I’ve got some lingering questions about the 2020 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. Firstly, how is MLS going to deal with the very likely possibility that not every team will end the regular season with 23 matches played? I don’t have the answer to that question, so we’ll table it for another day.
In the meantime, I still believe this year’s playoff format has the makings of one of the most entertaining, unpredictable postseasons in memory. Think NCAA Tournament. Upsets? We’re gonna get them. Breakneck intensity from the opening whistle? Absolutely required to advance. Star turns and dramatic moments? Already playoff staples.
I’ve got a wild soccer imagination, so it’s no surprise my editors asked me to put together my dream bracket. Before I do that, though, I figure we could all use a refresher on this year’s pandemic playoff format. So much has changed – and so quickly – that my handle on it was shaky at best.
I’ll save you a click. Here are the bullet points, followed by my “Are you not entertained?” fever dream bracket scenario. I gave myself leeway to seed for maximum potential insanity, while also staying well within the realm of possibility given the state of the standings.
- 18 teams qualify, 10 from the Eastern Conference and eight from the Western Conference
- 16-team, single-elimination bracket, with two play-in games out East
- No. 7 seed vs. No. 10 seed
- No. 8 seed vs. No. 9 seed
- New York Red Bulls (#7) vs. Inter Miami (#10): Sorry Fire. Sorry Atlanta United. This matchup is a setup for one thing: Gonzalo Higuain’s return to Philadelphia. The Union trolled him, and I don’t expect the man’s forgotten it. I need to see the Argentine back at Subaru Park with an opportunity to return the favor. WINNER: Inter Miami
- Nashville SC (#8) vs. Montreal Impact (#9): Do I love this particular matchup for aesthetic reasons? I don’t, but I do love that we’re setting up for a potential Canadian Classique match should the Impact advance. And advance they will, because I’m still riding a high from that playoff series in 2015 and need to see if our rivalry cup will runneth over again. WINNER: Montreal Impact
- Toronto FC (#1) vs. Montreal Impact (#9): Greg Vanney vs. Thierry Henry. Alejandro Pozuelo vs. Bojan. Rudy Camacho doing something that blows our collective minds. Playoff Jozy Altidore. Hell, maybe they’ll even play it in Connecticut, just to make it even more memorable/insane. I need mismeasured penalty boxes. I need Dom Oduro, somehow in attendance at the very least. I need, at minimum, five goals and an epic comeback. WINNER: Toronto FC
- Columbus Crew (#4) vs. New England Revolution (#5): First matchup of the year in the playoffs? Why not? In my world, Carles Gil is back and doing Best XI stuff. It goes without saying that Lucas Zelarayan, Darlington Nagbe and Eloy Room are too. The game between the lines has real potential, but I’m honestly just reminiscing on this incredible moment in MLS history and licking my chops for the potential war of words (and sideline gesticulations) between the managers. WINNER: Columbus Crew
- Orlando City SC (#3) vs. New York City FC (#6): 2015 EXPANSION BOWL!!! - WINNER: Orlando City
- Philadelphia Union (#2) vs. Inter Miami (#10): **quick cut to Gonzalo Higuain**
Gimme two Higuain goals – one assisted by Federico – a whole lot of jawing between the sides, a Brenden Aaronson golazo and a Union win on the back of an absurd Ilsinho winner. I don’t ask for much. WINNER: Philadelphia Union
- Toronto FC (#1) vs. Columbus Crew SC (#4): Yes, I went chalk in Round 1, and you might be disappointed by that. I did it because the top four in the East are so much better and more entertaining than everyone else that my greatest desire was to see all four slug it out in the Conference semis. Now, it’s time for the upsets, because absolutely nobody wants to see an MLS Cup replay other than the spoiled folks in Toronto and Seattle. The quality in this game will be sky-high. Both teams want to play. Both teams have game-changers on every line. Both teams have coaches willing to throw an unexpected wrinkle out there in a big match. Nobody loses if this is the matchup, especially not Team Chaos neutrals like you and me. WINNER: Columbus Crew
- Philadelphia Union (#2) vs. Orlando City SC (#3): I am a Union stan. The project is inspiring, and they’re just beginning to reap the rewards of their labor. It’s awfully tempting to send Aaronson (and maybe Mark McKenzie) off to Europe with the Phillip F. Anschutz Trophy raised above their homegrown heads, but it’s even more tempting to send Orlando City and Oscar Pareja to the conference final with a chance to replicate their MLS is Back Tournament run. WINNER: Orlando
- Orlando City SC (#3) vs. Columbus Crew SC (#4): Purple and yellow are complementary colors, which makes for a pleasing match. Also, because my brain is full of stupid MLS-y moments, there’s this ...
