As the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs roll on and the intensity ramps up, it's inevitable that coaches will have to deal with absences, whether it's through injury or suspension. In the latter case, many of those suspensions will come via yellow-card accumulation, with two cautions being the threshold for players getting suspended during the playoffs.
Next week's Conference Championship second legs will see three players miss out through yellow-card accumulation, plus one more due to a red card picked up in the first leg. Three of the four teams remaining, Toronto FC being the lone exception, will have players missing. With that in mind, we'll take a look how those players' suspensions will affect their respective teams – and who might replace the missing players.
Before we get to the list, just one more quick note: fans and coaches alike shouldn't fret about any yellow cards picked up in the second leg of the Conference Championship series. Players cannot be suspended for MLS Cup if they pick up their second yellow of the playoffs in those games. Red card suspensions, however, will still apply.
Artur – Columbus Crew SC
Arguably one of the most underrated components of Crew SC’s run this season, head coach Gregg Berhalter will at least have the luxury of a capable like-for-like swap after Artur picked up his second yellow of the playoffs in the first leg against Toronto. Berhalter will almost certainly call on another young midfielder, Mohammed Abu, to fill in for the Brazilian.
It's a swap the Crew SC head coach has already made once this postseason without being forced – Abu started in place of Artur in the second leg of Columbus' Eastern Conference Semifinal against New York City FC, with Crew SC looking to defend a 4-1 lead in the Bronx. Abu's defensive prowess will almost certainly be needed once more versus a full-strength Toronto FC side at BMO Field. Should Columbus find themselves needing a goal in the second half, though, don't be surprised if Abu is one of the first to make way.
Alberth Elis – Houston Dynamo
Already in a significant hole heading into Seattle, Houston's hopes of scoring the multiple goals they need to advance to MLS Cup will be significantly affected by the loss of their 10-goal, 4-assist man. In addition to his numbers on the stats sheet, Elis' pace makes him a vital part of head coach Wilmer Cabrera's counterattack-focused system.
If Cabrera opts to start Alex again on the right side of Houston's attacking midfield three, then he could make a straight swap with Romell Quioto, who put up 7 goals and 3 assists during the regular season and offers many of the same qualities Elis does. Should Cabrera want a more direct option than Alex from the start, Andrew Wenger could join Quioto in the Dynamo attack. Though veteran winger Vicente Sanchez could also be a straight swap for Elis, Cabrera is likely to keep him in the supersub role he's been so effective in, given the other options available.
Jalil Anibaba – Houston Dynamo
The only player on this list suspended for a red card (Anibaba was sent off for denial of a goalscoring opportunity in the first leg), Anibaba's absence is also the one that may provoke the most lineup juggling from Cabrera. This largely due to the injuries already affecting the Houston backline, namely the season-ending knee injury that has kept A.J. DeLaGarza out of the entire postseason.
The most likely candidate to shift over to Anibaba's right back position is a player who started the first leg at center back – Adolfo Machado. That leaves a gap in central defense that will most likely be filled by Leonardo, who would slot in next to Phillippe Senderos in the center of defense. An experienced player who won three MLS Cups with the LA Galaxy, Leonardo should prove more than capable of shoring up Houston's backline.
Roman Torres – Seattle Sounders
Although Torres is almost certainly the most important player to his team that will miss out on the second leg through suspension (though Elis is a strong shout as well), the Sounders are best-equipped to deal with his absence thanks to their commanding series lead over the Dynamo. Tony Alfaro is the most likely candidate to step in for the hulking Panamanian next to Chad Marshall.