As Decision Day swung wildly from one pole to the other, playoff matchups of all stripes popped into and out of existence. If there’s any success to be had in the league’s heady decision to move the final day of the season to just one time slot, it’s the joy of scoreboard watching.
When the precipitous sheets of dust finally settled on the ground, we had our Knockout Round matchups.
After the movement was over, FC Dallas snapped up the Supporters' Shield, the Portland Timbers broke down on the finish line and we had a host of movement in the middle. Here’s a first look at those Knockout Round matchups and what we might expect to see.
Headed into Decision Day, the East wasn’t so much about who’d make the postseason and rather about who’d end up with what seed. By dropping the Philadelphia Union 2-0, the New York Red Bulls assured themselves the No. 1 seed, while crosstown rivals NYCFC took the second playoff bye with a win over Columbus.
That left Toronto FC in the lurch despite a manic 3-2 win over the Chicago Fire. Now TFC host the Union, while D.C. United play host to Montreal in the other Knockout Round matchup in the East:
Toronto FC vs. Philadelphia Union
Wed., Oct. 26 @ 7:30 pm ET on ESPN2, TSN2, UniMás
The last time these teams played, a 1-1 draw in Toronto on Sept. 24, the hosts had reason to feel aggrieved by the scoreline. TFC mostly dominated the encounter with 63 percent possession and nearly double the total passes. If that’s any indication of how this one might go, the hosts can expect to monopolize possession while waiting out brief and occasionally successful Union counters.
Toronto FC only narrowly missed out on avoiding the Knockout Round entirely, while the Union are dragging themselves into the postseason. Philly haven’t won a game in nearly two months and are 0-5-2 in their last seven. The goals simply haven’t been there with any regularity (just five goals scored in that 0-5-2 run), while TFC have been as good as anyone in the East on their day.
The Union have the ability to drop in dangerous balls quickly, regardless of the game state, but TFC should dominate the run of play. As to whether that’s enough to see them through? The playoffs have witnessed stranger things.
D.C. United vs. Montreal Impact
Thursday, Oct. 27 @ 7:30 pm ET on UniMás
When Ben Olsen’s D.C. United lineup hit the internet on Sunday, it was met with a wave of surprise. Olsen opted to rest 10 of his 11 starters a week after the club locked up a postseason spot despite the fact that the club was still playing for home-field advantage. Luckily for Olsen it didn’t rear up and bite him, because United was smashed 4-2 by an Orlando City squad playing for pride. But Montreal lost too, and D.C. United get a game at RFK anyway.
That’s very good news for Olsen, because D.C. United are two entirely different teams at home (9-4-4) and away (2-6-9). That alone – plus the fact his starters are rested and the team’s won four of its last five – will give D.C. United belief that they deserve to be in the semifinals.
Montreal might not be so certain. The Impact are fresh off a 3-0 defeat to a New England team that had basically no hope of the postseason, and Didier Drogba wasn’t in the 18-man roster. The Impact surrendered an incredible 25 shots and got just two on target of their own. Based on lackluster recent returns (3-4-3 in their last 10), the Impact will need a spark and maybe an otherworldly performance from Ignacio Piatti to take home a win in D.C.
The Western Conference was a wide-open maelstrom of possibilities entering Decision Day. At the top, FC Dallas entered the day fending off the Colorado Rapids for the Supporters' Shield. As long as FCD didn’t lose, it’d clinch. As for the rest, four teams – Seattle, Portland, RSL and Sporting KC – fought for three spots.
Ultimately FC Dallas came out the winners atop the table thanks to a scoreless draw at home against an LA Galaxy team with nothing to play for (they’d already cinched up the No. 3 seed). As for the riot at the bottom, Portland were demolished 4-1 in Vancouver and couldn’t climb above the thick red line to make the playoffs. That not only meant neither MLS Cup contestant from the year before made the playoffs for the first time in history. It also paved the way for Seattle, RSL and SKC to sprint into the playoffs in Portland’s stead.
LA Galaxy vs. Real Salt Lake
Wednesday, Oct. 26 @ 10:30 pm ET on TSN/TSN5, RDS2, UniMás
The Galaxy were the only team that knew precisely where they'd be in the postseason before Decision Day. Regardless of what happened in their finale against FC Dallas (it ended a scoreless draw) the Galaxy were the No. 3 seed and guaranteed to host a Knockout Round game. And, if the Galaxy progress, they’re guaranteed to play the No. 2 seed. As we now know, that’s the Colorado Rapids.
As for Real Salt Lake, they put together a spirited Decision Day display at Seattle, but they ultimately couldn’t overcome a second goal and lost 2-1. That’s worrying for RSL, because it turned a No. 4 seed and a potential home match at fortress Rio Tinto Stadium into a road match against a Galaxy team that’s lost exactly once at home all year (8-1-8).
RSL have now failed to win a game since Aug. 26 and they also have the most porous back line of any Western Conference playoff team (46 goals allowed). The Galaxy have the conference's most prolific attack (54 goals scored). RSL will likely ask a lot of Kyle Beckerman against a team that’s been stampeding over back lines at home for much of the season. The fact that RSL gave up eight goals to the Galaxy in two regular season meetings should mean the video sessions with the RSL defense are spirited on a short week.
Seattle Sounders vs. Sporting Kansas City
Thursday, Oct. 27 @ 10 pm ET on FS1, UniMás
The Sounders are happy to be in the postseason. They might not be quite so happy to see Sporting KC.
It’s fairly remarkable the Sounders are even here. After starting the season 6-12-2, Seattle finished 8-2-4 behind the sumptuous efforts of July addition Nicolas Lodeiro to go from ninth to fourth in the West. Seattle’s deserved 2-1 win at home over RSL on the final day of the regular season not only clinched the postseason, but it also set Seattle up with a home game.
But it hasn’t exactly had an easy time with Sporting KC this season, something Peter Vermes will no doubt use in his pregame prep. Sporting KC topped Seattle at CenturyLink Field in March on a goal that goalkeeper Stefan Frei will want to see again, and SKC’s comprehensive 3-0 win over Seattle in July was the last hurrah of longtime Sounders coach Sigi Schmid. Whether or not SKC has Seattle’s number, they can certainly claim the upper hand this year.
For their part, SKC have lost just once since the start of September (2-1-3), meaning this will be a clash of hot teams. Since the start of September these teams are a hearty 7-2-5 combined. While the Sounders will likely be favored at home, expect another tight one between teams that haven’t found much separation from one another all year.