Benny Feilhaber's Conference Finals Preview: LAFC, Atlanta in pole position

EDITOR'S NOTE: Ex-US national teamer Benny Feilhaber, a midfielder for Sporting Kansas City, joins MLSsoccer.com as a guest columnist throughout the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs. Feilhaber has played in a World Cup and Olympics and he has won an MLS Cup, a Gold Cup and two Open Cups. Now he's winning at media, too, as co-host of the popular BS The Podcast.


There are four teams left standing and it’s been a heck of a ride to get here: We’ve had three extra time games, an upset each round and a total of 42 goals!!

These Conference Finals, however, seem pretty straightforward to me. But that’s when the unexpected just might happen, right?

LAFC vs. Seattle Sounders

LAFC: They finally did it!! LAFC beat the Galaxy and they did it in a very surprising way: They gave the Galaxy some possession and took advantage of the space they left behind. I suspect they go back to their more aggressive ways against Seattle. They’ll look to create through possession and counterpress off transitional moments; the same way they beat Seattle handily early in the season.

Walker Zimmerman should be back from the start for the Black and Gold to fortify the backline and Adama Diomande should continue to be used as a super sub — he can be pivotal in that role.

Seattle Sounders: Seattle played a much more complete game against Real Salt Lake to reach the Conference Final than they did against FC Dallas in the previous round. They’ll have to continue that trend against LAFC in order to have a chance to get to MLS Cup.

Seattle will look to stay compact and limit the space between the midfield and defensive line. If they can do this well, it will make it much harder for LAFC's midfield trio to find the dangerous, splitting passes to their front three which is what they love to do.

The Sounders will need to find Jordan Morris on the break. It's that and set pieces which will be their two best options in attempting to pull off the impossible.

Prediction: LAFC will win this one and it won’t be too close. They got over the huge mountain that was the LA Galaxy, and they will have nothing but confidence going into the Conference Final. Seattle should provide a good test to start, but once the first goal lands, it could get ugly. LAFC win 4-1 with the MVP getting two of them.

Atlanta United vs. Toronto FC

Atlanta United: The defending champ should be thrilled NYCFC lost, if only for the reason that they can host the Conference Final at the Benz.

They thoroughly deserved the win against the Philadelphia Union and what was most impressive was their resolute defending without several key players (Miles Robinson, Michael Parkhurst).

Atlanta’s biggest strength in this playoff run has been their ability to change tactics, formations, and general approach from game to game. I think they’ll keep the four-back system to solidify their backline and try to get another shutout. This is the likeliest path to success for them, leaving it to Josef Martinez, Julian Gressel, Pity Martinez, or Ezequiel Barco to find that moment of magic to get the goal they need to advance to MLS Cup.

Toronto FC: Toronto FC came in hot against a sleepy NYCFC team and took full advantage. They got two goals off bad, bad mistakes from NYC defenders and game-managed their way to a Conference Final berth without the help of two important players (Jozy Altidore and Omar Gonzalez). I don’t know if they can do that again, against a more in-form side like Atlanta.

Even if they get Jozy back and start Omar, it’ll still be an uphill climb against the champs. They’ll look to establish some possession in Atlanta’s half of the field to give their biggest star this postseason, Alejandro Pozuelo, an opportunity to create for himself and others around him.

They will also need to be very wary of the spaces presented to Josef Martinez and Julian Gressel. Atlanta can be deadly in transition on the direct balls in behind, as seen on Josef’s goal against the Union.

Prediction: Atlanta will prevail in a tight game in which neither team will encounter too many chances. Similar to both games Atlanta have won so far in the postseason, somebody will make a play offensively and they’ll lean on their stout defense to shut things down in the back. Atlanta 2-0.

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