the mix of Brenner and Vazquez up entrance overpowers New York. On march the Orange and Blue. — Hajducky

There’s so much to love concerning the FCC assault that includes standouts like Vazquez, Acosta and Brenner. If the protection does not cave in, Cincinnati can break out with a win right here of their first-ever MLS playoff sport. — Hernandez

The Red Bulls boast the second-stingiest protection within the Eastern Conference, however Brenner is demonstrating why he was once so extremely touted popping out of Brazil, Brandon Vazquez is scoring targets the USMNT sorely lack from their No. 9s and Luciano Acosta is among the league’s premier playmakers as soon as once more. Cincy simply have an excessive amount of firepower for New York to maintain. — Lindberg

The most up to date group in MLS over the season’s ultimate 3 months got here simply two issues shy of the highest seed within the Eastern Conference. Montreal have misplaced simply as soon as since July 9, and they dangle lots of the edges over No. 7 seed Orlando except the gods of single-elimination playoff make a decision to be specifically fickle.



CF Montreal’s Zachary Brault-Guillard ratings from a difficult perspective to position his group up 4-1.

Montreal boast one of the vital league’s maximum prolific assaults. They generate top quality seems from shut vary — that they had the league’s best possible proportion of pictures from the field — and the combo of Eredivisie-bound writer and Djordje Mihailovic and veteran forwards Romell Quioto and Kei Kamara has been particularly efficient. The trio mixed for 33 targets and 19 assists from 104 probabilities created within the steady season. The assault is identify worthy, whilst the protection has been slightly playoff worthy.

Orlando have been one consistent plot twist in 2022. Oscar Pareja’s squad received 4 in a row in August to bolt conveniently into the playoff dialog and, for excellent measure, received the U.S. Open Cup in early September after a specifically dramatic run. But they misplaced 4 in their ultimate six regular-season fits and did not protected a playoff bid till Facundo Torres‘ 84th-minute penalty gave them a 2-1 win over Columbus on Sunday. The prolific Torres and fellow newcomer Ercan Kara mixed for 20 targets and 13 assists from 60 probabilities created.

Montreal received their simplest fight with Orlando this season, turning a 2-1 lead right into a 4-1 romp with overdue targets from Joaquin Torres and Zachary Brault-Guillard in May. Both of those groups need to possess the ball and regulate the pace, and each have given up top quality probabilities now and then. Montreal were higher this season, however it might simplest take one parry from Torres and Kara to make issues fascinating. — Connelly


Montreal were quietly going about their industry all yr with a ruthless potency. Orlando were a little in every single place, even whilst successful the U.S. Open Cup. In the playoffs all of this issues little, however nonetheless search for CFM to get the win over Orlando. — Carlisle

For the football membership previously referred to as the Impact, this has been with out query the most efficient season in their MLS life, and I’m anticipating a run to the convention ultimate. — Bonagura

Aside from NYCFC, there is no such thing as a larger first-round making a bet favourite than Montreal, and the explanations are lovely evident. Orlando disillusioned Philadelphia and received two shootouts on how you can the U.S. Open Cup ultimate, however we’re going to say they have maxed out their drama quota. — Connelly

Let’s now not overthink it: No group tallied extra issues after May 1 than Montreal, and Orlando City marches to the Great White North with, in step with FiveThirtyEight, a 20% probability to advance. Montreal may glance previous Orlando City towards a fearsome Philadelphia Union squad, but it surely feels not likely. — Hajducky

Their trail to the 2022 U.S. Open Cup highlighted that Orlando and Pareja can thrive in knockout eventualities. Gutsy and in a position to ultimate out video games of their prefer, Orlando will on the very least make issues tricky for Montreal. — Hernandez

Cesar Araujo’s arrival in Orlando final iciness flew beneath the radar amid the high-profile signings of Torres and Kara, but he is the one that will resolve whether or not the Lions can advance from this matchup, and it comes right down to his skill to chaperone Mihailovic. I do not like his odds. — Lindberg

3. New York City FC vs. 6. Inter Miami CF (Monday, 7 p.m. ET)

After a disastrous stretch from August into September that noticed NYCFC, the protecting MLS Cup champions, lose seven of 9 fits, 3 directly wins to near the steady season seem to have quite righted the send. Still, on account of accidents and departures, this group infrequently resembles the crowd that received the Cup final yr. The availability of Talles Magno, Tayvon Gray and Alfredo Morales — all of whom have been compelled off with knocks within the regular-season finale — looms huge in a sport that can be performed at Citi Field.

