Top Things to Watch in MLS this Week
Final Four Set to Face Off in Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs Conference Finals
This Sunday, Oct. 30, a berth to MLS Cup 2022 is on the line, when the four teams remaining in the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs face off in the Eastern and Western Conference Finals.
In the Western Conference, No. 1 overall seed and Supporters’ Shield winner, the Los Angeles Football Club, will host No. 2 seed Austin FC at Banc of California Stadium (3 p.m. ET, ABC / ESPN3 / TSN / TVA Sports).
In the nightcap, the top-seeded Philadelphia Union will welcome defending MLS Cup champion New York City FC to Subaru Park (8 p.m. ET, FS1 / FOX Deportes / TSN / TVA Sports) in a rematch of the 2021 Eastern Conference Final, which saw NYCFC emerge victorious, 2-1.
No. 1 Seeds LAFC and Philadelphia Union Look to Overturn Historic Trend
For the first time since 2018, the top seeds in both conferences have advanced to the Conference Finals, as the Philadelphia Union in the East and LAFC in the West both will look to make history come Sunday. Both top seeds, along with Western Conference finalist Austin FC, are searching for the first MLS Cup berth in their respective club histories. However, to do so, they will need to buck a recent trend that has proved challenging for top-seeded clubs.
The last time that the No. 1 seeds in both conferences met in MLS Cup was 2003, when the San Jose Earthquakes defeated the Chicago Fire, 4-2, at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.
Home Sweet Home in the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs
Home has been sweet throughout the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs, as host teams have won eight of the 10 matches through the first two rounds of the postseason.
The Union, who were unbeaten at home during the regular season with a 12-0-5 record, will look to continue their blemish-free home slate. However, they will need to defeat the defending MLS Cup champions, New York City FC, which was also the last team to win an MLS match at Philadelphia’s Subaru Park, a 2-1 victory in the 2021 Eastern Conference Final.
Winners of 10 of their last 11 matches (including the postseason) played at Banc of California Stadium, LAFC will look to continue their home cooking against Austin FC on Sunday and secure home-field advantage in MLS Cup. Austin FC dealt LAFC one of their two home losses on the year, a 2-1 victory on May 18, 2022.
New York City FC Has Eyes Set on Repeat
With their 3-1 victory at CF Montréal in the Conference Semifinals last week, New York City FC became just the third team since 2010 to reach the Conference Final in the season after winning MLS Cup. Under the direction of a new coach and with players stepping up across the pitch, NYCFC has their eyes set on becoming the fourth team to repeat as MLS Cup champion and the first to do so since the 2011-12 LA Galaxy.
Austin FC Finessing Their Way to the Final
After finishing in 12th place in the Western Conference in their debut season in 2021, Austin FC continues to write the story of their sensational second season after advancing to the first Western Conference Final in club history with a 2-1 victory over FC Dallas last week. Austin FC is just the fourth expansion team since 2000 to advance to the Conference Finals in their first postseason appearance.
History is on Austin’s side, as No. 2 seeds have advanced to MLS Cup on nine occasions since 2012 – four more than the next-closest seed – and produced four champions, most recently 2019 Seattle Sounders FC.
As the second-year standout looks to continue their superb sophomore season, they will turn to midfielder Sebastián Driussi, who leads all postseason scorers with three goals after producing a career-best 22 goals during the regular season.
Is Philadelphia the Major League Sports Hub of Champions?
The Philadelphia professional sports scene is buzzing with two of the city’s teams in championship contention. Major League Soccer’s Philadelphia Union are one win away from making their first-ever MLS Cup, and the Philadelphia Phillies lead off their World Series run with Game 1 this Friday. With only two professional championships since 1984 (Phillies, 2008; Eagles, 2017), the City of Brotherly Love could be closing in on a title-town double.
