Major League Soccer
Knockout Game Forecast: D.C. and Seattle Look Good
October 27, 2016
D.C. United - Montreal Impact
Of all the knockout games on the schedule, this one is probably the hardest to predict. It features two wildly inconsistent teams which have both played stretches of outstanding and awful soccer in 2016. D.C. United is on the upswing at the moment so that should give them the edge against a Montreal team that has played well at times but will be without Didier Drogba.
Of course, everythign is subject to change in the postseason. United could reverse course and return to being the most boring team in the league. While Montreal could rally without Drogba and look to prove doubters wrong. The up-and-down nature of both teams mixed with the diva attitude of certain global superstars on teams with huge payroll discrepancies makes this game highly emblematic of the insanity of MLS.
While DC United lost its final game of the regular season, 4-2 to Orlando, head coach Ben Olsen decided to rest many of his key players for this knockout game. Before that game, United won its four previous games and hadn’t lost since September 1.
Montreal also rested players for its final game in a brutal 3-0 loss to New England but still key players like Ignacio Piatti struggled in the second half. Prior to that, the club was playing pretty decent soccer winning two and drawing once after an ugly four game winless streak in September.
Keys to a DC United win: Regardless of who does or doesn't show up for Montreal, D.C. United needs to impose itself at home. The most important player is Patrick Mullins who became one of the league’s best forwards the final two months of the season. He was a difference maker for United and he will need to stay at that level (which is asking a lot). But the strength of this team is the backline, which features Bobby Boswell (a former MLS Defender of the Year and two-time Best XI honoree) and U.S international Steve Birnbaum. Without Drogba, Montreal will likely feature the speedy Dominic Oduro, which could be tricky for United’s defense.
Keys to a Montreal Impact win: Without Drogba, the biggest offensive threat for Montreal will be Ignacio Piatti—a potential MVP candidate. The Argentine will have to have a big game and he is the most important player for this team. If Piatti fails, so will the Impact. Larent Ciman is the reigning Defender of the Year and he will attempt to bring Mullins back down to earth. Meanwhile, the ever-inconsistent Oduro will need to utilize his speed and play to the level which he has occasionally shown to be quite high.
Prediction: D.C. United takes this game 1-0. Olsen’s team is playing better and Montreal has faced too many distractions. Montreal certainly has the talent to pull off an upset but all signs point to United advancing.
Seattle Sounders - Sporting KC
Two months ago, it was crazy to think that the Seattle Sounders would be in the playoffs after Sigi Schmid was fired, the team was buried in last place, and Clint Dempsey’s heart ailment forced him to step aside for the year. Not only has the team reversed course and managed to sneak into the postseason, it actually earned a game at home for the knockout stage. Meanwhile, Sporting Kansas City has a lot of questions coming into this game.
For one, SKC has won just one of its last 15 road games in league play this season. For better or worse, the core of this team—Benny Feilhaber, Graham Zusi, Dom Dwyer, and Matt Besler—are known commodities and will not surprise anyone.
Keys to a Seattle Sounders win: It's all about Jordan Morris and Nicolas Lodeiro. With those two in form and playing at home, Sporting Kansas City has little chance. Yes, the home team has an effective backline anchored by Chad Marshall and a solid goalkeeper in Stefan Frei. But Seattle can find ways of dominating at home and this is about offense and scoring early. If the offense clicks, the defense usually does too.
Keys to a Sporting Kansas City win: The defense must play well early and get the momentum at its back. If it can remain in the game into the second half, Seattle could get frustrated. Morris has handled the pressure and hype of his rookie season well, but this will be another level for him and he is still new to this. Kansas City has veterans who have seen it all before, and if they can leverage this experience, they will have a chance.
Feilhaber and Dwyer must create scoring opportunities. If Kansas City is on its back foot only looking for counter attacks and set pieces, Seattle is going to win the game. But Feilhaber and Dwyer are top players in this league for a reason. This will be a big moment for both to give Kansas City a shot at the upset.
Prediction: Seattle has too much going for it right now and Kansas City has offered no evidence that it will now all of a sudden compete in the toughest road environment in the league. Seattle wins 2-0.