For Miami, Gonzalo Higuain‘s improbable run of sort to finish the season — 14 targets in 16 fits — has been one of the vital league’s very best storylines all through the second one part of the yr. His play has been essentially the most important unmarried issue that allowed the membership to rebound from final yr’s failure and achieve this with just about a wholly reconstructed roster.

The groups break up their two fits all through the steady season with NYCFC successful 2-0 at house sooner than Miami took their house fit 3-2. Miami’s win was once their first ever within the collection after NYCFC received 5 directly after the Herons entered the league in 2020. — Bonagura


NYCFC have not regarded the similar since supervisor Ronny Deila left, and are having to play this sport at Citi Field, however Miami may well be lacking Alejandro Pozuelo and Leonardo Campana, which might finally end up leaving red-hot Higuain remoted. — Carlisle

The considered Higuain’s ultimate skilled sport happening on a Monday evening at Citi Field simply feels incorrect. I believe he unearths the winner and prolongs issues for every other around. — Bonagura

NYCFC have been obviously the easier group over the entire season, however Inter were the easier group during the last two months. There are at all times surprises within the MLS Cup playoffs, so let’s get bizarre: Miami take down the champs and Higuain’s occupation lasts a little longer. — Connelly

Will the approaching retirement of Gonzalo Higuain propel Inter Miami previous reigning MLS Cup champs NYCFC? It turns out not likely, however the cases are there: NYCFC was once certainly one of simplest two MLS golf equipment to lose seven video games from Aug. 6 on — an entire 180 from the primary two-thirds of the season, after they have been best 3 in each wins and target differential. Miami sink NYCFC, fueled via a legend’s send-off. — Hajducky

After saying he’ll retire on the finish of 2022, Higuain is ultimate out his occupation in an exhilarating run of sort and will have to be a key issue towards an NYCFC facet that not have a number of of the decisive figures that carried them to a identify final yr. — Hernandez

The house comforts of Citi Field could not stay the Mets from making an early postseason go out, however NYCFC have misplaced on a baseball diamond simply thrice this season, and the topic of the venue is obviously on Miami supervisor Phil Neville’s thoughts. — Lindberg

Western Conference

4. LA Galaxy vs. 5. Nashville SC (Saturday, 3 p.m. ET)

This is a type of video games the place every group is content material with their opponent’s taste. The Galaxy are all about ownership, and the use of the likes of Ricard Puig, Douglas Costa and Samuel Grandsir to unsettle defenses and arrange Javier Hernandez. That fits Nashville simply high-quality, as Gary Smith’s facet is content material at being defensively sound, soaking up power and the use of the brilliance of Hany Mukhtar to punish groups at the smash.

It was once the summer season arrivals of Puig and Gaston Brugman that driven the Galaxy into the playoffs, with LA dropping simply as soon as since Puig made his debut. In spite of the Galaxy’s attacking prowess, despite the fact that, Nashville are a notoriously tricky group to damage down. While the Yotes suffered some ups and downs all through the season, Nashville have conceded simply 5 targets of their previous 8 video games.

For Nashville, the larger query is will Mukhtar get any lend a hand? C.J. Sapong hasn’t scored since May, however hyperlinks neatly with Mukhtar. Teal Bunbury has scored as many targets, 5, in a few quarter of the mins, however does not mix as neatly.