So you’ve got that, and you’ve got two teams with legitimate stars, young up-and-comers and something to prove. Seems like a decent mix with MLS Cup on the line! WINNER: Orlando
- Seattle Sounders (#1) vs. San Jose Earthquakes (#8): Matias Almeyda might be disappointed in me for putting his team in the playoff field. I don’t know. Maybe I’m reading these comments wrong?
Anyway, I don’t want another game like that scoreless snorefest we got the other night between these two teams. I want prime Quakes rub-your-eyes-is-this-really-happening absurdity. One of the teams – I assume the Sounders but you never know with San Jose! – should probably score seven goals. There should be a howler or three, a couple red cards, two Wondo goals, cans upon cans of magic spray and at least 20 good minutes from Nouhou Tolo, just for Sam Stejskal’s benefit. WINNER: Seattle Sounders
- LAFC (#4) vs. Minnesota United (#5): I can only imagine all the ways Adrian Heath will tell us media types that we don’t believe in his team, never have and never will, against the big-money behemoth and MLS favored son that is LAFC and Bob Bradley. I’m giddy thinking about those pregame press conferences. Even Zoom chats can’t dampen my enthusiasm for the possibility that MLS dot com might get a shout out. The game ought to be fun, too, even potentially without Carlos Vela, who I’ve decided I’m not seeing on the field again in 2020, which fair enough. Some potential narratives for you...
- Bradley Wright-Phillips vs. Kei Kamara (MLS centurion club)
- Is this Diego Rossi and Brian Rodriguez’s final run before being sold?
- Can Bradley get LAFC to the promised land without Vela?
- Can the Loons take the next step and win a playoff game?
- Is Bebelo Reynoso delivering on his promise/price tag?
- Sporting KC (#3) vs. FC Dallas (#6): You’re crazy if you think I’m not putting these two teams together after Peter Vermes called FC Dallas’ time-wasting tactics “disrespectful” and the two benches exchanged words during a road win for the Texans in September. We need as much potential for pettiness as we can get in these made-up playoffs. WINNER:
- Portland Timbers (#2) vs. Real Salt Lake (#7): The Western Conference needs a plucky, likeable underdog and RSL fits the bill after the 2020 they’ve endured. This is a rematch from 2019, only the seeding is basically swapped and there’s no Dairon Asprilla to save the Timbers. They already won a trophy this year anyway, which means... WINNER: Real Salt Lake
- Seattle Sounders (#1) vs. LAFC (#4): It was meant to be...
Sounders fans honestly asked for this upset after they made “Better than Bob” t-shirts last year. WINNER: LAFC
- FC Dallas (#6) vs. Real Salt Lake (#7): Do I regret eliminating the “better” teams just for upsets in the round prior? Sorta, but we can’t look back now. What’s done is done. All I ask from the managers is to please #PlayYourKids. As long as Luchi fills his line with homegrowns – let’s just say, for Matt Doyle’s benefit, that Paxton Pomykal is back too – then I’m sending FC Dallas to the conference final. WINNER: FC Dallas
- LAFC (#4) vs. FC Dallas (#6): I’d bet on Bob Bradley and LAFC in the real world. This is not the real world. It’s a figment of my imagination, and there’s something poetic about Orlando City and Oscar Pareja vs. FC Dallas and Luchi Gonzalez in the final. So much shared history, so much on the line for two clubs who’ve never won MLS Cup. It’s the unexpected yet familiar finish to the season we all deserve. WINNER: FC Dallas
2020 MLS CUP
Now, it’s up to you. Vote for your winner and let me know the reasoning why either in the comments or on Twitter!
I wrote a column galaxy-braining the 2020 #MLSCupPlayoffs. You'll have to read it to understand how we got to this final, but here we are all the same.— Andrew Wiebe (@andrew_wiebe) October 21, 2020
Who is lifting the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy?
More on how we got here 😂😂😂: https://t.co/bJbtqsTK1R