MLS Cup trophy - March 1, 2020
Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Why your team will (or won't) win MLS Cup in 2020 | Andrew Wiebe

Here’s what I wrote this time last year ahead of the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs…

Seattle Sounders will win MLS Cup because they’ve got a bunch of gamers in the squad and home-field advantage against everyone but LAFC. Their side of the playoff bracket shouldn’t put fear in Brian Schmetzer’s heart. The Sounders should push through to set up a showdown with, I am assuming, LAFC. Bad news is that LAFC whooped them at the Banc early in the season, 4-1. Good news is that that was a long time ago!

MLS Cup 2019 feels like a lifetime ago, but you know what happened. Brian Schmetzer’s heart was pure, we got Sounders-LAFC, “Better than Bob!” and another MLS Cup-hoisting run followed from a team that just seems a rung or two better than everybody else when the weather gets a little chilly and the soccer becomes a matter of survival. Seattle got their second star.

They (only me, mostly tongue in cheek) call me Wiebstradamus for a reason. I was dead on, eerily so. Of course, I also made the case for why nine other teams would win MLS Cup … and why all 10 would not win, too. It’s called covering your bases. Throw enough darts and at least one has to hit, right?

Well, I’ve got 18 darts. Time to start chucking ahead of Friday’s Play-In Round and five Round One matches over the weekend. Remember, Extratime has the postgame duties, so tune in after the final whistle each night/afternoon for highlights, interviews and a full breakdown of the games.

Colorado Rapids will win MLS Cup because...

Why wouldn’t you believe if you’re a bunch of young bucks that just whooped the Sounders, won in Portland and got the adrenaline pumping by snatching three points at the death in Houston after sitting half the starters? This will be an MLS Cup by committee. There’s no single horse for Robin Fraser to ride to a title. Get ready to hop on the Cole Bassett and Sam Vines hype trains, prepare for Diego Rubio and Andre Shinyashiki to outperform their regular-season scoring form and, oh yes, Kellyn Acosta, Jack Price and Younes Namli are going to have a stranglehold on where and how the game is played.

They won’t win because there are too many variables that all have to hit at the same time when you don’t have at least one, ideally two, dominant forces in the side. The Rapids are still young. They’d have to win four games in a row. Potentially/probably all on the road. Not gonna happen.

Columbus Crew SC will win MLS Cup because...

Their spine is the best in the Eastern Conference and everybody is finally healthy. Eloy Room, Jonathan Mensah, Darlington Nagbe, Lucas Zelarayan and Gyasi Zardes can win you games. And that’s to say nothing of Artur, a pair of outside backs with few equals and goal-dangerous wingers led by Pedro Santos. The Crew have been targeting MLS Cup from the start, and Caleb Porter can play the way he wants to play. We already saw through mid-September what that means. It means the Crew are arguably, and perhaps even probably, the best team in the league, capable of both strangling you and landing body blow after body blow en route to glory.

They won’t win because Toronto FC just have more institutional knowledge in these moments or because the Union simply don’t lose at home. Quality won’t be what undercuts the Crew’s MLS Cup quest. It’ll be individual mistakes in big moments, stars who don’t step up at the right time or, God forbid, another injury crisis.

FC Dallas will win MLS Cup because...

Their fullbacks make life hell for opponents and Franco Jara (or, given Luchi Gonzalez’s recent lineup preferences, Ricardo Pepi #PlayYourKids) and Jesus Ferreira feast on the service. I’d put Ryan Hollingshead and Bryan Reynolds up against the duos in Columbus, NYCFC, Seattle and Toronto (if Justin Morrow is healthy) as the best outside back pairings in the league. They’re that good. If they’re firing and Michael Barrios and Santiago Mosquera get going too…

They won’t win because that’s an awful lot to imagine. Plus, in terms of what matters in the playoffs (results), FC Dallas are straight up awful away from Toyota Stadium (1-5-3). The Timbers are going to sit back, invite those marauding outside backs forward and then score three goals on counterattacks. That’s it. That’s how it ends.

LAFC will win MLS Cup because...

Carlos Vela is once again the league’s best player. That’s it. Seems reductive. That’s sort of how the playoffs work.

They won’t win because the timing is unfortunately a sign of the times! It’s not that I don’t believe LAFC aren’t capable of winning five straight road games in normal circumstances. I do, though the odds are quite low! These aren’t normal circumstances. Diego Rossi, their best player this season and the league’s leading scorer, was going to be shuttled back from international duty in time to play in Seattle … then he got COVID (all the best to him). Same for Diego Palacios, Jose Cifuentes and Brian Rodriguez. Meanwhile, it seems Vela is still not quite himself. It all feels like too much to overcome, but then again Bob Bradley is going to be particularly motivated!

