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Home-Field Advantage Prevails in Round 1; LAFC, NYCFC Enter Picture

Home-Field Advantage Prevails in Round 1; LAFC and NYCFC Enter Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs Picture

After a flurry of Round 1 action this weekend, the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs saw the 14-team field slashed to just eight teams in the span of two days. The new single-elimination playoff format did not disappoint with 27 goals scored across six games (4.5 goals-per-game average) and wild swings back and forth in every match.
The past three MLS Cup champions (Atlanta United, Toronto FC and Seattle Sounders FC) are among the eight conference semifinalists fighting for a chance to bring home the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy in 2019. And the top three seeds in both conferences are all still alive following the first round.
With five of the six higher-seeds capitalizing on home-field advantage, only the LA Galaxy were able to stage an upset against Minnesota United FC in Round 1. But what awaits the Galaxy on the other side of that monumental win is a force to be reckoned with: El Trafico crosstown rival, No. 1 seed Los Angeles Football Club.  
The Conference Semifinals this week feature back-to-back matches on both Wednesday and Thursday. Kicking off the action on Wednesday, 2017 MLS Cup winner Toronto FC take to the road and face a No. 1 seed New York City FC team that enters the postseason rested and ready (7 p.m. ET, FS1 / FOX Deportes / TVA Sports / TSN 1/4). Later that night, Sounders FC academy product Jordan Morris leads his team back into action, following his three-goal performance on Saturday, when No. 2 seed Seattle host No. 3 seed Real Salt Lake (10 p.m. ET, FS1 / FOX Deportes / TVA Sports / TSN 1/4).
After 120 minutes of action in front of a home crowd, the Philadelphia Union earned the club’s first-ever postseason win Sunday, even sweeter as it came against regional rival New York Red Bulls.  Boasting a strong regular season road record, Jim Curtin’s No. 3 seed team travels down to Atlanta to face Josef Martínez and the reigning MLS Cup champs on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2 / ESPN Deportes / TVA Sports / TSN4).
While Zlatan Ibrahimović and the LA Galaxy have never lost to LAFC, Carlos Vela and his No. 1 seed side is determined to win at home when it counts.  In a matchup that features the top two goalscorers of the season and Landon Donovan MLS MVP finalists, this LA derby match is sure to be the pièce de résistance in the four-game, midweek Conference Semifinals lineup (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN / ESPN Deportes / TVA Sports / TSN4).
All Eyes on El Trafico: LAFC to host LA Galaxy in Conference Semis
The anticipation is mounting for the first postseason El Trafico between Los Angeles Football Club and LA Galaxy this Thursday (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN / ESPN Deportes / TSN4 / TVA Sports).
With no shortage star power, two of the best players in MLS will face off in the match and the rivalry brings out the best in both.
Landon Donovan MLS Most Valuable Player finalists Carlos Vela and Zlatan Ibrahimović have both produced at least a goal in all five El Trafico matchups.  Vela has notched seven goals against the Galaxy while Zlatan has scored eight goals against LAFC across those give games.
The rivalry packs a punch of drama as well.  Don’t let those early goals fool you, no lead has ever been safe.
Both teams have stormed back from multiple-goal deficits to grab a result. 
In their inaugural meeting back in 2018, despite trailing by three goals, the LA Galaxy scored four unanswered second-half goals to defeat LAFC.  Most recently, LAFC was down 3-1 in just the 16th minute after a flurry of early goals but posted two goals on either side of the half to pull even with the Galaxy and take a point away from the 3-3 tie.
While both teams have no trouble finding the back of the net, LAFC have yet to defeat their neighbors in any of the five previous matchups, with the Galaxy owning the series 2-0-3.
Will Vela and LAFC win when it counts the most? Will Ibrahimović and the Galaxy handle business as usual? If history is any indicator, it will come down to the final whistle.

