Are all playoff teams contenders in MLS?

Are all playoff teams contenders in MLS?

Are all playoff teams contenders in MLS?

<img src="https://cdn.ussoccerplayers.com/images/2022/10/mls-ball-2022-on-field.jpg" title="Are all playoff teams contenders in MLS?” alt=”Are all playoff teams contenders in MLS?”>
By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Oct 12, 2022) US Soccer Players – Major League Soccer’s version of that famous philosophical thought experiment involving the falling tree in the forest and the sound it does or does not make goes something like this: If parity rules and top seeds rarely win the championship, can there be outsiders in the MLS Cup playoffs?
These things are relative, of course. The gap between the best teams in MLS and those in the middle of the table might not be as big as in some of the world’s most famous leagues, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a gap.
LAFC won the Supporters’ Shield because it was the best team over 34 games. That performance and the 20 points between the West’s top seed and 7th-place Real Salt Lake is enough to make LAFC the prohibitive favorite and declare RSL an outsider.
Does MLS have outsiders in the MLS Cup playoffs? Yes, but the league MLS also makes sure those outsiders have the chance to become contenders
An outsider with something extra going for it can quickly become a problem for the top seeds. That could be down to a strong run of form at the end of the regular season or a trait, like experience in the postseason, that makes up for a low seed.
2022 has its share of outsider candidates. LAFC is the favorite in the West, and Philadelphia is the favorite in the East, only losing the Shield to a tiebreaker. There’s a very good chance one or both will fail to reach the MLS Cup final.
Austin FC can’t be an outsider, even if the club‘s second-year status makes a possible title run seems incredible to imagine. Unlike 2018’s Atlanta United championship team, Austin didn’t build its second season on a playoff foundation from year one.
By the same logic, Montreal also isn’t going to surprise. Wilfried Nancy’s team far exceeded preseason expectations by challenging for first in the East all year long. That consistent quality makes it a well-recognized contender for the club‘s first MLS Cup title.
CF Montreal even has the added motivation to win it all before USMNT midfielder Djorde Mihailovic (moving to AZ Alkmaar), Victor Wanyama (out of contract), and Ismael Kone (potential sale) leave the club. Nevertheless, that does not an outsider make.
If we can make a case, there can be no better candidate for an outsider than the club that made the playoffs with fewer points than any other club in MLS.
For the second season running, Real Salt Lake needed Decision Day heroics to claw its way into the playoff field. Last year, it took an added-time deflection from a bicycle kick in Kansas City to push the club into seventh. This season, RSL dispensed with some of the drama by out-hustling the Timbers over 90 minutes in an invigorating 3-1 home win.
Momentum is one reason to consider RSL, a club that uses positive energy better than any in the league to give itself an edge over an opponent. There’s also experience. After sneaking into the playoff in 2021, RSL went on a run. Pablo Mastroeni’s team scrapped its way to penalties and knocked Seattle in the first round while registering zero shots on goal in the process. Then they beat Sporting Kansas City in the conference semifinals.
The Cinderella story hit midnight in Portland against the Timbers, but the playoff success earned RSL a reputation that carried through this season. They can’t sneak up on anyone this time around. There’s little chance RSL’s first-round opponent, Austin FC, will take them lightly in that team’s first-ever playoff game. But experience matters in the postseason and the playoffs have a way of rewarding teams that value sheer effort over everything else. Real Salt Lake will succeed or fail based on its ability to outwork its opponent.
We’ll stay in the West to highlight an outsider that admittedly stretched the definition. That’s only because of a 4th-place finish and hosting a playoff game in the first round.
For much of the season, the LA Galaxy wasn’t good enough to dream of anything more than slipping into one of the final playoff spots. A questionable defense and an inability to finish good chances had the league‘s most historically successful club pondering another painful playoff-less offseason.
Then Gaston Brugman and Riqui Puig arrived in Southern California. With that pair of summer acquisitions fixing many of the club‘s midfield problems, the Galaxy improved dramatically. That improvement pushed them into fourth on Decision Day, and the Galaxy will now host Nashville SC in the opening round of the playoffs this weekend.
LA is still an outsider to win it all. The defensive issues largely remain, and it only takes one off-game to undo the work the Galaxy did to reach the postseason.
Still… what if Puig dominates as a playmaker against Nashville and Hernandez finishes his chances? The Galaxy would face LAFC in the second round, a daunting task, but they still hold an advantage in the all-time series with their closest rival. Going to Banc of California Stadium wouldn’t push the Galaxy out of its comfort zone.
Outsiders have to be imperfect, or they would be contenders. A pair of Eastern Conference teams fit the “imperfect” bill with no problem and have something extra that makes them interesting candidates for a surprise run in the playoffs.
No team in MLS has a hotter goalscorer than Inter Miami. Gonzalo Higuain’s incredible 14-goal output in his last 16 games is a massive reason why Miami reached the playoffs. Higuain already announced his retirement whenever Inter Miami’s season ends, and there might be no better possible story in the postseason than a surprise Miami MLS Cup run. League history is rich with clubs that rode a star attacker to glory.
Then there’s FC Cincinnati. Open, adventurous, capable of scoring in big numbers, but also capable of conceding more, Cincinnati is a question going into the playoffs. Three years of abject failure have finally given way to what certainly counts as success. Still, exiting at Red Bull Arena in the first round wouldn’t be a surprise.
But why not Cincy? The attacking trio of Luciano Acosta, Brenner, and Brandon Vazquez could carry the team past anyone. That’s how outsiders are supposed to work, leaving nothing as a given for the clear contenders.
Jason Davis is the founder of MatchFitUSA.com and the host of The United States of Soccer on SiriusXM. Contact him: matchfitusa@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter.
