MLS Playoffs

A deep look at the first round of the 2019 playoffs

MLS got the playoff start it was looking for with every game coming down to the wire and several star players delivering big performances. ASN's Brian Sciaretta watched it all and is here to give you his thoughts on each of the games. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
October 21, 2019
9:00 AM
THE FIRST ROUND of the MLS playoffs are over and the past two days gave us six games – three of which were decided in extra time and the other three were all one-goal games. It wasn’t fun for the fans of the six losing teams, but on a broader spectrum, it was a highly entertaining slate of games.

The new playoff format is great and the regular season is clearly rewarded as five of the six teams which advanced had home-field advantage due to a strong regular season. Yes, it’s true that under the previous format, the first round was single elimination but now all but the regular season conference champions have to play in this round.

Atlanta 1-0 New England

This game was close all the way through with Franco Escobar scoring the winner in the 70th minute. This game was a nail-biter and a fun way to open the playoffs. New England played like Bruce Arena’s older-U.S. national teams (the 2002 version) that was fearless against higher-caliber opponents. The Revolution was not afraid to take the game to Atlanta and it had its chances to win.

New England played with a lot of heard, but it lacked just a little more quality in Atlanta to make the difference. Brad Guzan was there to make a huge save in the second half and Ezequiel Barco created the winner. Meanwhile Escobar is quite the postseason player.

Quick thoughts

This was a gritty win, but a win nonetheless. The difference between Frank de Boer and Tata Martino is apparent with roughly the same level of talent. Atlanta didn’t overwhelm its opponent but won with a pragmatic plan that controlled the game and gradually allowed for individual talent to win out.

Possession favored Atlanta, but not by too much. Both teams had 14 shots but New England had six on goal compared with Atlanta’s five.

Atlanta won the game by winning more duel in the midfield which gave it an edge. It also had nearly twice as many tackles as New England (11 vs. six). So the game was set up for individuals to make the difference.

New England is clearly trending in the right direction at the moment and Arena did well with a misguided team that was not put together well. It should be favored to make the postseason again next year but expect a lot of new fresh faces next year.

Meanwhile with Atlanta, the injury to Michael Parkhurst is a huge concern at the moment. On the heels of losing Miles Robinson to injury while he was away with the U.S. national team, Atlanta’s backline is very questionable. The further the playoffs progress, the bigger the challenge it will be.

Seattle Sounders 4-3 Dallas (AET)

This game was the best of the first round. It looked like Dallas was going to get steamrolled after falling behind 2-0. But the youthful FC Dallas team rallied to even the score at 2-2. After falling behind 3-2, it found another equalizer at 3-3. It wasn’t until the 113th minute when the team was delivered a fatal blow.

The big story in the game was the hat trick from Jordan Morris who has been playing very solid soccer over the past two months. With him in this high level of form, he gives Seattle a chance to go far into this playoff season. To date, Morris’ career numbers with Seattle are strong. He has 30 goals and 13 assists in 89 games – while missing the entire 2018 season. He’s trending up at an important time for Seattle.

Quick thoughts

It was a testament of progress for FC Dallas that the team could fight through an up and down season and play an inspired playoff game on the road against Seattle. It came up just short but there was no shortage of learning lessons for the team heading into the offseason.

For one, Dallas needs to find better experienced veterans. As Matthew Doyle correctly points out, the young selection of kids was far from the problem for Dallas. The veterans did not deliver consistently and Dallas had to scrape its way into the playoffs.

Next year will be harder for Dallas. San Jose should be improved with the return of Matias Almeyda and Robin Fraiser should have Colorado in a far more competitive state given how it played down the stretch. So Dallas is going to needs players like Paxton Pomykal, Brandon Servania, and Jesus Ferreira to continue to improve. It would not be surprising to see Reggie Cannon sold to Europe.

Dallas also had some great news Saturday night following the loss in that North Texas SC won USL League One 1-0 over Greenville while missing Ricardo Pepi with the U-17 national team. So now even more youngsters will be pushing their way up to compete. How does Luchi Gonzalez find room?

As for Seattle, the team will be tired for its next game against Real Salt Lake but Seattle should still be the deserved favorite playing at home. All teams in the playoffs have momentum but Seattle looks impressive at the moment.

Toronto 5-1 DC United (AET)

In what was one of the most spectacular extra time collapses in league history, DC United rallied for a late equalizer against Toronto. But with the score even a 1-1, Toronto found four goals in the first extra time session.

The first 90 minutes of the game were dull and dreary with only Marky Delgado scoring for Toronto via a poor rebound given up from Bill Hamid. But DC equalized late in stoppage time when Lucas Rodriguez took advantage of sloppy defending on a corner kick.

But stoppage time was all Toronto. Jonathan Osorio was the big story with two goals and an assist in that 15 minute period.

The result move Toronto into a midweek matchup vs. New York City while the Wayne Rooney era is now over for DC United.

