Round One Best-of-3 series begin Saturday, and fans have expressed clear favorites in the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs Bracket Challenge.
At the risk of providing bulletin-board material, we're giving quick-fire predictions on who will advance and who heads home – all building towards MLS Cup presented by Audi on Dec. 9.
A quick reminder on the format:
- Hosting: Game 1 at the higher seed, Game 2 at the lower seed, Game 3 (if necessary) at the higher seed.
- Win-only/PKs: There are no ties and no aggregate score. If teams are tied after regulation, penalty kicks decide the winner.
- Best-of-3: The first team to win two matches advances. The loser's playoff journey ends.
Sixteen teams enter, but only eight reach the Conference Semifinals. Who's got the edge?
PREDICTION: Cincinnati in 2 games
There's added pressure with being the No. 1 overall seed. But Cincinnati maintain their dream of completing an MLS Cup-Supporters' Shield double (would be the ninth in league history).
PREDICTION: Orlando in 2 games
Maybe Nashville can find their Leagues Cup energy, when they stormed to the final before Lionel Messi's brilliant left foot got in the way. But that's hard to see happening, especially as their Hany Mukhtar-led attack slumps.
PREDICTION: Atlanta in 3 games
Understandably, there's a spotlight on the Decision Day red card Thiago Almada received that will force him to miss Game 1. But we're choosing the optimistic route, meaning Atlanta get an Almada-sized boost (and full-health Giorgos Giakoumakis) after dropping Game 1 to rattle off back-to-back wins and advance.
PREDICTION: Philadelphia in 3 games
This seems like a series where both teams hold serve at home, much like we saw unfold in their regular-season battles. In 2023, Philadelphia won 3-0 at Subaru Park (May 20) before New England won 2-1 at Gillette Stadium (Oct. 21).
PREDICTION: Kansas City in 3 games
I'll borrow a line from Matt Doyle: "This is the type of playoff series we’re potentially still referencing 25 years from now." This Midwest rivalry is about to hit 11 on the dial.
How does that manifest?
Sporting KC have been the West's best team since May and St. Louis lose a Game 3 heartbreaker at home. Bradley Carnell's group have a claim for being the best-ever expansion team, but we get more PK heroics from Sporting goalkeeper Tim Melia and Alan Pulido has a monster series. Peter Vermes' playoff experience pays off, too.
PREDICTION: Seattle in 3 games
FC Dallas seem like a heavy underdog in this series, and I tend to agree. But Jesús Ferreira and Alan Velasco have playoff experience to fall back on, and they acquired ex-Real Madrid midfielder Asier Illarramendi in the summer for these moments.
That leaves Seattle pushed to the brink, where Brian Schmetzer's group settles things in Game 3. Nicolás Lodeiro, who's said he's not received a new contract for 2024 (or beyond), gets the game-winner to further stoke debate.
PREDICTION: LAFC in 2 games
Dénis Bouanga isn't slowing down anytime soon. The 2023 MLS Golden Boot presented by Audi winner has six goals in his last three games, and Carlos Vela (in the final year of his DP contract) wants another title.
PREDICTION: Houston in 2 games
We may have fallen victim to one of the classic blunders, and we're not talking about never getting involved in a land war in Asia. It's to not question a Pablo Mastroeni-led team in the playoffs.