Then, there were eight.
Let’s take a look at the Conference Semifinals in these Audi 2021 MLS CupPlayoffs. I will try to answer one big question for each team.
We are here, sorted according to matchup pairings with both the East and West.
Are they able to shake off the rust?
FS1, FOX Deportes) it will be more than three weeks since they’ve played a competitive match. It’s been a while, and Bruce Arena doesn’t consider the Round One bye a reward.
There’s a bit of tongue-in-cheek because it’s Bruce. It’s Bruce so it’s a tongue-in-cheek element. This is not surprising considering how the Revs just blitzed the Union, who won the Supporters Shield last autumn. Nashville was also a Play-In Round winner. They beat a listless Toronto FC team 1-0.
Although last year was an exception in many ways, those results should not be discounted. There is little evidence that the bye is actually an advantage. The number of teams that have earned a bye since the TAM era (2015) is just 10-10. This is not a great result.
Arena stated that they were going to prepare and put in some new items to be ready for the playoff games. Because this is an unusually lengthy layoff, no one knows the answer.
There is a silver lining: forward Adam Buksa likely needed extra time to treat a foot injury and get to 100%.
Can they match the defensive performance of last weekend against a full strength Revs team?
NYCFC were brutal against Atlanta United at Yankee Stadium Sunday. They put up a barrier approximately 40 yards from the goal and refused to allow visitors to cross it in any kind of good order except for once when Brad Guzan tried to create a defense-splitting outlet that would spark a mini-break.
But that was all. This was the total danger that visitors created by open(ish?) play. Now I’ll state the obvious: It’s easier to perform like that at Yankee Stadium against Atlanta United than at Gillette Stadium against Revs.
New England was the league’s highest scoring team with 65 goals. The Cityzens beat them out 2-0 in August. They also played the Revs more evenly than anyone else this year.
The Revs lost three to three against a New England team that was full-strength, in mid-June. In mid-September, they were up against New England again, but this time, no one of their three DPs was there and New England won 2-1.
NYCFC will need to show their best in the playoffs.
Can one of these men score the goal?
We won’t overcomplicate matters. We are certain that we know the main question for any Union game.
For a few years, we’ve wondered if Kacper przybylko and Sergio Santos could be the answer. 9 Philly needs.
Hany Mukhtar, CJ Sapong will be enough?
This is Mukhtar with Sapong making a 2-v-6 a goal. This is where I will go overboard with sacrilege. It’s like a bunch ObaDeuce goals from back in the day. From here…
It is absurd that the other ‘keeper picks the ball out of the net.
With the exception of a set-piece goal or two, that’s all Nashville has to offer in the attack. There are a lot more talented players than them, but they’re not really dangerous in the goal ( Randall Leal is a possibility, but it was against FC Cincinnati so it doesn’t count). It was a pleasure for all to see DP center forward Jhonder Caziz make his way off the bench for the icer in the match against Orlando. Even though it seems like fool’s Gold, he has now scored five goals in the past two years. With Mukhtar, Sapong, it’s either ride or die.
Are they enough?
Is it possible for any attacker to do this in a big match?
This point has been made before, but I will repeat it here: Colorado’s four-headed attack group of Michael Barrios and Jonathan Lewis, along with Diego Rubio, have played in 25 seasons and achieved two playoff goals. To make it 32 seasons, we can throw Andre Shinyashiki along with young Cole Bassett in there. That would bring us to… yeah, two career playoff goals.
These men have never been asked to win matches at this time of year, or they have been asked, and then weighed and measured.
That’s all the Rapids do, right? When the Rapids’ front office changed their player acquisition model, I called them Distressed Assets FC. It has produced an enjoyable rise that culminated in this year, which was the best club history and the subsequent No. They are the No. 1 seed in West.
Maybe that’s not the end. Perhaps the culmination is what’s next. FOX, FOX Deportes).
Two more bonus questions:
Can they manage the bye week? (For more information, see the Revs section)
Can their unsustainable (oh god they’ve maintained it for three years) regular-season set piece dominance translate to the postseason?
They will either sit back or get on the front foot.
The Timbers can pick their poison, but they did all of these for stretches in Round One’s win over Minnesota. However, this team has struggled to play in a set defense this year. This was evident when the Timbers’ backline was rearranged by Colorado, who used a long diagonal to draw Diego Rubio off the goal line.
The Second Spectrum numbers support the eye test: Portland allowed more expected goals (xG), in organized defense, than any other team except Cincy. They don’t do well when there are numbers behind the ball.
It is risky to try and play the Rapids in midfield at 5280. Colorado will beat you to the ground if they have the chance. As we saw last month on the Rapids’ first goal, any kind of gap or slow transition between attack-to defense and attack-to-defense can lead to runners coming at your from four angles, including one from Badji, Lewis and Rubio. You have a chance.
Portland still has a chance because they have Sebastian Blanco as well as Diego Chara. These are the best players on the field. Gio Savarese’s first toss of dice is “where will it draw our line of confrontation?”. I don’t really know the answer, but I do know that this could end quickly if Gio doesn’t get it right away.
Bonus question for the Timbers: What is their Jekyll/Hyde approach to set pieces? Sometimes they can be utterly dominant as was the case against Minnesota. Sometimes they’re borderline reckless, as last month was when the teams met. Colorado received great looks from Jack Price s impeccable corner-kick service.
They can’t dismantle RSL’s bunker and not expose themselves to the world in transition.
Sporting KC was once again one the best attacking teams in MLS. However, Sporting was again among the worst in the league for transition defense, according to Second Spectrum.
This is not a secret anymore. This is the blueprint for how to attack Sporting – play direct balls into channels for your winger, to run in behind KC fullbacks – is out and it was costing them a lot of games down the stretch.
Peter Vermes made adjustments for the playoffs, not pressing as much, allowing 60% possession to be ceded and rarely pushing his fullbacks up high. This tactical move was not planned by the Whitecaps, who were not prepared for it.
RSL will 1) prepare for this tactical gambit and 2) will not care because, based on their recent play, they won’t cross the midfield stripe even if given a gold-plated invite. They won’t push numbers forward or risk getting gashed via big Zusi to- Salloi switch like Vancouver.
Sporting will have to play the game and use their ball to defeat RSL and win this match. They will just need to figure out how they can do this without being attacked to death.
Can the bunker hold on?
There’s no mystery as to when RSL’s will be released. The fun, free-spirited days of late summer/early autumn when Pablo Mastroeni took them out in a 3-5-2 to play open, expansive soccer were entertaining and interesting. But, they end up being on the wrong side too many 3-1, 4-3, and 6-1 scorelines.
It’s been a 4-4-2 middle-block that then drops into a 5-5-1 bunker for the last 210 minutes with very few forays forward. This was enough to secure them a 1-0 victory on Decision Day against the very same Sporting KC team on the very same field. That was enough to send Seattle to penalties on Tuesday night despite only one goal.
Although it’s unlikely to win any beauty contests or be a winner, RSL is still in existence.
Note: Sporting can not be played for penalties. Tim Melia is the most successful MLS penalty saver in history. He has never lost in penalty shootouts and literally knocked out the Quakes in a PK shootout during last year’s playoffs. This is the second time an MLS team was completely eliminated in a PK shootout.
Which team is the other? After a scoreless draw, Charleston Battery defeated the Chicago Fire by 3-0 in Round 16 of the 2010 US Open Cup. Charleston’s goalkeeper on that day? Tim Melia.