For 16 days, we waited. Through a contentious presidential election, the death of Dos a Cero, an abject embarrassment in Costa Rica and the end of the Jurgen Klinsmann era, the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs hibernated.
Then, just as a sellout crowd of 61,004 was about to blow the roof off Olympic Stadium, we waited some more. This time for paint to dry. Literally.
And then the action started.
After an evening that gave us eight goals, a roller coaster of Canadian emotions, Didier Drogba’s Montreal farewell, more than 100,000 raucous fans packing two iconic stadiums and big-stage moments from Dominic Oduro, Nacho Piatti, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Kevin Doyle, Jordan Morris and Nicolas Lodeiro, among others, I have just one question.
Are you not entertained? No, seriously. How could you not be?
Tuesday night’s first legs of the Conference Championships were everything we want the MLS Cup Playoffs to be. That is to say equal parts entertaining, maddening and enthralling, depending on your perspective, with a dash of star power and ridiculousness – measure twice and paint once, folks – thrown in for good measure.
Who would have predicted the Impact would come out swinging, not just connecting but landing a trio of haymakers sans Drogba that nearly brought Toronto FC and their understandably cynical fans to their knees? Nearly, of course, because the Reds came roaring back to score two invaluable away goals via Altidore and Bradley and set up a return leg at BMO Field that promises to be dripping in suspense and rivalry tension.
Who among us thought the Rapids would even be playing in November, let alone taking an early lead at a rain-swept CenturyLink Field desperate for its first-ever MLS Cup finalist? And although a Morris clean-up job and Lodeiro penalty mean they’ll return to Colorado with a deficit, there’s everything to play for considering Pablo Mastroeni's team is perfectly set up to grind out a 1-0 home win that would see MLS Cup played at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
Here we are, recovering from 180 minutes of breakneck, back-and-forth playoff soccer that reminded us what we’ve been missing for the past two-plus weeks and what's still to come as December 10th draws nearer. The beauty of the playoff system is that anything can happen, and that holds true with just three games remaining on the 2016 MLS calendar.
So while Tuesday boasted the kind of action we’ll collectively file away as a future measuring stick for playoff entertainment, the best part might just be that it’s over. Hear me out:
Thanks to Tuesday, rabid fan bases in Montreal and Seattle have high-water playoff marks. Thanks to Tuesday, stars have been made or risen even higher. Thanks to Tuesday, the stage is set yet again. Thanks to Tuesday, Sunday and Wednesday’s second legs promise to be manic, must-watch affairs from the get-go.
Thanks to Tuesday, the wait was worth it.