MLS Playoffs: Toronto FC Heavily Favored in the East
MLS Eastern Conference Playoff Preview
Eastern Conference Wildcard Knockout
New York Red Bulls (6) at Chicago Fire (3)
Winning a knockout game on the road might be one of the most difficult tasks in MLS soccer, but the New York Red Bulls managed to do it in 2011. During the regular season, the Red Bulls had the best possession numbers on the road, controlling the ball during 54.1% of their away games.
Still, Chicago will remain the favorites after a turnaround 2017 campaign. The Fire had one of the best home records in the MLS, with a 12-2-3 mark at Toyota Park. If Bastian Schweinsteiger returns to game fitness, the Red Bulls odds will be diminished.
Chicago has beaten the Red Bulls in one of their last seven meetings, a trend which hints at a decent chance at an upset. Pre-game lineup announcements will determine the final lines for this game.
Columbus Crew SC (5) at Atlanta United FC (4)
Atlanta United was one of the best feel-good stories of 2017, becoming the third expansion side to earn a post season berth in their inaugural season. United set records for attendance, selling 819,404 tickets for 17 home games, including a record of 71,874 fans for their last match against the Reds.
Columbus will wish they had earned one more point on the road, because the Mercedes-Benz Superdome will be in a frenzy for the first MLS playoff game in franchise history. The twelfth man will be a hostile environment the Crew need to overcome.
Columbus has proven able to ignore distractions, finishing 6-0-4 to complete the regular season as ownership questions swirl. Despite a slow end to their first campaign, Atlanta will still be heavily favored to win their first home playoff match.
Eastern Conference Semifinals Top Seeds
Toronto FC (1)
Toronto FC set regular season records during the most competitive era of MLS footie. The Reds collected the most points in MLS history with a draw against Atlanta, finishing with 69 points – one ahead of the 1998 Los Angeles Galaxy.
Toronto tied the Sounders for most wins in a single season with 20, and finished with 74 goals, the most since D.C. United in 1998. A +37 goal differential reveals a side with no weaknesses, able to take care of duties on defense while creating plenty of offensive momentum.
The Reds will be heavily favored throughout the playoffs, regardless of matchup. Historically, Supporters’ Shield winners don’t progress to the MLS finals often since the implementation of the knock out round. Considering the depth of Toronto’s lineup, they should perform better than previous number one seeds.
New York City FC (2)
If it wasn’t for the historic dominance of Toronto FC during the 2017 regular season, the press would be discussing NYC FC and their 16-9-9 record. New York finished four points better than the western-leading Portland Timbers, and are considered the second-best bet for MLS Cup futures.
After the Reds destroyed NYC to end July, New York implemented an improved defense, allowing an average of 1.1 goals over the past three months. New York also has one of the deadliest strikers in the league, as David Villa rounded into form with three goals in his last three games.
Despite finishing with a single win in their last seven, NYC gained valuable experience during the 2016 playoffs. No team in the east has a better chance at stifling the Reds.
Eastern Conference Finals Prediction
NYC FC outlasts the Chicago Fire, ruining the heroic return of Schweinsteiger. Toronto silences Atlanta’s fanatics and wins a surprisingly close matchup against NYC FC, sending the Reds to their second consecutive MLS Cup.
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