There’s strong support and camaraderie among Philadelphia’s professional sports teams:
- Phillies infielder Edmundo Sosa was a special guest and drum striker for the Union’s pre-game ritual last Thursday for the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Semifinal against FC Cincinnati (DOWNLOAD PHOTO)
- Phillies players Garret Stubbs, Jose Alvarado, and Johan Camargo connected with the Union’s Sergio Santos, Jose Alvarado, Jose Martinez, and Nathan Harriel of the Philadelphia Union (DOWNLOAD PHOTO)
- Three of those MLS players (Bueno, Santos, and Martinez) share a Venezuelan home country connection with Phillies’ Alvarado
- Philadelphia Union’s Andre Blake - MLS Goalkeeper of the Year – was the Philadelphia 76ers bell ringer last night ahead of the Sixers first win of the season (VIEW PHOTOS)
The Philadelphia Union will host reigning MLS Cup champions New York City FC on Sunday at Subaru Park (8 p.m. ET, FS1 / FOX Deportes / TSN / TVA Sports) in an Eastern Conference Final rematch that last year sent NYCFC to MLS Cup.
Driussi and Bouanga Dazzle Out West
Postseason stars Sebastián Driussi (Austin FC) and Dénis Bouanga (LAFC) will face off Sunday afternoon with an MLS Cup berth on the line. Driussi, a Landon Donovan MLS MVP finalist, has continued his sensational form into the playoffs, scoring three goals in his first two postseason matches. The dynamic Argentine playmaker produced a sensational game-winning goal against FC Dallas, which propelled the Verde past their in-state rival (Watch Here) in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Driussi has scored five goals in as many games (including regular season) to help Austin to the Conference Final.
Awaiting Driussi is LAFC’s new star in Gabonese forward Denis Bouanga, who has become the club’s clutch hero. When the Supporters’ Shield was on the line at Portland on October 2, Bouanga scored the game-winning goal in the 95th minute. During the back-and-forth Conference Semifinal against the LA Galaxy, Bouanga stepped up again, scoring two go-ahead goals in the 3-2 victory. Now, it’s Bouanga vs. Driussi – who will prevail to MLS Cup as the Western Conference hero?
History in the Making: Conference Finals Tee-up Historic MLS Cup
The Western Conference Final guarantees a debutant will advance to MLS Cup after the Los Angeles Football Club and Austin FC go head-to-head on Sunday, Oct. 30 (3 p.m. ET, ABC / ESPN3 / TSN / TVA Sports).
On the other side of the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs bracket, the Philadelphia Union will face off against reigning MLS Cup champions New York City FC for their opportunity to make MLS Cup for the first time in club history. NYCFC, however, is looking to become the first repeat MLS Cup champion since the Los Angeles Galaxy won in 2011 and 2012.
Touchline Tacticians: The Head Coaches of the Conference Finalists
Steve Cherundolo – Los Angeles Football Club
In his first year as LAFC head coach, Cherundolo won the 2022 Supporters’ Shield and has led the club to their second-ever appearance in the Western Conference Final. Should LAFC advance on Sunday, Cherundolo could become the first head coach to win both the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup in the same season since Greg Vanney with Toronto FC in 2017.
Josh Wolff – Austin FC
Wolff’s second year as Austin FC head coach saw the club improve from second from bottom of the Western Conference in 2021 to the conference’s No. 2 seed in 2022. A previous MLS Cup winner as a player in 1998, Wolff is on the hunt for Austin FC’s first trophy in just their second MLS season.
Jim Curtin – Philadelphia Union
Curtin is the second-longest-tenured head coach in MLS but the second youngest among the four remaining in the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs. He led the Union to club records in points (67) and goals scored (72), as well as a league record for fewest goals conceded (26) in a 34-game regular season in his ninth season in charge.
Nick Cushing – New York City FC
Cushing was an NYCFC assistant coach before taking over as the interim head coach in June. To date, NYCFC have outscored their Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs opponents 6-1, including a 3-1 win over No. 2 seed CF Montréal. Their MLS Cup trophy defense continues Sunday, Oct. 30 against the Philadelphia Union in a rematch of the 2021 Eastern Conference Final.