MLS fans were treated to an unbelievably exciting conclusion to the Conference Semifinals round this past week. Now our Conference Championship matches are set – and, thanks to some last-minute heroics from FC Dallas, both of the number one seeds will both make an appearance.
The red-hot Columbus Crew will face the New York Red Bulls, who earned the Supporters’ Shield this year as the league’s regular-season champions. The Portland Timbers, who are enjoying a bit of a Cinderella run, will face the West’s number one seed, FC Dallas.
The two-part MLS Playoffs Conference Championship series will start with a leg hosted by the lower seed and end with one hosted by the higher seed. The winner will be decided based on aggregate score, with away goals serving as the tiebreaker and extra time on the table if necessary. All of this will start on November 22. Here’s what you need to know before kickoff.
Eastern Conference Championship
(1) New York Red Bulls vs. (2) Columbus Crew
This showdown promises to be the most exciting of the playoffs so far. The New York Red Bulls are the best team in MLS and the favorites to win it all this year, but they’ll have to deal with a very tough Conference Championship opponent in the form of this superb Columbus Crew team. The Red Bulls had the edge in the regular season, taking two wins to the Crew’s one in their head-to-head matches, but that doesn’t mean much right now.
New York is known for its high pressing attack, which makes them very reliant on their defenders. That’s problem for them right now: center back Damien Perrinelle is injured and is out for the rest of the playoffs, and several of the Red Bulls’ defensive midfielders are sporting yellow cards from leg one of the Eastern Conference Semifinals (those will disappear if they can get through the first leg without drawing more cards).
The injury to Perrinelle has forced New York to play Ronald Zubar more, and he was at the center of a couple of questionable plays in the Conference Semifinals.
Our prediction: Columbus Crew advance
Western Conference Championship
(1) FC Dallas vs. (3) Portland Timbers
The Portland Timbers are hot, hot, hot. They’re a lower seed, which is why they had to host a knockout round game against a tough Sporting Kansas City Side. No problem: they won on penalty kicks in dramatic fashion. Then they moved on to face the Vancouver Whitecaps, one of their regional rivals in soccer-crazed Cascadia. They were up to that moment, too, and now here they are.
FC Dallas needed goals in stoppage time, a duel in extra time, and a few penalty kicks to scrape past the Seattle Sounders, but don’t let that fool you. Dallas’ team was far and away the class of the Western Conference. They ended up with the same record as the Red Bulls, only ceding the Supporters’ Shield on a tiebreaker. Despite Portland’s recent heroics, this is a mismatch.
Our prediction: FC Dallas advance