It is the Friday before the start of the MLS Cup Playoffs. While FC Dallas has no part in this year’s festivities, I thought it would be at least moderately humorous to fill out a bracket and see how things go.
I should point out first that I really have no true rooting interest in any of these teams that are left. I have a couple that I am mildly interested in seeing go far because of a player, how the team plays, or just for the sake of chaos that it could bring.
So here is the full thing:
Let me go round-by-round here.
First Round, Western Conference
Given that these were the teams FC Dallas saw more in 2021, I think explaining away my picks here first makes sense.
Portland Timbers vs Minnesota United - I love this matchup. Out of the two 4v5 games, this one should be the better one of the two. Portland has been impressive enough down the stretch this season and they finally seem to be figuring things out. Minnesota has had some success over the last couple of years in Portland but I don’t think they are consistent enough on offense to keep up with the Timbers. That is why I am taking the Timbers in this one, probably in a wild 4-2 kind of game.
Sporting KC vs Vancouver Whitecaps - This is my one big upset of the entire round. There is something about how Vancouver has rallied as of late to be where they are right now that I can get behind. Their stars are showing up and their defense isn’t bad. Let’s not ignore the fact that they’ve only lost twice in league play since mid-July. They also beat this KC squad a little more than a month ago. KC is a tough place to pick up a win in, especially in the playoffs but I feel this one could be super tight and the Caps come away with a win in penalties.
Seattle Sounders vs Real Salt Lake - I know the Sounders have struggled a bit in the final weeks of the regular season (winless in their last six), but since this one isn't in Utah, and the Sounders are finally getting healthy enough to be themselves again, I like their chances in this one. A fairly comfortable Seattle win.
First Round, Eastern Conference
NYCFC vs Atlanta United - The other 4v5 game is still pretty damn fascinating. Atlanta does seem to have figured things out under Gonzalo Pineda in the final two months of the season. NYCFC did pick up a win at home against Atlanta early in the season but I don’t think they can really rely on that game as to why they can win this one. If you asked me which games were set for penalties at the start of the playoffs, I would pick this one. In that case, it is a toss-up and I like Atlanta to escape this one.
Nashville SC vs Orlando City - The one matchup out of the East that I really, really cannot wait to watch is this one. On one hand, from a Dallas perspective, you do have Oscar Pareja and Orlando. We know what Oscar brings to his teams but his track record in the playoffs has not been great over the years. We know that from experience here. I think until he is able to guide a team out of the first round, we’re going to see more of that here against a really good Nashville team that has a championship-level defense (more on that in a bit). Nashville wins this one at home.
Philadelphia Union vs New York Red Bulls - I do love a good Philly-New York matchup in the playoffs. The Union quietly found a way to get second in the East this year after their Supporters’ Shield win last year. Philly have just two losses since the start of September, and I think they end the dream that the Red Bulls seem to have as a seven seed here.
Conference Semifinal, Western Conference
Colorado Rapids vs Portland - Colorado is one of those teams that you really have to be impressed with. The one knock that I think could hurt them in these playoffs is a lack of a big-time Designated Player that can guide them to a title like Sebastian Giovinco or Lucas Lelerayan. Still, I think they have the advantage here at home, in altitude, with plenty of rest. Oh, and this one is on Thanksgiving. Sign me up for a Rapids win.
Seattle vs Vancouver - Nothing like a rivalry game in the playoffs. I do expect Vancouver to push Seattle around a good bit as they look to get some revenge for one of their few losses in the second half of the season (a 4-1 beating in Seattle back on October 9). Still, it is the playoffs and this is Seattle. Until they prove me otherwise here, I am taking them back to the conference finals.
Conference Semifinals, Eastern Conference
New England Revolution vs Atlanta - My other big upset is this one. Yeah, I know I am absolutely bonkers for calling this one but I am going more off of history with the Supporters’ Shield winner than anything else for my reasoning. Also, I love pointing out that this New England side did lose one of their few games to FC Dallas this year, so that has to mean something, right? Anyways, only one Shield winner in the last nine has also won MLS Cup (Toronto did it in 2017). Atlanta sneaks out of New England with a wild win.
Nashville vs Philadelphia - This is the kind of playoff match you want to see. Two really good teams, squaring off against one another. This one should and likely will come down to defense and for that reason, I am sticking with Nashville on this one. Their defense has been impressive all season long. I know they did lose in Philly last month but as long as MVP-candidate Hany Mukhtar steps up like the MVP he has been this year, Nashville will win this one.
Conference Finals, Western Conference
Colorado vs Seattle - This should be a fun one to watch. Colorado at home has been really good this year, only losing once (an early-season loss to Austin). Seattle is a really good road team (one of the best road records in MLS at 9-4-4 this year). I think this one could come down to penalty kicks and I like the Rapids to escape to their second MLS Cup with that.
Conference Finals, Eastern Conference
Nashville vs Atlanta - The matchup of the South here for the prize of going to an MLS Cup. I like what Atlanta has been able to do thus far, winning two road games but I think that ends here in Nashville. They’re going to run out of gas after finding a way to upset the top team in the league. Again, defense wins games in these scenarios and I like Nashville here.
If you had told me that I would be picking Nashville and Colorado to go to an MLS Cup even two months ago I would have laughed at it. But I’ve kind of pegged Nashville as a title contender for a couple of months anyways thanks to their defense and the MVP-level play out of Mukhtar. Those are the two things you need most to win a MLS Cup and I see that happening here.
What does your bracket look like here? Let me know below with your picks.