The Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs resumed Tuesday, with a Conference Championships Leg 1 doubleheader – that escalated quickly! – and the storylines have begun to settle as we ready for the respective second legs.
Before we get too far in the weeds, let's save ourselves some trouble:
As you can see, the away goals each team scored offer a clean sheet out – just a 1-0 victory for either Toronto FC or the Colorado Rapids, and that squad is through to MLS Cup. The second away goal does give TFC a softer cushion – 2-1 puts them through as well; a similar margin would only send Colorado into extra time, and a potential penalty-kick shootout.
That said, I'm the guy who called Montreal this year's "Team of Destiny". While that second away goal has me a touch tentative, I'm not backing off: Toronto HAS to score to advance, and if Montreal – again – puts up the first goal (remember, they're 4-for-4 this postseason, often within the first hour, if not the first 10 minutes) Toronto's going to need a pair against a squad that's fully capable of sitting back and scoring again. They did run it up to 3-0 last time out, non? It says here one goal leaves the Reds listing-but-dangerous, while a second goal sinks their battleship.
Across the border – and several time zones – the Sounders are headed to high altitude in Colorado, where the Rapids have been far and away the league's surest home squad in 2016, posting an unblemished 11-0-6 regular-season record at Dick's Sporting Goods Park – along with an MLS all-time best 0.41 goals against average, shipping just seven goals.
And just one round back, the Rapids eliminated the LA Galaxy in PKs after a 1-0 Leg 2 victory – a scoreline that, again, would put them through after Kevin Doyle rocketed a looping deflection past a wrong-footed Stefan Frei for an away goal they didn't produce against LA.
Also, probably time to own up to this bad boy:
After relatively quiet regular seasons, DPs Doyle and Shkelzen Gashi have now produced those necessary – and spectacular – postseason strikes, setting up the expectation that somebody on this squad is going to come through when it counts. Maybe it's one of them, and maybe it's Marlon Hairston. (There's stil room on that bandwagon, BTW.)
Sure, it gets interesting if Seattle puts an away strike past Zac MacMath, but I'm not going to count on the Sounders cracking Colorado's home nut with a trip to MLS Cup at stake. The Rapids are one goal, and one DSG Park clean sheet, away from completing their single-season journey from the West's worst to its Conference Champion.
Don't count them out. You'll just join the ranks of the wrong.