Before a big game, within a locker room, there's a general sense of who the key player is for the upcoming game — the most important player on that day, the MiP. That guy isn't always the best player on the team; rather, he's the player with the biggest marginal influence — his performance could be the difference between sipping a glass of champagne after the game or chugging a warm beer at the local dive bar. Sometimes it's stated explicitly within the team, sometimes it isn't; it could be related to the tactics on the day, matching up with a specific opponent, or simply that the star player needs to make a big play. Either way, there's always a player that the team needs to have a big game.
Here is every team's MiP heading into the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs:
Leandro Gonzalez Pirez
If we could be sure that Miles Robinson, who left USMNT camp with a strained hamstring, would be fit, he would be the answer here. With the way Atlanta United play now — open, end-to-end — you need someone to put out fires; Robinson has become the best firefighter in the league. If Robinson isn't available, LGP needs to take that role. The thing about LGP: He might be the most talented center back in the league. His combination of short passing, long passing, ability to read the game, tackling and athleticism might put him in a category of his own. Unfortunately, he's also become one of the most inconsistent center backs in the league. If Atlanta United want to win a second straight MLS Cup, they need LGP close to his best.
Frank de Boer spoke to reporters. He said that without Miles Robinson (confirmed out), the responsibility to change the game will fall on #ATLUTD's attackers.— Felipe Cárdenas (@FelipeCar) October 17, 2019
I don't anticipate Atlanta playing conservatively at home. It's not going to happen.
It'll be road games throughout the playoffs for FCD. Zdenek Ondrasek has been the revelation of the fall in MLS, but he's probably not the right guy for a playoff game on the road. FCD's best two away performances of the last couple months have come when they used a quicker option up top. Look for Dallas to start Barrios at striker on Saturday. The Colombian played as the center forward in a counter-attacking setup when Dallas took a 0-0 draw in Seattle. You always know that Barrios will cause problems running behind and taking players on with the dribble; he's tallied 35 assists in the last three years. The frustrating part is that he could have more if he were tidier on the final ball.
Arriola, now a second striker/attacking midfielder for D.C., will have two main roles on Saturday. First, he will need to negate Toronto FC's Michael Bradley. Toronto flows through Bradley, and if you can cut off that artery, they struggle to find a rhythm. Second, Arriola will be the first to fly forward in transition. Toronto are extremely vulnerable when they give the ball away; they send both outside backs forward, and neither the center backs nor the defensive mids are great at covering the space. Wayne Rooney doesn't quite have the wheels to punish teams on the break anyway, so it'll be up to Arriola to hit the openings.