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What you need to know

MLS Cup Playoff Conference Semifinals continue tomorrow

CF Montréal host NYCFC at 1 pm ET on ESPN, ESPN3 in US; TSN4, TVA Sports in Canada; and Austin FC welcome FC Dallas to Q2 Stadium at 8 pm ET on ESPN, ESPN Deportes. Check out the full schedule and more details here.

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The first seeds (and first seed haters) guide to Sunday's games

Many of you are not fans of the Philadelphia Union or LAFC. Some of you are. All of you have an interest in the results of Sunday’s game. So let’s take a quick detour before Sunday to try and figure out who you’re cheering for if you’re hoping for an all-first-seed MLS Cup or if you’re cheering for a crash-and-burn ending to two of the best MLS seasons ever.

This isn’t to say one team will be able to beat Philly or LAFC and the other won’t. Each team remaining has a chance. Some teams just have more of a chance than others.

The Philadelphia Union want to face…

It’s hard to go wrong here. Frankly, it feels like the difference in quality between CF Montréal and NYCFC versus FC Dallas and Austin is pretty vast. The Union are going to have the tougher matchup no matter what. But which team is more likely to take out the Union?

Well, if we’re going by Round One performances, you’ve got to give a slight edge to NYCFC. They looked ruthless in their 3-0 decimation of Inter Miami while Montréal looked steady and in control in their 2-0 win over Orlando, but not quite as sharp in the final third. To be fair though, Inter Miami had a nightmare performance from their defense and Orlando were doing their best to muddy things up.

Probably not best to go off of one game though. Let’s broadly consider what these teams have done, and what attributes make them successful or not so successful in the first place. The Union are outstanding in midfield and love to create high-quality chances through direct transition moments that come from suffocating pressure in the center of the pitch. But three teams have actually created more chances off turnovers. LAFC are first in the league. Second and third? FC Cincinnati and NYCFC. If we’re looking at transition moments as a whole, the Union created the second most chances, NYCFC came in third and FC Cincinnati came in fourth.

We saw FC Cincinnati go toe-to-toe with Philly for 90 minutes and come up just short. And although Cincy were a little better this year in actually finding the net in transition moments, I don’t think it’s unfair to say NYCFC have more quality across the board.

Meanwhile, Montréal are no slouches in transition moments. However, they’re much less direct than NYCFC. Though they’re almost equal in possession percentage per game, the average CFM possession lasts almost a second longer than NYCFC’s. To be fair, we’re talking a four and five-second difference between these two teams and Philly, who had the second shortest possession duration in the league. That’s only longer than the Red Bulls. And we should note Cincy had the third-shortest average possession length.

Even if they’re decent in transition, neither NYCFC or CFM are Cincy clones. And there’s an argument Cincy may have been the toughest matchup in the East for Philly stylistically. It’s tough to fight yourself sometimes.

All that being said, my best guess is a team like Montréal plays a little more into Philly’s strengths. You generally have to step on the gas to get through the Union midfield. And the numbers and eye test suggest Montréal are totally capable of doing it… they’re just a little less likely than NYCFC to do it effectively. I’ve seen possession-based teams fall into the Red Bulls’ trap enough times in my life to know a possession-based team going up against Red Bulls, but actually adaptable and good is going to have a very, very tough time.

My best guess is the Union want Montréal a little more than they want NYCFC.

LAFC want to face…

Ok, so like 80% of what I just said about the Union and their potential opponents can apply to LAFC and their potential opponents. Austin are the far more possession-based team than Dallas, and LAFC are outstanding in transition. The best in the league, actually. However, they’re not as direct in attack as Philadelphia and they don’t press nearly as much. You can afford to hold onto the ball and build out of the back against LAFC a little more optimistically than you can against the Union.

You don’t have to look any further than LAFC’s results against both teams this season to see that. Austin beat LAFC in each of their two meetings. The first Austin win (2-1) came in LA and the second was an outright beatdown at Q2 Stadium that ended 4-1. FC Dallas also picked up a win against LAFC this year, but lost convincingly in LA back in June. 

Austin have been the better team and haven’t lost to LAFC this year. This one’s a little easier and isn’t so predicated on style. LAFC want Dallas more than Austin.

And other things

New York Red Bulls sign Meara to contract extension: Longtime New York Red Bulls goalkeeper Ryan Meara has signed a contract extension through the 2024 season with an option for 2025. A 2012 MLS SuperDraft pick, the 31-year-old New York native has spent a decade at the club, posting seven shutouts over 37 MLS matches. He's also played 15 US Open Cup games — the most in franchise history. Highly respected within the organization, Meara has won three Supporters' Shields with the Red Bulls.

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Good luck out there. Impress the right people.