The key to the sport would be the play of Brugman. If he can keep disciplined, now not get sucked too some distance ahead and do his bit to disclaim Mukhtar provider, the Galaxy will have to be capable to lift the day. But such is Mukhtar’s potency — his xG was once 20.46 towards his 23 targets scored — that each one it takes is for him to transform one alternative and the sport can also be grew to become the wrong way up. — Carlisle


As defensively stout as Nashville are, search for Puig’s creativity to hold the day in entrance of a partisan Galaxy crowd. — Carlisle

The Galaxy are peaking on the correct time with just one loss over their ultimate 11 fits to earn a house playoff fit. Puig’s arrival has been key and it’ll be towards Nashville, too. — Bonagura

These groups are very an identical, from their introduction of top quality pictures to their occasional defensive breakdowns. It is sensible, then, that their final fit was once a testy 1-1 attract Nashville, however again in California, we’re going to say the house group has the threshold. — Connelly

From Aug. 21 thru season’s finish, simplest Montreal tallied extra issues than Nashville and simplest Philadelphia had a greater target differential around the league. The Boys in Gold even edged MLS Cup favorites LAFC final Sunday. The Galaxy have simplest misplaced as soon as in league play going again to the primary week of August, however be expecting 2022 Golden Boot winner Hany Mukhtar to ebook their price ticket again to Carson, California. — Hajducky

As lengthy as they are not lacking any the most important consequences, the attacking mixture between Chicharito and Puig will have to be sufficient to hold the Galaxy over the road. Chicharito turns out particularly motivated with 4 targets in his previous 4 appearances. — Hernandez

Puig has been a revelation and Chicharito has no bother discovering the again of the web, however do the Galaxy have any person to create one thing from not anything if a stalemate drags on and the house crowd grows stressed? Because Nashville do in Mukhtar. — Lindberg

A less-than-thrilling debut season in 2021 laid the groundwork for a dream 2022 and an upcoming first-ever playoff look for Austin. Led via MVP candidate Sebastian Driussi and his 22 targets, the Verde rocketed up the Western Conference standings, in the end completing moment within the desk. In entrance of what will have to be every other raucous crowd at Q2 Stadium — tickets for Sunday’s sport offered out “in minutes” — Austin may have a useful probability to transport one step nearer to a championship in simply their moment yr.

But will RSL ruin the celebration? Head trainer Pablo Mastroeni and his males closed out the season on an emphatic word with a 3-1 win over the Portland Timbers, whilst Austin slumped to their 3rd fit in a row with no victory after a 1-1 draw with the Colorado Rapids. Let’s now not put out of your mind what RSL did in final yr’s playoff run, both. From the similar 7th seed, RSL surprised identify contenders Seattle within the first around of the playoffs thru a win on consequences, later making their technique to the Western Conference ultimate.

Austin are the favorites right here and will have to stroll away with a resounding consequence, however that stated, Mastroeni and a core of RSL’s 2021 roster stay within the membership that would possibly not be missing self belief after what took place final yr. — Hernandez



Moussa Djitte’s sixtieth minute target places Austin FC at the board first.


RSL were punching above their weight for what turns out like eternally, and Austin have not been taking part in that fab of overdue, with only one win of their previous seven, however any group with Driussi in it figures to have sufficient to win a house playoff sport — even towards an aspect as gritty as RSL. — Carlisle

RSL’s run to the convention ultimate final yr is proof sufficient that you just write them off at your individual peril, however this Austin group has an excessive amount of firepower to be expecting an disillusioned right here. — Bonagura

Austin obviously are not the similar smoking-hot group they have been previous this season, and Salt Lake dangle the threshold in playoff revel in, however Austin’s 3-0 head-to-head win is not that some distance within the rearview reflect and it makes it tricky to select towards them. — Connelly

Hard to consider the once-red-hot Austin going out this early … however after their 4-1 drubbing of LAFC on the tail finish of August, they just took complete issues in certainly one of seven. But there is a reason why Sebastian Driussi is an MLS MVP finalist; the Verde will come in combination in the back of their chief and dispatch Real Salt Lake. — Hajducky

