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The Recap

NYCFC 3-1 CF MONTRÉAL

NYCFC scored on their only two shots of the first half and converted a penalty in the second half to cruise past CF Montréal and into their second-straight Eastern Conference Final.

Maxi Moralez opened the scoring in the sixth minute after a chaotic sequence ended with the ball at Moralez’s feet inside the box and with the net open. Then, in stoppage time of the first half, Heber glided past CF Montréal’s backline and received a pass in the middle of the 18 that he promptly sent home with time to spare.

At that point, CF Montréal, who were in control of the game excluding those two critical moments, felt doomed. In the 61st minute, Talles Magno made sure of that, converting a penalty to give NYCFC a 3-0 lead. Djordje Mihailovic added a consolation goal late in the second half, his final goal with the team before joining Dutch side AZ Alkmaar this winter.

AUSTIN FC 2-1 FC DALLAS

Austin took an early lead for themselves this time and held on the rest of the way despite some late pressure from Alan Velasco and FC Dallas to advance to their first-ever Western Conference Final.

In front of a crowd that routinely clipped the broadcast mics last night, Moussa Djitte sent home a corner in the 26th minute and Sebastian Driussi scored a stellar goal three minutes later to give Austin a 2-0 lead and send the Q2 Stadium crowd into a frenzy.

FC Dallas looked overwhelmed in the first half, but grew into the game in the second, eventually pulling one back thanks to a goal from Velasco. In the end though, Austin were in control and earned their first-ever win over FC Dallas at the most critical time.

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What you need to know

Conference Finals set: The Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs have reached the Conference Final stage, with both No. 1 seeds – Philadelphia Union (Eastern Conference) and LAFC (Western Conference) – set to host on Oct. 30. LAFC will face Austin FC at 3 pm ET on ABC and ESPN Deportes. The Union will welcome NYCFC to Subaru Park for a rematch of the 2021 Eastern Conference Final at 8 pm ET on FS1 and FOX Deportes.

Assorted thoughts from the Semifinal Sunday that was

“We’ve been here before”

NYCFC showed up in Montréal and caused a total disaster. There was some luck involved, sure. But when it comes down to it, NYCFC looked like they understood exactly how to get the job done in the scenario and Montréal looked primed to give up critical chances.

I’m generally not into trying to read body language or trying to dig too much into intangible things like “playoff experience.” However, NYCFC were patient, survived when and how they needed to and acted with malicious intent when an opportunity came to put the ball in the net.

Meanwhile, CF Montréal objectively played well for most of the game, but either shut off or let their worst habits take over at the worst possible time. That wasn't necessarily surprising. We talked about this yesterday:

Going up against a team that’s usually steering the game like Montréal, the match might be decided on whether or not NYCFC can hit at speed against a team that put together solid defensive performances game after game, even if their goals allowed numbers don’t quite illustrate that. Despite 50 goals allowed on the season, Montréal had the lowest expected goals allowed total in the league. Essentially, they weren’t giving up chances in bunches or giving up high-quality chances, they were just doomed by bad goalkeeping and bad luck.

Well, the first goal didn’t quite come from a true counter, but it was marked by some direct play from NYCFC in a transition moment, a couple of unlucky bounces and a decision from the goalkeeper to come off his line and try and stop a cutback from the end line. The second goal came in 100% distilled counter form. NYCFC swiped the ball in their own box and took off running. And just when it seemed like Montréal might have things under control, Heber just kind of jogged casually into the middle of the box and finished an easy chance.

In two moments in the first half, Montréal found a way to showcase the absolute worst of themselves. NYCFC weren’t perfect, but they were never catastrophic. And I think it’s something we can chalk, in part, up to experience. Experience that’s kind of tough to see Montréal using again with serious MLS Cup hopes on the line. As good as Wilfried Nancy is, Mihailovic is leaving, Ismael Kone might be on his way out if a team in Europe comes calling and Victor Wanyama may be moving on as well. Montréal have a fascinating offseason on the way.

Austin were just better

I don’t have a ton of words for Austin-Dallas, mainly because I don’t think we learned anything. Like at all. Austin have just been better all year and Dallas have been stupefyingly totally fine and never anything less or more. Once Austin took a 2-0 lead, the only people who were going to ruin that were in Verde & Black. Austin limited their mistakes enough this time to keep Dallas from making another late comeback at Q2 Stadium and that was that.

All year, Dallas found a way to keep their floor high. But when it came to hitting the ceiling, they weren’t going to keep up with an Austin team that’s just got too much firepower and too much cosmic inertia.

The Union won yesterday, too

You’re going to hear a lot about it over the next week, but it’s important to remember in last year’s Eastern Conference Final against NYCFC, the Union were missing 11 players and six starters due to health and safety protocols. And they still almost won. Almost (2-1 loss).

It’s fair to say the Union felt a little hard done by the situation. It’s one of the unluckiest events in MLS history. As good as NYCFC were, last year’s Union team could have certainly gone on to win MLS Cup as well. Now they’re going to get the rematch every single person associated with the Union wanted.

This time though, the Union are even better. This is a real-life scenario where the main character, in search of revenge, heads off to study the blade for a year before coming back to challenge their transgressor. This is a straight-up anime character arc. And whoo boy, if you thought the Union were intense before, the energy they bring to this Conference Final might be what overruns NYCFC or leads to critical mistakes from the Union.

We got the four best teams

This is probably my favorite part of the whole thing. No one is here by accident. There were no playoff flukes. Each of these teams could win MLS Cup and we’re going to feel like we crowned the best team champion. I can’t really remember that happening with four teams left before. Not lately anyway.

So we’re going from the best Conference Semifinal setup ever to what might be the best Conference Final setup ever. And we’re going to get some outstanding soccer. Considering how the league continues to grow, it might be some of the best soccer it’s ever seen. Just take a moment to appreciate it while you can.

The Reading Rainbow
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Full Time

Good luck out there. Take it all in.