The Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs are nearly here! Before the games begin Friday night, here’s all that you need to know about the two Eastern Conference Play-In Round matchups.
As a reminder: A Round One matchup awaits the lower seeded play-in winner against the Philadelphia Union (2020 Supporters' Shield winners), while the higher seeded play-in winner will face Toronto FC. Both of those Round One games are set for Nov. 24.
No. 8 New England Revolution vs. No. 9 Montreal Impact
Fri., 6:30 pm ET | FS1, FOX Deportes in US, TSN 1/4, TVA Sports in Canada
Since this game is being played at Gillette Stadium, we’ll start with the hosts. New England slipped down the standings by going 1W-3L-1D in their last five games, and another area of concern is they went 2W-3L-5D in Foxborough this season, the worst home record of any playoff-bound team.
Those two areas create concern, though two weeks-worth of practice ought to have New England’s DP trio of midfielder Carles Gil and forwards Adam Buksa and Gustavo Bou rediscovering their rhythm. Injuries, particularly to Gil (2019 MLS Newcomer of the Year), have limited them to a handful of games played together this season. If they can reach another gear, as combined with the game-changing presence of goalkeeper Matt Turner, the Revolution could cruise into Round One.
As for Montreal, they limped into the playoffs by going 3W-9L-1D and needing a win on Decision Day presented by AT&T to clinch their spot. Going one step further, Thierry Henry’s crew is 1W-3L-0D against New England this season and has lost three straight against Bruce Arena's bunch at three different venues. Then there’s the impending absence of midfielder Victor Wanyama (Kenya) as he returns from international duty, plus the red-card suspension to Samuel Piette.
To look on Montreal's bright side, forwards Bojan Krcic and Romell Quioto are both capable of conjuring up some magic. They’ve combined for 12 goals and eight assists this season, heating up down the stretch to offset a defense that allowed an Eastern Conference-high 43 goals.
No. 7 Nashville SC vs. No. 10 Inter Miami
Fri., 9 pm ET | ESPN2, ESPN Deportes in US; TSN 1/4, TVA Sports in Canada
Nashville midfielder Anibal Godoy, left, fends off a challenge from Inter Miami midfielder Blaise Matuidi | USA Today Sports
This Play-In Round match is a battle of 2020’s expansion teams, ones that took different approaches to constructing their roster. The simple version: Inter Miami wasn’t afraid to spend big, a stance that created expectations in concert with their DPs’ previous club accomplishments, whereas Nashville took a measured, MLS-proven angle that layered in a few solid international signings to surpass external expectations.
Yet Miami stumbled out of the gate by losing their first five games, including an 0W-3L-0D mark at the MLS is Back Tournament. They slowly dug themselves out of that hole, needing a Week 24 win over FC Cincinnati in Tropical Storm Eta to clinch a postseason spot. On the transfer front, most credit goes to Scottish winger Lewis Morgan and Argentine center back Leandro Gonzalez Pirez as signings who clearly delivered. The same can’t quite be said for ex-Juventus stars like Blaise Matuidi and forward Gonzalo Higuain, though perhaps they’ll bring their big-game experience to bear in this single-elimination scenario.
As for Nashville, look right up their spine and you’ll see the foundation head coach Gary Smith has built a defensively-solid team upon (22 goals against). Joe Willis was great at goalkeeper, center back Walker Zimmerman was arguably the signing of the season (trade from LAFC) and veterans Dax McCarty and Anibal Godoy held down the center of the park. Add in those like Randall Leal, Hany Mukhtar and Jhonder Cadiz and you have some punch in the final third.
While the odds favor Nashville, especially since they’re hosting at Nissan Stadium and are the higher seed, international absences will factor in. Miami are set to be without Rodolfo Pizarro (Mexico) and the same goes for Nashville with Leal (Costa Rica). We’ll see what impact that has, or who steps up instead.