dailykickoff-sept2-2022
What you need to know

MLS, Continental Tire team up for 9th Annual Kick Childhood Cancer campaign

MLS and Continental Tire are again teaming up to support Childhood Cancer Awareness Month with the ninth annual “MLS Works Kick Childhood Cancer” campaign to raise awareness and funds for pediatric cancer. This year, the Kick Childhood Cancer (KCC) campaign will again benefit Children’s Oncology Group (COG), the world’s largest organization devoted exclusively to childhood and adolescent cancer research.

Nashville’s Mukhtar named Week 28 Continental Player of the Week

After another stellar individual performance that included his first hat trick of the season in his team's 4-1 victory over the Colorado Rapids, Nashville SC star Hany Mukhtar has taken home MLS Player of the Week presented by Continental Tire honors for Week 28. 

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What if the postseason started today?

We’re officially in the last month (or so) of the regular season. We’ll get a couple of games in October before the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs, but this is the last full month of soccer, and even then there’s a small international break thrown into the middle. We’re practically at the finish line. 

This is MLS, though. A lot can change in a month. Teams can cool off, get hot, get injured and our outlook on their MLS Cup chances can shift. As of this moment though, we have a decent idea of how things are going to shake out. On paper anyway. There will be upsets no matter what, but we have a good idea of who has the better odds of pulling out a win.

So before we get one last month of shifting, I thought we could take stock of where we are at this very moment. Let’s consider things somewhat interchangeable as we take our best-educated guess on how the playoffs would shake out if they started riggghtttttttttt…now.

EASTERN CONFERENCE ROUND ONE

(2) CF Montréal vs. (7) FC Cincinnati

I went ahead and put Cincy ahead of Inter Miami CF due to points per game and because I thought it would be more interesting. Also: These teams played twice this season and both games ended 4-3 in favor of Montréal. FCC’s front three is a terrifying monster to wrestle with in a single-elimination format and Montréal haven’t necessarily slowed them down this season. There’s a world where FCC get hot and take down a couple of teams in the playoffs before eventually flaming out due to being on the road for every playoff game. It is not this world. Montréal head coach Wilfriend Nancy is too good at this and they’re just too good in general.

  • Winner: (2) CF Montréal

(3) New York Red Bulls vs. (6) Columbus Crew

A version of the Crew where Cucho Hernandez and Lucas Zelarayan are both supernova hot is a real threat to make a run to MLS Cup. This isn’t necessarily that version. The Crew are undefeated over their last five but only two of those five are wins. They aren’t playing at peak levels right now.

However, the biggest problem for New York here is that they have to play in the hostile environment of…uh…Red Bull Arena. They’re considerably worse at home! They have five more road wins this season than home wins. The good news for them is that the Crew struggle to win on the road. Columbus are just 3W-2D-8L away from Lower.com Field. Let’s call home-field advantage a wash and just give this to the better soccer team.

  • Winner: (3) New York Red Bulls

(4) New York City FC vs. (5) Orlando City SC

Have you seen these teams play lately? NYCFC has lost five of their last six. Orlando thoroughly believe they’re going to win every game despite the circumstances and they’ve pretty much been correct about that lately. They’ve won four in a row and keep pulling out wins. Easy choice.

  • Winner: (5) Orlando City SC

WESTERN CONFERENCE ROUND ONE

(2) Austin FC vs. (7) LA Galaxy

The Galaxy are in over the Timbers based on points per game. It doesn’t matter. As good as Riqui Puig has been, he hasn’t been “take down Austin in Austin during their first-ever playoff game” good. There are like 10 players in the world that good. Maybe.

  • Winner: (2) Austin FC
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(3) Minnesota United FC vs. (6) Nashville SC

Oh boy. I have absolutely no idea here. Minnesota United have maybe been the best team in the league during the second half of the season. Nashville have been maybe the best team over the last three matchweeks thanks to Dax McCarty’s Come to Jesus press conference and Hany Mukhtar going nuclear. My guess is that, in our universe, they probably don’t end up sixth in the West.

