What you need to know

Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs begin today

The playoffs begin today with the New York Red Bulls hosting FC Cincinnati at 12 pm ET on UniMas, TUDN and MLSsoccer.com. Then the Western Conference gets started with the LA Galaxy welcoming Nashville SC at 3 pm ET on UniMas, TUDN and MLSsoccer.com.

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What to watch for on a Playoff Saturday

We made it! 34 weeks of soccer just for teams to either get a little too excited about a first-round win that will ultimately mean nothing or for them to bow out in just 90 minutes after months of work. It’s going to be a blast.

Ok, that might be a bit cynical. It’s just that why should other teams GET TO BE HAPPY WHEN MI…you know what, never mind. Just know the stakes are high today. Especially considering we’re opening with two matchups between the fourth and fifth seeds. Winner goes on to take on a heavily favored LAFC team or a heavily favored Philadelphia team. We’re basically holding tryouts to take down the Death Star.

Here’s what you need to keep an eye on.

If it’s not Lewis Morgan, who is it?

The Red Bulls’ most readily apparent flaw feels like a big one for the playoffs. Turns out, scoring goals is important in soccer. And here’s the list of Red Bulls players with more than five goals: Lewis Morgan.

That’s it. To be fair, he does have 14 goals this year. He’s been fantastic. But there’s only so much one person can do. Going up against a team that boasts one of the single-most productive attacking trios in MLS history, there’s a high probability that one goal won’t get the job done.

Now, we try not to get too caught up in recent trends heading into the playoffs around here. There’s pretty strong evidence your most recent form heading into the playoffs isn’t as strong an indicator of playoff success as your performance over the second half of the season. Even then, nothing is definite. However, the Red Bulls had to be encouraged by the Decision Day performance of striker Elias Manoel.

His brace led the way for New York in a 2-0 win and gave Red Bulls fans a thread of hope heading into the playoffs that maybe, just maybe, they found the forward they’ve been missing at just the right time. Manoel, a Gremio loanee, only has six matches under his belt with New York and his two goals on Decision Day were his first. We don’t have a lot of real data on him. But real data can be the death of optimism. We’re just trying to stay positive here. There’s only so much you can do when you’re on year 13 of a playoff streak that’s never ended in hardware.

The trio is great, but you’ve gotta get the ball to them

Brenner, Brandon Vazquez and Lucho Acosta are near impossible to handle when they’re in sync and on the ball. But what if they never get in sync? And what if they just don’t spend a lot of time on the ball?

Red Bulls and Cincinnati played twice this season. Both games ended in 1-1 ties. In the first game, the Knifey Lions had 45% possession, 60% pass accuracy and 10 shots. In the second game, Cincy had 47% possession, 68% pass accuracy and exactly three shots. The first game seems fine. The second game seems like they got a little lucky. Both games seem like they were struggling to create against the Red Bulls press at the standard they’re used to against other, less energetic teams.

That’s not rare. Most teams struggle with Red Bulls in their own unique way. And it’s far from the worst idea to relinquish possession and attempt to bypass the press by sending the ball forward to your outstanding front that includes a phenomenal dribbler in Acosta and an excellent hold-up play forward in Vazquez. It doesn’t take much to kick start a kind of psuedo-transition moment with this group. 

However, that still means chances will most likely be limited. You can’t really play the kind of game you’re used to. We’ll just have to see if that means Cincy are totally silenced in the end or able to create and capitalize on the kind of clear-cut chance Red Bulls are prone to allowing once you get through their press.

Styles make fights

The Galaxy will be looking to score at every moment. Nashville will be…well, not that probably. Look, we’re talking about two teams with very different outlooks on life. The Galaxy believe if you just keep smiling everything will keep working out even if everything around you is on fire. Nashville believe suffering is a gift that must be embraced even if that means inflicting more suffering on yourself when it’s not really necessary.

We’re talking about a team with attacking firepower across the board against a team with one really, really big superweapon they shoot at you when they feel like you’ve gotten tired enough from trying to break through their often impenetrable wall. It’s the kind of matchup where you could see it going either way. You won’t be surprised if Riqui Puig and Chicharito break through immediately and spend the day ripping apart Nashville’s defense. You won’t be surprised if they’re stifled the entire time and a frustrating day ends with Nashville winning on a Hany Mukhtar goal or game-winning set piece.

We know exactly who these teams are. We just don’t know how they’re going to react when they crash into each other at playoff intensity. It’s going to be fascinating. In the end, it probably won’t tell us who the better team is. It will probably just tell us who got a little luckier this round.

Other Things

Elfath named 2022 MLS Referee of the Year: Ismail Elfath has been named the 2022 MLS Referee of the Year, Major League Soccer and the Professional Referee Organization announced Friday. It's the second time (in only three years) he's earned this recognition during his career.

Rockwell named 2022 MLS Assistant Referee of the Year: Corey Rockwell has been named the 2022 MLS Assistant Referee of the Year, Major League Soccer and the Professional Referee Organization announced Friday. It's the second time he's earned this recognition during his career.

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