Young players lead goalscoring charge in Round 1 victories

The young players certainly came out in force in Round 1 of the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs.
Nearly half of the goals scored in the six Round 1 matches -- 13 of 27 -- came from players aged 25 or younger. Leading the charge was Seattle Sounders FC winger Jordan Morris (24 years old), who netted a hat trick – just the fifth in MLS Cup Playoffs history. Another young gun making his mark was Atlanta United's 24-year-old defender Franco Escobar – whose last goal in the postseason was the opening goal in the 2018 MLS Cup, sending his club on its way to a 2-0 title win. Making a bid to be known as Mr. October, Escobar has now scored three goals in the playoffs – and just two in the regular season (and one of those last October).
Real Salt Lake's Jefferson Savarino (22) was the hero in his club's win, netting the 87th-minute game-winner for the 2-1 victory vs. the Portland Timbers. And Marky Delgado and Richie Laryea (each 24 years of age) scored goals in Toronto FC's 5-1 win vs. D.C. United which featured four goals scored in extra time – the most ever in an MLS playoff game (Laryea's goal starting the overtime blitz).
Of the teams still alive in the chase for the 2019 MLS Cup, two of the five youngest are still in contention, including Eastern Conference top seed New York City FC, as well as Atlanta United.
In addition, three of the five with the most production from Homegrown Players in 2019 are still in action, including Real Salt Lake (No. 1), Toronto FC (No. 4) and Philadelphia Union (No. 5).

Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs: Conference Semifinal Notes

