There are multiple key variables come Audi MLS Cup Playoffs time. The most important might be the quality of a team’s spine, the players up the middle of the field. If you don’t have a blend of talent, experience, and leadership from goalkeeper, to center back, to defensive midfielder, to central attacker, you’re fighting an uphill battle.
Go back in time and you can see the consistent theme:
2018 Atlanta United: Brad Guzan, Michael Parkhurst, Eric Remedi/Darlington Nagbe, Miguel Almiron/Josef Martinez.
2017 Toronto FC: Drew Moor/Chris Mavinga, Michael Bradley, Giovinco/Jozy Altidore
2016 Seattle Sounders: Stefan Frei, Chad Marshall, Ozzie Alonso, Nicolas Lodeiro
2015 Portland Timbers: Liam Ridgewell/Nat Borchers, Diego Chara, Diego Valeri, Fanendo Adi
2014 LA Galaxy: Omar Gonzalez, Juninho, Robbie Keane
The more likely you are to win the middle of the field, the more likely you are to win MLS Cup. It's possible to look at playoff contention through isolating a single variable.
With that said, let’s look at the 2019 playoff field and rank the spines:
1. Minnesota United
This might be too traditional of me, but I don’t need need to know anything beyond Ike Opara and Ozzie Alonso. It helps that they also have Darwin Quintero, Jan Gregus, and Vito Mannone… but, honestly, when you have the best center back in the league and one of the five best defensive midfielders in league history, I’ll put you No.1.