22MLS_TheDailyKickoff-4x5 (1)
The Recap

PHILADELPHIA UNION 1-0 FC CINCINNATI

Leon Flach found the net in the 59th minute and Andre Blake did Andre Blake things as the Union stifled FC Cincinnati on their way to a 1-0 win and the Eastern Conference Final. This is the Union’s second-straight conference final. They’ll play the winner of CF Montréal and NYCFC, which kicks off this Sunday at 1 pm ET on ESPN.

LAFC 3-2 LA GALAXY

Y'all won’t believe this but El Trafico got a little crazy. Denis Bouanga and Samuel Grandsir traded first-half goals, but the game didn’t truly go into chaotic overdrive until the 80th minute. Bouanga found the net again to give LAFC a late 2-1 lead, but Dejan Joveljic scored within a minute of stepping on the field to tie things up at 2-2 in the 85th minute. With the game hurtling towards extra time, Chicho Arango sent home a rebound in front of goal and sent Banc of California Stadium into full-on pandemonium in the third minute of stoppage time. LAFC advanced to the Western Conference Final for the second time in club history. They’ll take on either FC Dallas or Austin FC, who face off this Sunday at 8 pm ET on ESPN, ESPN Deportes.

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What you need to know

Atlanta United’s Martinez wins 2022 AT&T 5G MLS Goal of the Year fan vote

Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez has won the 2022 AT&T 5G MLS Goal of the Year award for his stunning bicycle kick against the New England Revolution on Oct. 1. The Venezuelan international acrobatically volleyed home Brooks Lennon's cross to the far post. Not even 2022 Allstate MLS Goalkeeper of the Year runner-up Djordje Petrović could stop the brilliant strike.

Orlando City SC’s Gallese wins 2022 MLS Save of the Year presented by Allstate fan vote

Orlando City SC goalkeeper Pedro Gallese has won the 2022 MLS Save of the Year presented by Allstate award for his jaw-dropping display during a 1-1 draw at Atlanta United on July 17.

What we learned from another outstanding playoff night

These playoffs are working overtime to make other playoffs feel bad about themselves. Just looking them up and down and saying “Oh, honey” and walking away. Everyone who’s having success is so, for lack of a better word, good. They’re good at soccer. In a way that we haven’t gotten in a while. Going from 2020 to a 2021 where Portland and RSL made the Western Conference Final to 2022 is enough to induce a bit of whiplash when comparing the quality of the soccer being played and how teams are being rewarded for it.

That’s not to say that the top seed has to win every time for the playoffs to be good. It’s just that we’re seeing the best teams rewarded for having the best regular seasons while still having to push themselves to their limits against really good teams. This is far from the anti-climactic exits of Colorado and New England last year. I’d imagine that LAFC and Philly having a 10-day break between Decision Day and their first playoff game instead of 18-day and 23-day breaks like last year’s first seeds probably helped with that.

It just feels like we’re on our way to an ending where no one has fluked their way through a small-sample-size tournament to be in MLS Cup. That hasn’t happened since, what, 2017 with Toronto and Seattle facing off? (Don’t look at me like that, I know what you did, 2019 Toronto.)

These teams are all excellent (some more than others, but still), actively work to find the net when they have the ball and each presents their own unique qualities and style. And the product as a whole seems way better for it.

Anyway, to put it a little more plainly, this is fun as hell. Plus, it’s a solid representation of the growth of the league as a whole over the last few years. That’s my biggest takeaway so far from all of this. But there were a few other things to take from last night.

Andre Blake, MVP

Haha nah, just kidding, it’s Hany Mukhtar. But my goodness if Andre Blake didn’t take last night to remind everyone why he made his way into the discussion in the first place. I know “Andre Blake is good at this!” isn’t exactly a takeaway at this point, but Andre Blake is so, so, so good at this. If there’s any reason to feel extra confident in any remaining team’s MLS Cup chances, it’s the fact that Andre Blake is miles ahead of any keeper left and any keeper in the entire league not named Djordje Petrovic.

He gives the Union more than a fighting chance in every single situation and is the difference between a 1-0 win last night and who knows what. Cincinnati put five shots on frame last night and it felt like all of them had a decent chance at getting Cincy back in the game. Obviously, Blake didn’t let it happen. As good as the Union are, Blake takes them from a great team to practically unbeatable. Good luck to everyone else.

Andre Blake saves vs. FC Cincinnati

2022 Cincy forever and ever, amen

I’m going to miss them. We don’t have time for a full eulogy today, but never forget how special it was to see a team that got pummeled for three-straight seasons turn into a legitimate threat to make a playoff run. I hope they’re able to keep their core together and figure out a few things defensively next year. There’s a chance they could take a significant jump forward from an already impressive season. Especially as Obinna Nwobodo grows into the league. I just really love Obinna Nwobodo.

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The Galaxy are close

The Galaxy were playing some of the best ball in the league down the stretch thanks to Riqui Puig and Gaston Brugman. Now just imagine this group with a realigned spine thanks to some improvements in their defensive personnel and wingers who provide a genuine threat in attack. They aren’t far away from being a juggernaut ready to challenge the league’s best for the Supporters’ Shield. I wouldn’t be surprised if they make some waves this offseason to get there.

Bouanga is elite, LAFC have their Best XI and Arango earns his moment

Just a few quick thoughts on LAFC and then I will get out of here. First and foremost, Denis Bouanga is terrifying. He’s going to be a nightmare for everyone else in MLS for as long as he’s in the league. I don’t know who’s going to stop him in the playoffs and I don’t know who’s going to stop him next year and any subsequent year in the future.

Besides having Bouanga though, LAFC seemed to have found their Best XI and it doesn’t involve Gareth Bale and Giorgio Chiellini. Throughout the back half of the season, as LAFC struggled, we talked about the difference between getting your 11 “best” players out on the field and finding your Best XI. When you have as much talent as LAFC, these are the problems you have to solve.

It seems like Steve Cherundolo and LAFC have solved them at just the right time. LAFC went with the same group that beat Portland on Decision Day and I doubt there will be any variation going forward. They’ve figured out a critical component of an MLS Cup run and it’s hard to imagine who’s going to stop them. Besides Andre Blake – Andre Blake could probably stop them.

And lastly, Chicho Arango is awesome. I don’t know if I need to add to that. But he is. And he’s been weirdly maligned despite being awesome. He deserved what can maybe be called the biggest moment in LAFC history last night. I’m glad he got it.

Other Things

Canada to face Bahrain in pre-World Cup friendly: Canada have added another pre-World Cup friendly to their itinerary, announcing an international exhibition match against Bahrain on Friday, Nov. 11. The news comes exactly one month before the tournament kicks off in Qatar and allows Les Rouges to get more valuable real-game preparation ahead of their first World Cup in 36 years.

The Reading Rainbow
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Good luck out there. Find ways to communicate effectively.