Wednesday, Oct. 23
No. 1 New York City FC vs. No. 4 Toronto FC, 7 p.m. ET (FS1 / FOX Deportes / TSN1/4 / TVA Sports)
  • The teams met twice during the regular season. On Sept. 11 at Yankee Stadium, Alejandru Mitrita drove home a free kick after just six minutes, but Alejandro Pozuelo converted a penalty kick just before halftime, leaving the teams in a 1-1 draw. In the first meeting, Pozuelo had an MLS debut for the ages, scoring a pair of goals and setting up one from Jozy Altidore, as TFC cruised to a 4-0 win March 29 at BMO Field.
  • The win in the first meeting for TFC ended a two-game NYCFC winning streak in the series, their second victory in 10 meetings all-time in the series. Both TFC league wins have come by 4-0 scorelines at BMO Field.
  • NYCFC has never lost to Toronto FC at home in league play, now in six meetings all-time, with two victories and four draws.
  • The teams met in the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs, in the Eastern Conference Semifinals – and Toronto FC won 7-0 on aggregate, winning 2-0 at BMO Field, then 5-0 at Yankee Stadium.
  • NYCFC return to action for the first time since their 2-1 win at the Philadelphia Union on Decision Day (Oct. 6).
  • While NYCFC enter the postseason with an eight-game home undefeated streak alive in league play, the game will be the second MLS match played at Citi Field in Queens. NYCFC and Columbus Crew SC played to a 2-2 draw there Oct. 22, 2017.
  • NYCFC have reached the postseason for a fourth consecutive season, reaching the conference semifinal stage on each occasion. A year ago, NYCFC defeating the Philadelphia Union 3-1 in a Knockout Round matchup, before falling to eventual champions Atlanta United 4-1 on aggregate in the Eastern semifinals, dropping a 1-0 decision at Yankee Stadium, then a 3-1 loss at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
  • Toronto FC made a triumphant return to the MLS Cup Playoffs after a one-year absence, defeating D.C. United 5-1 at BMO Field in their Round One encounter on Saturday evening. TFC has now won their last three postseason matches, the last coming in a 2-0 win in MLS Cup 2017 vs. Seattle Sounders FC.
  • Jonathan Osorio scored two goals and set up another, while Nick DeLeon netted a goal and added an assist – all in extra time – for the TFC win. The four goals in extra time were an all-time MLS record, both for a single game and for one team.
No. 2 Seattle Sounders FC vs. No. 3 Real Salt Lake, 10 p.m. ET (FS1 / FOX Deportes / TSN 1/4 / TVA Sports)
  • The teams met twice during the regular season, each winning on their home ground. Nicolás Lodeiro scored the game’s only goal, as Sounders FC claimed the victory at CenturyLink Field on April 6. Then Sam Johnson and Albert Rusnák scored goals and Corey Baird added a goal and an assist, as Real eased to a 3-0 victory Aug. 14 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
  • Sounders FC have won eight of the past nine league meetings between the teams at CenturyLink Field, the lone RSL win coming on May 26, 2018, a 1-0 triumph. Real have won their past eight home games vs. Seattle.
  • The teams have met twice in the MLS Cup Playoffs, in back-to-back seasons in 2011 and 2012. Real Salt Lake won the Western Conference Semifinal Series in 2011, 3-2 on aggregate, winning 3-0 at home before Sounders FC took a 2-0 win in Seattle. The following season, Sounders FC won the conference semifinal tie 1-0 on aggregate, winning the second leg by the game’s lone goal at Rio Tinto Stadium after the teams reached a goalless draw at CenturyLink Field.
  • Sounders FC opened the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs in dramatic fashion, defeating FC Dallas 4-3 in extra time at CenturyLink Field on Saturday afternoon. The win was the 10th consecutive playoff victory for Sounders FC, matching the second-longest playoff home winning streak in MLS history.
  • Jordan Morris scored a hat trick, netting the game-winner in the 113th minute, the fifth hat trick in MLS Cup Playoffs history.
  • Real Salt Lake began their 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs campaign with a 2-1 win against the Portland Timbers at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday evening. Jefferson Savarino netted the match-winner in the 87th minute, after Damir Kreilach had given RSL the lead in the first half.
Thursday, Oct. 24
No. 2 Atlanta United vs. No. 3 Philadelphia Union, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN2 / ESPN Deportes / TSN4 / TVA Sports)
  • The teams met twice during the regular season. The Union won the latest meeting, 3-1 win on Aug. 31 at Talen Energy Stadium, as Kacper Przybylko scored one goal and set up a second. The teams also reached a 1-1 draw March 17 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
  • The Union win in the last meeting was their first ever vs. Atlanta United, in six meetings all-time. ATLUTD had won three of the first five meetings, with two draws, since coming into MLS. Atlanta United won the first two meetings at Mercedes-Benz Stadium before the draw this year.
  • The teams have never before met outside of MLS regular season play.
  • Atlanta United opened defense of their MLS Cup title with a 1-0 win vs. the New England Revolution at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday afternoon. They have now won each of their last four postseason games at home.
  • Franco Escobar scored the game’s only goal – he has scored in each of the last two MLS Cup Playoffs games for ATLUTD, netting the opener in the 2018 MLS Cup win vs. the Portland Timbers. Escobar has scored three goals in six appearances in the MLS Cup Playoffs; he has two goals in 47 appearances during the MLS regular season.
  • The Union won the first game in club history in the MLS Cup Playoffs, defeating the New York Red Bulls 4-3 in extra time at Talen Energy Stadium. The Union had dropped each of their four previous postseason matches.
  • Fafa Picault scored the game-tying goal in the 78th minute, then set up the game-winner from Marco Fabian in the 106th minute, as the Union overcame a 3-1 deficit in the second half for the historic win. The two-goal deficit overcome matched the largest in a playoff game in MLS history.
No. 1 Los Angeles Football Club vs. No. 5 LA Galaxy, 10:30 p.m. ET (ESPN / ESPN Deportes / TSN4 / TVA Sports)
  • The teams met twice during the regular season. Zlatan Ibrahimović scored a hat trick, overcoming a pair of goals from Carlos Vela, as the Galaxy claimed a 3-2 win on July 19 at Dignity Health Sports Park. Then on Aug. 25 at Banc of California Stadium, Ibrahimović scored two more goals and Cristian Pavón had a goal and an assist – all within the opening 16 minutes – but Latif Blessing netted a brace before the halftime break and Vela scored the leveler early in the second half, leaving the teams in a 3-3 draw.
  • The teams have met five times in their histories, and the Galaxy have yet to lose to their crosstown rivals. The teams met three times in LAFC’s inaugural campaign. The Galaxy took a dramatic 4-3 victory in the first ever LA derby, coming back from a three-goal deficit behind a pair of goals from Ibrahimović, playing in his first MLS game, on March 31 at Banc of California Stadium. The teams played to draws in their final two meetings, a 2-2 result on July 26 at Banc of California Stadium, and a 1-1 match Aug. 24 in Carson, Calif.
  • The teams have never before met outside of MLS regular season play.
  • LAFC has played one game in the MLS Cup Playoffs in the club’s history, suffering a 3-2 loss to Real Salt Lake at Banc of California Stadium in a Knockout Round matchup last year.
  • The Galaxy won their first playoff match since 2016 in Round One, defeating Minnesota United 2-1 at Allianz Field on Sunday evening. Sebastian Lletget and Jonathan dos Santos netted goals four minutes apart to send the Galaxy on their way, winning a game on the road in the MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2012.