Gass: On Berhalter's brilliance, SeanJohn's big test and starting Sanchez

If you're an MLS fan, you're probably very familiar with his work.

During the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs, ExtraTime Radio co-host David Gass will be working overtime, sharing the astute, critical observations that have become a staple for listeners of the flagship podcast.

Berhalter does it again

The common refrain when discussing Columbus Crew SC is how they play such an open, attacking style. But their manager Gregg Berhalter showed once again in Thursday's Knockout Round just how tactically flexible his squads can be. His side played deep and countered with success against the New York Red Bulls in the 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs and he replicated the feat against Atlanta United.

The Shield

You'll have noticed how Crew SC's two central midfielders, Artur and Wil Trapp, rarely ever make runs breaking out of midfield and they never get pulled out of place. That explains the ever-present shield in front of Crew SC's center backs and the coverage for the fullbacks.

Crew SC will test SeanJohn

On more than one occasion, Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan had to be decisive coming far off his line to defend some pinpoint balls over the top by Trapp and Federico Higuain. New York City FC 'keeper Sean Johnson is a great shot stopper but he doesn’t read the game as well as Guzan.

And remember how Higuain recently beat Johnson on Decision Day with a ball over the top for one of Crew SC's two goals. And SeanJohn doesn’t have a Michael Parkhurst coming to the rescue.

Fullbacks of ATL

Right back has not been a position of strength for Atlanta United this season and with the injury to regular left back Greg Garza, Atlanta have struggled on the other flank as well.

Against Columbus Crew SC, neither Atlanta fullback (Anton Walkes or Chris McCann) made many overlapping runs in behind the backline and and they also weren't as connected to wingers Yamil Asad or Hector Villalba high up the field when they pressed. This made it a lot easier for Crew SC to break the pressure as often as they did.

A different Cubo

Erick "Cubo" Torres is known as a classic No. 9 pure finisher. But I enjoyed watching Cubo drift out wide (right and left) to pick up the ball and create for his teammates against Sporting Kansas City.

The goals have slowed of late – his last goal came back on Aug. 23 – and he has been in and out of the lineup, but this was the kind of performance Houston needed from their center forward in a must-win playoff game.

Time to start Chente

Houston won their Knockout Round match, so it will sound crazy to be critical of the move to bring 37-year-old Vicente Sanchez off the bench. But this Portland vs. Houston Western Conference Semifinal series is going to be completely different.

Sporting KC may have been toothless in attack, but the Timbers-Dynamo series has the potential to be a high-scoring affair. That's why the Dynamo cannot afford to keep their best creator and passer on the bench. If he can go for longer than the 33 minutes he played on Thursday I'd argue for starting Sanchez, who is more precise with his through balls and crosses – case in point: the winner he set up for Alberth Elis.

Playing out of position

Whether or not he plays the right back position for Panama, defender Adolfo Machado is a center back, plain and simple. He may have gotten by playing him at right back against Sporting Kansas City, but Houston manager Wilmer Cabrera should play his best defender in his favored position against MVP candidate Diego Valeri and the vaunted Timbers attack.

Targeting a weakness

Sporting Kansas City winger Gerso Fernandes couldn’t take advantage of Machado playing out of position in the absence of injured Houston right back A.J. DeLaGarza. And it meant a shorter outing for Fernandes (51 minutes).

It will be interesting to see if Portland manager Caleb Porter similarly attempts to capitalize on the matchup against Machado (or potentially Jalil Anibaba) by lining up Sebastian Blanco on that side of the field and potentially shifting Darlington Nagbe, perhaps even back to central midfield.

Eyes on Elis

Anyone who listens to the podcast knows just how much I enjoy Alberth Elis’s game. His skill and game-changing athleticism make him the most dangerous player on Houston. But his ability to finish plays, whether it's with goals or assists, will decide how far the Dynamo go in these Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs.

David Gass is a national soccer broadcaster and co-host of MLS's ExtraTime Radio, ExtraTime Live, and the Club & Country: After The Whistle shows. He also serves as a play-by-play broadcaster and analyst on MLS matches as well as CONCACAF Champions League, USL, college soccer, youth soccer, and more.