Kickoff 10.14.22
What you need to know

MLS announces 2022 year-end awards finalists

MLS awards season is here. Finalists for the 2022 MLS year-end awards, which honor top performers on and off the field during the regular season, were announced Thursday afternoon. See the full list of finalists here.

New England Revolution announce end-of-year roster decisions

The New England Revolution officially got the offseason started by being the first club to announce their end-of-season roster decisions. The Revs declined options on four players: Emmanuel Boateng, Clément Diop, Wilfrid Kaptoum and Edward Kizza, as well as allowing a few players to be out of contract. Check out all of their decisions here.

Join the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs Bracket Challenge

You can compete in the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs Bracket Challenge here and then you can join The Daily Kickoff’s group here to compete against me and other folks who read this thing. There will be prizes if you’re good at this.

Vote in Goal and Save of the Year

Voting for the AT&T 5G 2022 MLS Goal of the Year (vote HERE) and the 2022 MLS Save of the Year presented by Allstate (vote HERE) from this season remains open.

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Let's talk strength of schedule

When we’re talking about teams making a run in the playoffs, we’re not always talking about which teams are the best. We might be talking about which team is the best when we talk about winning MLS Cup. But making it to a Conference Final? That’s something so easy even a No. 7 seed could do it. And they (Real Salt Lake) did. Just last year.

If you haven’t picked up on it by now, the firm belief of The Daily Kickoff is that even with 34 games worth of information, accurately picking the results of anything that happens in the playoffs will, in the end, be entirely based on luck. But we can still take our best shot at projecting winners based on the luck they’ve already been given.

Because some teams have an easier path to the season’s biggest games than others. That (not overall talent or ability) might be what makes the difference in the end. Here’s each team's path to MLS Cup on Nov. 5, ranked from most difficult to easiest.

Most difficult

Path: Each other → LAFC → Conference Final

Somehow, the two best non-LAFC teams in the West per the underlying numbers ended up matched up against each other in Round One. Then the winner of the battle between the best non-LAFC teams in the West per the underlying numbers will have to take on the actual best team in the West per the underlying numbers, LAFC. No one has a more trying road to MLS Cup.

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Path: FC Cincinnati → Philadelphia Union → Conference Final

You ever play a video game where you think you’ve beaten the final boss and then suddenly it says something like “You haven’t even seen my final form!” and then gets bigger, scarier and harder to beat in every way? That’s what going from Cincy to Philadelphia is. You just go from one terrifying attacking trio to another, except now they can actually play suffocating defense. Good luck, Red Bulls.

Path: CF Montréal → New York City FC/Inter Miami CF winner → Conference Final

The Lions start their playoff run against the best team playing in Round One, then take on a good NYCFC team or an Inter Miami that boat raced them just a week and a half ago, and then either take on Philly or the team that took down Philly but probably Philly. Sheesh.

Path: New York Red Bulls → Philadelphia Union → Conference Final

We know that the Red Bulls’ stuff doesn’t work in the playoffs. But that doesn’t make them easy to handle. Then of course even if you do, Philadelphia are waiting. Anyone who has to deal with Philadelphia is in serious trouble on paper.

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Path: New York City FC → CF Montréal/Orlando City SC winner → Conference Final

Orlando but on a slightly easier setting.

Path: Inter Miami CF → CF Montréal/Orlando City SC winner → Conference Final

Inter Miami are more of an attacking threat than Orlando, and a potential run of CF Montréal and Philadelphia to make it to MLS Cup is brutal.

Path: Orlando City SC → Inter Miami CF/New York City FC winner → Conference Final

I nearly ranked their path as easier than Philadelphia’s. The only thing that stopped me is that to make it to MLS Cup, Montréal would have to (obviously) beat Philadelphia or the team that took them down. 

However…it kind of seems like even with an extra game, CF Montréal have an easier road to the Conference Final. 

Hear me out. Orlando, while still totally capable of winning in Round One and beyond, feel like the worst team in the playoff field. After that, CF Montréal would face either an Inter Miami team that’s almost as surprised as everyone else that they’re here or an NYCFC team that seems like it may be missing three critical players due to injury. Even if it’s just one player missing, that player potentially being Talles Magno is a bad sign for NYCFC.  

If you’re asking if it’s tougher to get through Orlando and a broken NYCFC team, or get through either the Red Bulls press or FC Cincinnati’s attack in one game, I’m just saying that there’s a legitimate argument for the former. Even if in my head I know it’s insane to suggest that winning two games is easier than one. But also, I mean…

…Oh man, this probably ends with Montréal losing in Round One now, huh?

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Path: FC Cincinnati/New York Red Bulls winner → Conference Final

Cincinnati and Red Bulls are both very good teams! And we know that Cincy have a ton of firepower and we know that Red Bulls and Union games can become hilariously claustrophobic without much effort. Especially coming off a Round One bye that other teams haven’t exactly benefited from lately. At that point, anything could happen.

RSL path: Austin FC → FC Dallas/Minnesota United FC winner → Conference Final

Minnesota path: FC Dallas → Austin FC/Real Salt Lake winner → Conference Final

You might have thought I’d forgotten about the West. Nope. It just kind of seems like the bottom half of the West’s bracket is filled with teams that are just kind of good and not great and any team could come out of this group of four and it wouldn’t be surprising.

As far as deciding between these four teams, the decent chance of hosting in the Conference Semifinals means Round One is a little more important for our strength of schedule bit here. It feels like a toss-up to decide whether it will be tougher to take down Dallas or Austin in Round One, but even if Dallas seem like they might be the team with the higher floor, I gave the nod to the atmosphere at Q2 Stadium in Austin.

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Austin path: Real Salt Lake → FC Dallas/Minnesota United FC winner → Conference Final

Dallas path: Minnesota United FC → Austin FC/Real Salt Lake winner → Conference Final

FC Dallas get to avoid the xDAWG heroes in Round One and instead get a Loons team that just hasn’t had it for the better part of a month and a half now. It’s a toss-up, though, considering that Dallas might have to go on the road for the semifinals. Either way, one of the four teams at the bottom of the bracket eventually has to face someone from the top. And the odds don’t feel great.

Least difficult

Path: LA Galaxy/Nashville SC winner → Conference Final

As difficult as LA or Nashville will be, it really does seem like that LAFC will be heavily favored if they make it to the Conference Final. They’re just two games from hosting MLS Cup and their first game will be their biggest test.

Other Things

2023 Concacaf Champions League details are here: Here’s a rundown of key information, including when the draw will occur, who has qualified thus far and what the competition’s future has in store.

The Reading Rainbow
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Full Time

Good luck out there. I don’t have bad advice today, I just have two good dogs.