Quick thoughts

Toronto did what it had to do in this game. Without Jozy Altidore and Omar Gonzalez, it came away with a win over a wildly inconsistent, but still dangerous, DC United. It will be a lot harder in the upcoming games (all on the road), but Toronto is through. But this team needs Altidore back to have any real chance at advancing. It cannot count on a career performance from Jonathan Osorio again. 

As for DC United, expect a lot of changes in the offseason. Ben Olsen, once again, probably did just enough to keep his job. Wayne Rooney’s tenure with DC United will be remembered based on expectations. If the job was to get people to care about this team again, he did it – barely. If the goal was for him to win something, he came up way short.

Real Salt Lake 2-1 Portland Timbers

This game went almost completely as predicted. Real Salt Lake came into this game with more weapons than Portland and Real Salt Lake is a good team at home that can typically outwork opponents late. So it came as hardly a surprise that Jefferson Savarino was able to win the game late.

Portland’s disappointing season is over. It botched a 10-game homestand, snuck into the playoffs despite playing poorly, and was bounced quickly. The one big highlight was the outstanding play of American goalkeeper Steve Clark who has always had a flair for the dramatic.

Quick thoughts

Timbers fans have every right to feel concerned. This Bryan Fernandez’s future is questionable. Diego Valeri is without a contract. Overall, it is a team that feels like its core has gone as far as it can go. But unlike an FC Dallas team that develops players from within, Portland doesn’t do that. So now everything is murky. The team will spend money but will it actually fit together? That is hard to say. Plus, the West should be improved next year so Portland might fall behind.

As for Real Salt Lake, it got the job done but heading into Seattle midweek is going to be a very difficult task. The good news for Real Salt Lake is that its players are young and fresh. Seattle has a slightly older core and is tired after a draining win over Dallas. A win over Real Salt Lake likely bodes well for Freddy Juarez to win the head coaching gig on a full-time basis.

Philadelphia Union 4-3 NY Red Bulls (AET)

A battle between two teams known for postseason disappointment meant something was going to have to give. In the end, it was the Red Bulls that bowed out in yet another gut-wrenching fashion. This time, it blew two different two-goal leads. It had a 2-0 and 3-1 lead in the first half, but allowed the Union to rally in regulation before conceding the winner on a mishit cross from Marco Fabian in the 105th minute.

The Philadelphia Union played with a ton of heart in this game as goalkeeper Andre Blake struggled mightily in the first half. But it’s backline kept the game manageable and Philadelphia rallied. Towards the end, Philadelphia forced the Red Bulls into a bunker and it seemed like it was only a matter of time before the eventual winner.

Quick thoughts

Heading into Atlanta this week, Philadelphia should feel good about its chances at an upset with United’s backline shaken up at the moment. It comes down to Blake and whether or not he can put this game behind him. Philadelphia has played tough against Atlanta with Brenden Aaronson scoring in both games: a 1-1 away draw and a 3-1 home win. The Union has not necessarily been consistent but if it can keep Josef Martinez neutralized, it has the weapons to play and defeat Atlanta.

The Red Bulls are heading into an offseason with many, many question marks. It seems like there are going to be a lot of changes. Bradley Wright-Phillips could be finished after his fantastic run with the club. Kaku might get sold. What is the status of Chris Armas? What is the team’s budget moving forward? Can the club keep Josh Sims who was a nice addition down the stretch.

It feels like this game closed the door on another era of this club. Just what the new look will be remains to be seen.

Minnesota United 1-2 LA Galaxy

The lone team to win on the road in the first round was the LA Galaxy which went into a hostile Allianz Field and came away with a gutsy 2-1 win.

There were a lot of things about this win that were unexpected. Zlatan Ibrahimovic was not the difference maker for the Galaxy. The Galaxy’s poor defense bent, but it did not break. Minnesota was vulnerable at home.

This game was even until the 70th minute and at that time it seemed like Minnesota was the most likely to score. But the Galaxy struck against the run of play. First it was Sebastian Lletget and then it was Jonathan Dos Santos from distance. In the end, the Jan Gregus goal in the 87th was too little, too late.

A lot of questions will be asked of Adrian Heath who waited until the 60th minute to bring in Carlos Quintero and the decision to not start him will loom large this offseason. Robin Lod continued to be a complete non-factor for Minnesota and had an epic miss in the first half that should have set a different tone for this game.

Quick thoughts

It was a much better season for Minnesota which is trending in the right direction heading into 2020. This team should find ways to trim some of the pieces which weren’t working an provide upgrades. The West should be more competitive next year but Minnesota flexed some muscle as an organization.

The LA Galaxy had its best game of the season (with the exception of the win over Los Angeles FC earlier in the season). Its defense got lucky but still got the job done. It also won without Zlatan putting the team on its back.

Now it has the chance to crush the hopes of its crosstown rival and Zlatan to bask in the best spotlight he’s had in this league. This is what it wanted from day one.

Post a comment