Inter Miami CF will win MLS Cup because...

Rodolfo Pizarro and Blaise Matuidi start vibing in the middle of the park and Lewis Morgan becomes the most underrated winger in the league. They’ve been frustrating – that’s what happens when you stoke expectations but don’t deliver on them – but somehow in the playoffs they’re everything we’d hoped for from an attacking perspective, and Nico Figal helps shut it down in the back. Seriously though … JUAN AGUDELO BICYCLE KICK GOLAZO!!!

They won’t win because they haven’t been consistent all year, And it's extremely tough to see them five wins away from home (aka where they’ll play all their playoff games, no matter the opponent).

Minnesota United FC will win MLS Cup because...

The underdog routine has to die sometime. Just kidding (but not really). They’ll win because they’ve lost one game with Emanuel Reynoso in the starting lineup. They’re steady and now they have multiple game-changers with Bebelo and Kevin Molino. The big question is striker, but that’s been the case all year. Why not prove the doubters wrong, again?!

Minnesota won’t win because … striker has been an issue all year and that isn’t going to change now. The last MLS Cup champion without a go-to goalscorer up top, by my count, is the 2008 Columbus Crew. That team had vintage Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Chad Marshall and a bunch of other straight-up gamers. Reynoso is good, but he’s not MVP-level Guille, and without Ike Opara, there’s certainly no Marshall equivalent.

Montreal Impact will win MLS Cup because...

Thierry Henry gets the boys up to run through a wall five times like a Quebecois Kool-Aid man.

They won’t win because that sounds exhausting and the Impact are exhausted by a year spent shuttling around because of the pandemic. Let’s just be real: we’re talking about a minus-10 goal differential playoff team. Like Miami, they’re just not good enough and they’ve proven that over the course of 23 games. No reason to doubt the data.

Nashville SC will win MLS Cup because...

Defense wins championships. I don’t care if that’s a “lazy narrative,” it’s been the club’s calling card all year. It’s what made them effective, if not particularly special. Thing is, there’s no way they win on goose eggs alone. Nashville will win the whole thing because they combine that with what we saw on Decision Day presented by AT&T. In other words, goals from Designated Players … hell, just attacking players, doesn’t matter which ones. They need Hany Mukhtar and Jhonder Cadiz to get going in order to win five games in a row.

They won’t win because they’ve only won two games in a row once in their brief MLS history and 10 goals from open play in 23 games isn’t gonna cut it. I feel safe saying that’s not going to change overnight, and certainly not enough to win five games in three weeks. They’re going to need to find a way to get more from their forwards/wingers in 2021 to improve on a more-than-respectable showing in their expansion season.

New England Revolution will win MLS Cup because...

Matt Turner goes full-on Keylor Navas at the 2014 World Cup and Matt Doyle breaks Soccer Twitter in the process.

They won’t win because the team has a “good enough this year to finish seventh, but not good enough to game their way through a playoff bracket” vibe. Everything is just … alright. Alright isn’t good enough to win the whole thing. Sorry Revs supporters, I just can’t see it, thus the tongue-in-cheek reason for New England winning. My brain can’t fathom it.

NYCFC will win MLS Cup because...

From Sean Johnson through the midfield, they’re as talented as any team in the league. That foundation and Maxi Moralez’s return is the basis for their recent four-game winning streak. It’s not as dazzling as the heady days of Patrick Vieira or the late Dome Torrent era, but it’s effective enough, even with their best attacking players elsewhere or injured. Taty Castellanos is a hot-cold guy. He gets hot, and the blue side of New York gets forever bragging rights over the red side.

NYCFC won’t win because their route out of the East is a woodchipper. At Orlando, likely at Philadelphia, at either Columbus or Toronto. That’s just to get to MLS Cup, where another road game in Cascadia or Kansas City likely awaits! Another year, another playoff loss.

New York Red Bulls will win MLS Cup because...

2020 would be the year to break the curse. It just would.

They won’t win because there is a talent and experience gap comparable to the field that they aren’t going to make up. Perhaps that gap closes with another transfer window for the new regime and the enthusiasm and tactical nous/pressing expertise of Gerhard Struber. But c’mon, it’s the Red Bulls in the playoffs. It ain’t happening. 

Orlando City SC will win MLS Cup because...

Oscar Pareja is the best motivator in the league and these guys feel like a family. That’s the emotional, teamwork-makes-the-dream-work angle. The practical side is that they’re balanced from back to front and scary both in transition (Nani, Daryl Dike, Chris Mueller) and in possession (Mauricio Pereyra dropping dimes to all of the above). They’ve waited five years for this. They almost did the damn thing at the MLS is Back Tournament. Why not the Lions? Why not now?

