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What you need to know

Columbus Crew part ways with head coach Porter

The Columbus Crew have parted ways with head coach Caleb Porter, the club announced Monday. Columbus were eliminated from Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs contention with a 2-1 loss at Orlando City SC on Sunday. Porter had one year left on his contract. He joined Columbus ahead of the 2019 season and led the club to an MLS Cup title in 2020 and Campeones Cup title in 2021. The Crew only made the playoffs in 2020 out of his four seasons in charge.

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Which team is most likely to pull an upset on the road?

You may have heard MLS can have a tendency to be a bit random at times. The odds of every higher-ranked seed surviving in any tournament are low. In an MLS-based single-elimination tournament, they’re microscopic, especially considering how critical home field advantage is in this league. MLS’ home field advantage is larger than any other league in the world and it feels relatively simple as to why. When you play in a league where even the best teams aren’t separated that much from the worst, a tiny push in your favor like not having to travel can have major consequences.

But this is MLS. Someone is going to lose their first game at home and be a total disappointment to the thousands of fans that showed up. Probably to their parents too. Wow. Bet that’s going to hurt.

So let’s take a look at who we might get to laugh at. Here are the lower seeds least and most likely to pull off an upset away from home.

8
FC Cincinnati/Red Bulls winner at Philadelphia

It’s not that these teams are bad. It’s more that Philadelphia didn’t lose at home this year. Not once. Not a single dang time. That’s 12 wins and five draws if you’re keeping track. There’s a reason they earned a Round One bye. I’m not saying it can’t happen. Just that it’s the least likely outcome.

7
Orlando City at CF Montréal

The Lions somehow feel simultaneously like the least likely group to pull off an upset and maybe the group I’d be least surprised to see go on an RSL-like run this season. But for now, we’ll cautiously point out they’re going up against Round One’s best team, CF Montréal.

On top of that, if you’re just looking at the numbers, it’s kind of hard to believe Orlando are here in the first place. Really, if you just watched 30-minute snippets of their games this year you’d have a hard time believing it. But on the whole this team has always found a way to drag other teams into the mud with them and win a no-holds-barred style fight. There’s a reason they won the US Open Cup and actually I’m talking myself into Orlando winning MLS Cup as I’m typing this… better stop now.

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6
Inter Miami at NYCFC

The Herons might have been below Orlando if they were facing NYCFC at Yankee Stadium, but a trip to Red Bull Arena isn’t quite as intimidating. What is intimidating is NYCFC’s run of form lately. The Pigeons won four straight heading into this game and have looked a lot more like some version of the group that won MLS Cup last year. Like I’ve said before, that same group at 80% capacity is enough to have a chance at winning MLS Cup. And I think NYCFC might be there.

Now, if NYCFC forward Talles Magno can’t play in this one then the odds of an upset go up pretty significantly. The problem is Inter Miami forward Leo Campana’s potential absence sends the odds right back down.

It’s not necessarily hard to imagine a world where Campana plays and Inter Miami’s attacking trio of Campana, Alejandro Pozuelo and Gonzalo Higuain make something special happen. It’s just hard to bank on it happening.

5
LA Galaxy/Nashville winner at LAFC

It’s true, LAFC got their stuff together enough to keep from blowing a pretty substantial lead in the Supporters’ Shield race. But it’s not crazy to be a little skeptical of how this group will handle a whole lot of pressure to win a second trophy. They won just three times over their final nine games and have just looked vulnerable in general. Obviously, the playoffs should ratchet up the intensity a little bit, but LAFC kind of ended up with a rough draw here.

If we were simply looking at form, underlying numbers and talent level coming into the playoffs, Nashville and LA are the two non-LAFC teams I’d pick right now to make it out of the West. The Galaxy have so many attacking pieces that can hurt you at any moment and Nashville have so much Hany Mukhtar. Plus a typically solid defensive setup. Not to mention the fact Nashville just beat a pretty full strength LAFC like two days ago.

Things especially become harrowing for LAFC though if this turns into an El Trafico game. Nothing normal has ever happened in El Trafico. And more often than not, the Galaxy have ended up on top.

4
Minnesota United at FC Dallas

This is less about Minnesota and more about a weird feeling FC Dallas doesn’t have the kind of top speed you really need to have in the playoffs. I could be totally wrong, but it’s just hard to remember a whole lot of high points for FC Dallas this season. Good points? Sure. Consistent points? Definitely. But moments where you went “Oh man, y’all better watch out for Dallas?” Not really.

The Loons, even with their miserable form coming into this one, will have a chance to pull this off.

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3
Nashville SC at LA Galaxy

Remember all those nice things I said about Nashville earlier? Apply those here and then add them up against the team that has been notably bad at taking penalties and you have a recipe for a game that ends in a tie and is decided by who’s slightly less terrible at kicking a ball 12 yards. Not that hard to imagine, right? 

(They also might just win outright, Nashville is still really good and the Galaxy have a tendency to implode defensively from time to time.)

2
Real Salt Lake at Austin FC

I’m gonna get heat from Austin here and maybe end up on another laminated piece of paper at their training session tomorrow, but remember, we’re talking about most likely not “Here’s what’s going to happen.” And it’s not that hard to see a world where RSL comes in and doesn’t blink for a second at the insane crowd around them and does whatever it is exactly RSL does to win soccer games. 

Remember, this is the same team and coach that beat Seattle last year without taking a shot. They survived on Decision Day and now carry themselves with 30 different chips on their shoulders. This isn’t really even about Austin, this is about respect for a team that laughs in the face of statistics and the other higher powers that control the universe.

1
FC Cincinnati at New York Red Bulls

This one isn’t as surprising or fun as some of the others here. FC Cincinnati are just really, really good and have three proven scoring threats while the Red Bulls constantly wonder who’s going to get the job done in front of goal. Plus, ya know, they’re the Red Bulls. This is kind of just how this has worked for the last 13 years.

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Other Things

FC Cincinnati's Brenner named Week 34 Continental Player of the Week: FC Cincinnati striker Brenner remained in peak form during Week 34, earning his third MLS Player of the Week presented by Continental Tire award of the 2022 season. The 22-year-old Brazilian had three goals and one assist in a 5-2 Decision Day victory at D.C. United, a result that clinched the fourth-year club’s first-ever Audi MLS Cup Playoffs trip. They’ll be the Eastern Conference’s No. 5 seed and visit No. 4 New York Red Bulls on Saturday in Round One (12 pm ET | UniMas, TUDN, MLSsoccer.com & App).

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Good luck out there. Make sure the little people get noticed too.

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