MLS Playoffs: On To a Fierce Battle in the Wild Wild West
MLS Western Conference Playoff Preview
Western Conference Wildcard Knockout:
San Jose Earthquakes (6) at Vancouver Whitecaps FC (3)
The sixth seed in either conference has yet to venture far in the MLS playoffs since the knockout round was introduced in 2011. No sixth seed has made the finals, and the San Jose Earthquakes barely made it into the playoffs.
Only three teams have earned a knockout round win on the road: the 2011 Red Bulls, the 2012 Dynamo and the 2016 Impact. San Jose had the second-worst road record in the west, while Vancouver lead the western conference for much of the regular season, barely losing out on a bye over the last two weeks of the schedule.
Vancouver’s heavily favored, while the Earthquakes have the worst odds of making it out of the knockout round alive.
Sporting Kansas City (5) at Houston Dynamo (4)
Kansas City didn’t finish too far away from a bye in the standings, only four points behind the Timbers and the Sounders. Unfortunately, this earns them an extremely difficult matchup against Houston, their nemesis.
The Dynamo haven’t lost against KC in eight consecutive games, and Houston has an 8-1-3 home playoff record. Scoring will be at a premium – in 12 home games, the Dynamo have earned seven clean sheets. Kansas has never scored in Houston during a playoff game.
Considering that Kansas enters the playoffs on a five-game winless slide, anything other than a Houston win would be a big surprise.
Western Conference Semifinals Top Seeds
Portland Timbers (1)
The Portland Timbers finished the season strong to muscle into first-place overall in the west. They were 8-3-2 over their last 13 matches, earning home advantage throughout the western playoffs. Portland took home the 2015 MLS Cup, and have the personnel necessary to earn their second championship in three years.
Historically, first seeds haven’t performed as well as expected since the knockout round was introduced. Only the Los Angeles Galaxy made the MLS Cup as first seed of the west. Their most likely semi-finals opponent would be the Houston Dynamo, who were one of the hottest teams over the last six weeks.
As such, the Timbers aren’t considered favorites by sportsbooks for MLS Cup futures. Portland provides a bit of extra wagering value – a nice bonus for betting on a number one seed.
Seattle Sounders (2)
As the second seed, the Seattle Sounders are listed by sportsbooks as the favorites to make it out of the west alive. The reigning MLS Cup champs enter their bye with a pair of losses over their last 18 matches after a sluggish start to the season.
Seattle will most likely play the Whitecaps, a great team at their best, but inconsistent to finish the regular season. Regardless of who the Sounders play against, they’ll be without Clint Dempsey for the first leg of the semis because of an elbow and red card against Colorado.
Nonetheless, the Sounders will field a similar team as their cup-winning side last year, and should be able to survive a leg without Dempsey.
Western Conference Finals Prediction
Houston takes their momentum and runs all the way to the western conference finals, where they meet a Sounders squad which scrapes by the Whitecaps. Seattle remains resilient, representing the western conference at the MLS Cup finals.
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