In this universe, Minnesota just beat Nashville in Nashville a few weeks ago. This doesn’t feel like the same Nashville team though. With Mukhtar hotter than Minnesota’s midfield orchestrator Emanuel Reynoso, let’s just go with the Coyotes on a coin flip.

  • Winner: (6) Nashville SC

(4) Real Salt Lake vs. (5) FC Dallas

RSL have too much heart, too much dawg in them and are just generally playing better than FC Dallas.

  • Winner: (4) Real Salt Lake

EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS

(1) Philadelphia Union vs. (5) Orlando City SC

Orlando have thrived in scenarios where they seem least likely to thrive this season. Philadelphia will be coming off the dreaded round-one bye.

It doesn’t matter. Don’t overthink this one.

  • Winner: (1) Philadelphia Union

(2) CF Montréal vs. (3) New York Red Bulls

Can Montréal defer the right to host this game? No? Well…

As good as Montréal have been, RBNY get superpowers on the road. They’ve won two more road games than Montréal have won home games.

  • Winner: (3) New York Red Bulls

WESTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS

(1) LAFC vs. (4) Real Salt Lake

Can…can you reasonably expect LAFC to win anything right now? They’ve lost three in a row and two of those three came against San Jose and Houston. There’s a good argument that they're coasting a bit until things ramp up in the playoffs, but shifting back to full throttle that quickly is easier said than done. Especially as they continue to integrate new players.

Plus, ya know, I’ve been joking about RSL beating LAFC in the playoffs for about four months now.

  • Winner: (4) Real Salt Lake

(2) Austin FC vs. (6) Nashville SC

Remember how I said that there are only like 10 players in the world good enough to beat Austin FC in Austin in the playoffs? Hany Mukhtar might be one of them.

He only might be though. We’ll take the safer option and pick the team that feels destined for something a little bigger this season. And…you know…has also played far better soccer, more consistently, all season.

  • Winner: (2) Austin FC
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EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL

(1) Philadelphia Union vs. (3) New York Red Bulls

I’ve been laughing about the horrors of an Eastern Conference Final with a collective 53% pass completion percentage for a while now. The casuals are going to hate it. But The Daily Kickoff readers know nothing is better than two teams running headfirst into each other over and over at full speed for 90 minutes until the loser passes out.

That loser, in this case, is New York. The Union just have more ways to beat you. They do a lot of the same things that Red Bulls do. Just with better players, better chemistry and more tactical flexibility.

  • Winner: (1) Philadelphia Union

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINAL

(2) Austin FC vs. (4) Real Salt Lake

RSL make a second straight Western Conference Final!

But the plot is the plot. Austin FC go down early but make a furious comeback to win.

  • Winner: (2) Austin FC

MLS CUP

(1) Philadelphia Union vs. (2) Austin FC 

I truly believe Austin have plot armor. But sometimes stories end with the protagonist coming up just short. Expectations have to be subverted for us to learn anything. And the lesson we’re going to learn in this case is that the Philadelphia Union are very, very, very good at soccer. 

No team is hotter right now. No team is built better to deal with the intensity of playoff soccer. And no team fits all of the pieces of their puzzle together quite as well. If we started today, the Union are your favorites. When we start in October, they probably will be too. 

  • Winner: (1) Philadelphia Union
Other Things

MLS Disciplinary Committee fines LAFC's Chiellini: Among various decisions, the MLS Disciplinary Committee has found LAFC defender Giorgio Chiellini guilty of violating the League’s policy regarding Entering the Field of Play during a confrontational incident in the 38th minute of LAFC’s match against Austin FC on August 26. Chiellini has been fined an undisclosed amount for the violation.

The Reading Rainbow
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Good luck out there. Kick childhood cancer.