They won’t win because it’s a year too early? The question mark is there because I can’t come up with a reason other than the other team will be better on the day, which is the most “no duh” universal reason possible that it’s not even worth writing. They’ve lost four times in 23 games, tied with the Union for fewest in the league. How about penalty kicks? Pedro Gallese may be out after taking a knock with Peru. That seems like a properly painful way to go out in true Orlannnnnddddoooooo fashion. Penalty kicks it is.

Philadelphia Union will win MLS Cup because...

Fate has ordained that this is Philadelphia’s year to change the world. They win because they won’t leave their beds to do so. They win because Andre Blake is back and on game-saving form. They win because they can hurt you in five ways. They win because their midfield is piss and vinegar with quality. They win because Mark McKenzie is in full-on “win the double, push into the US men's national team and earn a big-money move to Europe” mode. They win because they’ve proven they’re the league’s best, most consistent team in 2020.

Portland Timbers will win MLS Cup because...

The Diegos and Steve Clark will it to be so. Only five teams have won four straight games in the regular season this year. Can you guess who they are? Answer: Toronto FC, Columbus Crew, LA Galaxy (!!!), NYCFC and … the Timbers. Counter them to death, Gio! Keep it simple and let your best players be your best players.

They won’t win because the injury bug is just too voracious. Too many important players out or questionable. Too many games to win consecutively.

San Jose Earthquakes will win MLS Cup because...

In chaos we trust! **breaks out the magic spray**

They won’t win because chaos makes it hard to win four straight games on the road. Since late September, we’ve been watching the good and effective Quakes, and even that version of this team lost at Vancouver and consistently makes you scratch your head. They can absolutely pull off an upset or two. Maybe even three. It’s 2020, after all! But this is a roller coaster, and San Jose have shown that their greatest heights under Matias Almeyda come before epic falls.

Seattle Sounders will win MLS Cup because...

That’s just what they do? Because Raul Ruidiaz is an assassin. Because Nico Lodeiro combines engine and class into a best-in-class package. Because Jordan Morris in space is a goal waiting to happen. Because Stefan Frei makes saves that go down in history. Because they’ve got above-average players at every position and a coach that won’t tinker away their success in the biggest moment. They’re the Sounders.

They won’t win because Portland are a tough matchup (D-L-L-W this year). The Timbers have no problem eliminating space for Seattle to run in behind. When that happens, the Sounders most dangerous weapons get a bit ponderous, and that’s the opening that Diego Valeri leads counterattacks through. Still, any loss before the final is an upset. They are the favorites in the Western Conference for obvious reasons.

Sporting KC will win MLS Cup because...

Alan Pulido and Gadi Kinda get healthy and the backline stabilizes. If those two are healthy – it looks unlikely for Round One and perhaps even the semifinals – they’re a matchup nightmare with home-field advantage. To get there, Peter Vermes will have to find some consistency in his oft-rotating back four. That ought to be a little easier at the moment with Ilie back in form and Roger Espinoza recovered from injury. If that happens and Sporting knock off San Jose and either Minnesota or Colorado, Kinda (more likely) and Pulido (TBD, depending on the knee sprain) ought to be ready for the rougher side of the bracket and Sporting KC ready for a third star.

They won’t win because they need to win four straight and they simply haven’t beaten teams of this quality and consistency in 2020. Now, that’s in large part down to schedule, which Sporting can’t control, but the results are all we can judge. The only wins for Kansas City against playoff teams are Colorado x 3, Minnesota x 2 and Nashville. They haven’t seen Seattle, Portland or LAFC. They lost to FC Dallas twice. They lost to Orlando. Even Houston hung a couple Ls on them. This may all be overblown, again something Vermes and his players simply can’t control, or their record might be a result of a softer schedule. The playoffs exist for us to find out.

Toronto FC will win MLS Cup because...

The pattern holds: Seattle-Toronto-Seattle-Toronto. Just ignore that Atlanta United 2018 victory parade in there. They’re deep. They’re above average at basically every position when they have their first-choice team. They have Alejandro Pozuelo, arguably the most talented, influential attacking player in the league. Even if Jozy Altidore can’t do what he did in 2017, Ayo Akinola has emerged as a legitimate gamebreaker. If they’re both ready, yikes for everyone else. Perhaps most importantly, they’ve done it before. Repeatedly. The team that won seven games and drew two against six playoff teams in September and early October certainly has another run in it. 

They won’t win this time because they haven’t been that team of late. Form matters. Personnel matters. Jozy Altidore has played 32 minutes since Oct. 3. Justin Morrow has been in and, mostly, out of the lineup with a knock. They’ve been uncharacteristically shaky in the back of late in big moments. They looked better with Jonathan Osorio at defensive midfield than Michael Bradley. Of course, that all might all be a mirage obscuring the inevitable, too.

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