Gass: Setting the stage for the Conference Semifinal second legs

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

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

Too big a hump to overcome kryponite?

At this point Red Bulls supporters are in reruns.

The game we witnessed from RBNY in Leg 1 vs. Toronto FC followed a similar script to this year's U.S. Open Cup final and the last two playoff ousters against Montreal (2016) and Columbus (2015). When the Red Bulls give up early goals in high-stakes matches, they might claw their way back, but they can just never get themselves over the hump.

The legacy of this group of Red Bulls players and their future at the club may rest on the next 90 – or 120! – minutes, which take place Sunday at BMO Field (3 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes; TSN, TVAS).

A big reason for RBNY's struggles is that once opponents score, they tend to sit very deep. Toronto FC did just that in Leg 1, forcing center backs Michael Murillo and Damien Perrinelle to assume the responsibility of picking them apart.

Murillo, a natural right back, is not used to operating in that role. Meanwhile, Perrinelle has had some bright moments on the ball when he has been aggressive and attacks space. The Frenchman's assist to Bradley Wright-Phillips against Chicago in the Knockout Round came from less than 30 yards out and a dangerous shot vs. Toronto came from the same space.

But these moments are rare, and most of the time Perrinelle sits on the ball without shifting the defense as he works the ball back across the line. The Red Bulls need more quality in the second leg on Sunday.

Injury wildcard: Drew Moor

The impact of Drew Moor’s injury for Toronto FC cannot be overstated. TFC were defensively organized when he was out there this year and despite an 8-1-1 record without Moor in the lineup, their MLS Cup chances would take a serious hit without him against the quality attacks and forwards in these playoffs.

In fact New York's Bradley Wright-Phillips had his best look during the 1st Leg on a ball that Moor's substitute, defender Nick Hagglund, mistimed and let drift over his head minutes after coming into the match.

Playing your position: Nagbe to center mid?

The Portland Timbers were decimated by injuries during their scoreless draw in Houston, but if Darlington Nagbe is able to return for Leg 2 on Sunday at Providence Park (7:30 pm ET | FS1 FOX Deportes; TSN, TVAS), Timbers manager Caleb Porter should think about playing him in central midfield.

Without Diego Chara, the Timbers really need someone to push the play and the point of attack. Nagbe was bright in the opening 30 minutes at BBVA Compass Stadium when he should have scored. That play originated from the center of the field.

Start 'Em or Sit 'Em: Cubo or Manotas?

It won’t be a popular point of view, but if I'm Houston head coach Wilmer Cabrera, I would start Erick "El Cubo" Torres at center forward in Leg 2. Outside of one fortunate look at goal, Houston's other center forward (Mauro Manotas) was largely invisible in the first half of Leg 1.

Cubo hasn't scored a goal since August 23, but in the Knockout Round against a better defensive team in Sporting Kansas City, Cubo still managed to hold up the ball and get teammate Alberth Elis involved in the attack.

Have the Dynamo found their No. 10?

Tomas Martinez will be interesting to watch next year. Athleticism plays a major factor in this league and Martinez has a good burst to get by defenders, but he lacks speed across longer distances.

Every team in MLS is looking for their franchise's cornerstone No. 10, but even Mauro Diaz (FC Dallas) and Federico Higuain (Columbus) have separation speed on the break. Will Martinez show it? Can he succeed without it?

It's a different game in the playoffs

There's just something about a cold night under the lights at MAPFRE Stadium. From La Guerra Fría to MLS Cup 2015, there's a buzz. But also contributing to the fun in that CLB-NYC 1st leg was the emergency defending by both back lines. Crew SC put up four … and NYCFC could have had five goals of their own.

And while a second-leg comeback looked doable at 3-1, NYCFC now have a mountain to climb after that amazing Harrison Afful finish. From Sean Johnson's struggles in goal to team-wide errors playing out of the back, NYCFC look like they didn’t learn much from last year's playoff pasting at the hands of Toronto FC. Once again, they simply weren’t ready for the style and change of intensity that comes with the MLS postseason.


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.

Topics: 

Stay connected: Get access to breaking news, videos, and analysis from North America's best soccer reporters via "This Week in MLS" newsletter or using our FREE mobile app.