More From Jason Davis:
Photo by Dave Bernal – ISIPhotos.com
[photo2]
By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Oct 12, 2022) US Soccer Players – Major League Soccer’s version of that famous philosophical thought experiment involving the falling tree in the forest and the sound it does or does not make goes something like this: If parity rules and top seeds rarely win the championship, can there be outsiders in the MLS Cup playoffs?
These things are relative, of course. The gap between the best teams in MLS and those in the middle of the table might not be as big as in some of the world’s most famous leagues, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a gap.
LAFC won the Supporters’ Shield because it was the best team over 34 games. That performance and the 20 points between the West’s top seed and 7th-place Real Salt Lake is enough to make LAFC the prohibitive favorite and declare RSL an outsider.
Does MLS have outsiders in the MLS Cup playoffs? Yes, but the league MLS also makes sure those outsiders have the chance to become contenders
An outsider with something extra going for it can quickly become a problem for the top seeds. That could be down to a strong run of form at the end of the regular season or a trait, like experience in the postseason, that makes up for a low seed.
2022 has its share of outsider candidates. LAFC is the favorite in the West, and Philadelphia is the favorite in the East, only losing the Shield to a tiebreaker. There’s a very good chance one or both will fail to reach the MLS Cup final.
Austin FC can’t be an outsider, even if the club‘s second-year status makes a possible title run seems incredible to imagine. Unlike 2018’s Atlanta United championship team, Austin didn’t build its second season on a playoff foundation from year one.
By the same logic, Montreal also isn’t going to surprise. Wilfried Nancy’s team far exceeded preseason expectations by challenging for first in the East all year long. That consistent quality makes it a well-recognized contender for the club‘s first MLS Cup title.
CF Montreal even has the added motivation to win it all before USMNT midfielder Djorde Mihailovic (moving to AZ Alkmaar), Victor Wanyama (out of contract), and Ismael Kone (potential sale) leave the club. Nevertheless, that does not an outsider make.
If we can make a case, there can be no better candidate for an outsider than the club that made the playoffs with fewer points than any other club in MLS.
For the second season running, Real Salt Lake needed Decision Day heroics to claw its way into the playoff field. Last year, it took an added-time deflection from a bicycle kick in Kansas City to push the club into seventh. This season, RSL dispensed with some of the drama by out-hustling the Timbers over 90 minutes in an invigorating 3-1 home win.
Momentum is one reason to consider RSL, a club that uses positive energy better than any in the league to give itself an edge over an opponent. There’s also experience. After sneaking into the playoff in 2021, RSL went on a run. Pablo Mastroeni’s team scrapped its way to penalties and knocked Seattle in the first round while registering zero shots on goal in the process. Then they beat Sporting Kansas City in the conference semifinals.
The Cinderella story hit midnight in Portland against the Timbers, but the playoff success earned RSL a reputation that carried through this season. They can’t sneak up on anyone this time around. There’s little chance RSL’s first-round opponent, Austin FC, will take them lightly in that team’s first-ever playoff game. But experience matters in the postseason and the playoffs have a way of rewarding teams that value sheer effort over everything else. Real Salt Lake will succeed or fail based on its ability to outwork its opponent.
We’ll stay in the West to highlight an outsider that admittedly stretched the definition. That’s only because of a 4th-place finish and hosting a playoff game in the first round.
For much of the season, the LA Galaxy wasn’t good enough to dream of anything more than slipping into one of the final playoff spots. A questionable defense and an inability to finish good chances had the league‘s most historically successful club pondering another painful playoff-less offseason.
Then Gaston Brugman and Riqui Puig arrived in Southern California. With that pair of summer acquisitions fixing many of the club‘s midfield problems, the Galaxy improved dramatically. That improvement pushed them into fourth on Decision Day, and the Galaxy will now host Nashville SC in the opening round of the playoffs this weekend.
LA is still an outsider to win it all. The defensive issues largely remain, and it only takes one off-game to undo the work the Galaxy did to reach the postseason.
Still… what if Puig dominates as a playmaker against Nashville and Hernandez finishes his chances? The Galaxy would face LAFC in the second round, a daunting task, but they still hold an advantage in the all-time series with their closest rival. Going to Banc of California Stadium wouldn’t push the Galaxy out of its comfort zone.
Outsiders have to be imperfect, or they would be contenders. A pair of Eastern Conference teams fit the “imperfect” bill with no problem and have something extra that makes them interesting candidates for a surprise run in the playoffs.
No team in MLS has a hotter goalscorer than Inter Miami. Gonzalo Higuain’s incredible 14-goal output in his last 16 games is a massive reason why Miami reached the playoffs. Higuain already announced his retirement whenever Inter Miami’s season ends, and there might be no better possible story in the postseason than a surprise Miami MLS Cup run. League history is rich with clubs that rode a star attacker to glory.
Then there’s FC Cincinnati. Open, adventurous, capable of scoring in big numbers, but also capable of conceding more, Cincinnati is a question going into the playoffs. Three years of abject failure have finally given way to what certainly counts as success. Still, exiting at Red Bull Arena in the first round wouldn’t be a surprise.
But why not Cincy? The attacking trio of Luciano Acosta, Brenner, and Brandon Vazquez could carry the team past anyone. That’s how outsiders are supposed to work, leaving nothing as a given for the clear contenders.
Jason Davis is the founder of MatchFitUSA.com and the host of The United States of Soccer on SiriusXM. Contact him: matchfitusa@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter.
More From Jason Davis:
Photo by Dave Bernal – ISIPhotos.com

Source:https://ussoccerplayers.com/2022/10/are-all-playoff-teams-contenders-in-mls.html

Leave your comment
Comment
Name
Email