Driussi has been one of the vital extra spectacular game-changers in MLS this yr, and despite the fact that he and the remainder of the frontline are not at their very best, goalkeeper Brad Stuver will have to be capable to stay RSL quiet. Also, with the house crowd in the back of them, Austin have simplest misplaced thrice at Q2 Stadium all season. — Hernandez

Six mins after tickets for this sport went on sale at Q2 Stadium, they have been offered out. The Texas capital has been looking forward to a second like this, and Los Verde are primed to feed off what is going to be one of the crucial electrical crowds of the postseason. — Lindberg

3. FC Dallas vs. 6. Minnesota United (Monday, 9:30 p.m. ET)

These groups break up their conferences this yr: the Loons successful in Frisco in May 2-1 and Dallas coming to Allianz Field and incomes a 3-0 victory in September. The xG tally illustrates simply how little separated those aspects over the ones two video games: Dallas’ 2.2 to Minnesota’s 2.01.



FC Dallas will get an personal target then two targets from Alan Velasco and Jesus Ferreira as they get the win over Minnesota United.

Perhaps tellingly, the 3 targets that FCD scored themselves (Michael Boxall conceded an own-goal within the September sport) all got here from extremely cellular attackers Jesus Ferreira, Paul Arriola and Alan Velasco. With Sebastian Lletget pulling the strings from the midfield (registering two assists in that September win), Dallas pose really extensive risk in transition, with potent quick-strike capacity. That would possibly end up problematic for United.

Minnesota are with out two first-choice defenders in right-back Romain Metanire and center-back Bakaye Dibassy, and Opening Day midfielder Hassani Dotson could also be lacking with a torn ACL. Neither Boxall nor Dibassy’s stand-in Brent Kallman are specifically cellular, midfield protect Wil Trapp cannot depend agility or quickness amongst his most powerful belongings both, and his anticipated spouse within the engine room is Robin Lod, a transformed winger. The Loons glance specifically uncovered to the risk posed via Dallas’ fluid assault.

With so little to split those groups, this sport may neatly come right down to moments of particular person brilliance, and there is an issue to be made that nobody at the box come Monday evening has a lengthier spotlight reel in 2022 than Minnesota goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair. Only Andre Blake and Dorde Petrovic avoided fewer targets this season, in step with TruMedia, and if the All-Star Game MVP is to have a lot hope of achieving the convention semifinals, he will wish to placed on a display yet again. — Lindberg


Of the 2 groups, Dallas is the in-form facet, because the Loons stumbled down the stretch. And whilst Minnesota’s Emanuel Reynoso can win video games via himself, Dallas’ entrance 3 of Velasco, Ferreira and Arriola will have to lift the day. — Carlisle

Dallas had a powerful tendency to play to the extent in their warring parties, with simplest 3 fits determined via multiple target over the second one part of the season. One of the ones was once a 3-0 win at Minnesota, which is sufficient to make FCD the select right here. — Bonagura

It’s been some time since Dallas made a giant playoff run. We’ll say they are due. They confirmed simply sufficient completing prowess down the stretch, and they will stay it happening Monday evening. — Connelly

After Philadelphia, nobody conceded fewer targets than Dallas. Jesús Ferreira, now not 22 till December, netted 18 targets this season. With a World Cup roster name most probably, he may apply — and preferably make stronger upon — Ricardo Pepi’s European exodus. Look for this MLS Cup to be a candy send-off. — Hajducky

Outside of LAFC, no playoff group within the West claimed extra issues at house than Dallas. Coupled with the intriguing attacking trio of Ferreira, Arriola and Velasco (if wholesome), they will have to be capable to cruise to a win right here. — Hernandez

Dallas has an excessive amount of tempo and too many threats from too many various spaces of the pitch for Minnesota’s midfield and protection to include. Ferreira may now not have a lot a laugh in a 90-minute bodily disagreement with Boxall, however Arriola and Velasco will have to to find pleasure within the channels and between the strains. — Lindberg

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