Opinion

With the MLS Cup playoffs beginning tonight, I’ll be having a go at predicting the results.

While I will input my opinion following each prediction, the predictions will be wholly statistics-based. I will take each team’s record against each other over the regular season and use it to provide the prediction via win-percentage. Draws throughout the season will be split evenly between the two teams, for example: “Team A” has two wins, one draw and one loss against “Team B”. This would give “Team A” a 62.5% win percentage over “Team B”’s 37.5%. Additionally, I will be giving home teams a 10% swing given the obvious tendency towards the home team in the MLS. Assuming that “Team A” was the home team, that would give them a 72.5% win percentage versus “Team B”’s 27.5%. Whichever team has the highest win percentage will be the team to advance to the next round.

Without further ado, here are the predictions based on this season’s results, along with a brief analysis.

Knockout Round

Eastern Conference

DC United (60%) vs Columbus Crew SC (40%)
1-0-1

The record between these two teams says everything you need to know going into this tie. Both games they played were early on in the season. That means it was before Audi Field and, most importantly, before Wayne Rooney. That’s right, DC United managed a win against the Crew while simultaneously standing as one of the worst teams in the MLS at the time. Times have changed. With Rooney’s arrival it seems that the team has grown up. They’ve also gotten Bill Hamid back, and Luciano Acosta is finally playing like he has a passion for the team.
The Crew, on the other hand, have been inconsistent all season long. Their lows have not been nearly as low as DC’s, but their highs haven’t been as high as DC’s either. Gyasi Zardes has found a new footing following his trade from the Galaxy, putting in his best season-long performance since his last solid season way back in 2014. Federico Higuain, while not performing quite as well as he did last season, has still contributed six goals and nine assists this season.
Overall I see the threat of Rooney/Acosta being greater that Zardes/Higuain, and that should be the edge that sends DC through to the Semifinals.

New York City FC (60%) vs Philadelphia Union (40%)
1-0-1

While NYCFC have not been nearly as threatening this season as they were last season, I’d still say that they are one of the best teams in the MLS, and their home record speaks to that. They are 12-4-1 at home this season, and I don’t see their record getting any worse.
As a sort of dark-horse, the Union won the third-most away games in the eastern conference. Not only that, but they also have the league assist leader in Borek Dockal who contributed 18 assists and 5 goals over the season. On top of that, they have Andre Blake between the sticks, one of the top-5 keepers in the MLS this season.
NYCFC seem like the favourite, but there is no reason that the Union can’t beat them in Yankee Stadium.

Western Conference

FC Dallas (60%) vs Portland Timbers (40%)
0-2-0

This is one of those ties where you are better off just randomly throwing darts to predict the winner than actually trying to determine anything. These are both volatile and inconsistent teams that have a hard time maintaining any sort of form, especially of late. Dallas is trying to replicate last seasons collapse, only this time they are carrying it into the playoffs. Coming in on the back of three straight losses, the Huntsmen seem poised to lose in front of the home crowd if only it wasn’t the Timbers they were up against. Honestly, both teams seem so capable and incapable of winning at the same time that I’ll just let the 10% home-advantage swing it in Dallas’ favour, though this is certainly the one to ruin the bracket.

Los Angeles FC (100%) vs Real Salt Lake (0%)
2-0-0

This seems like a shoo-in for LAFC. They are very strong offensively and given that both LAFC and RSL have the two leakiest defences in the Western Conference playoff picture, it’ll be down to which team can outscore the other. In this regard, I honestly thank that LAFC’s offence is far more consistent in the quality and quantity of chances that they put away that RSL’s goal-scoring threat doesn’t seem like it’ll be enough the break a free-attacking LAFC team.

Conference Semi-final (two-legged tie, percentages unaffected)

Eastern Conference

New York Red Bulls (93.33%) vs DC United (6.67%)
2-1-0

This will be where DC United’s beautiful redemption tour comes to an end. The Red Bulls have earned their points against DC this season despite the combination of Rooney, Hamid, and Audi Field. Their superior quality is too much for DC to overcome. While it has been an excellent season for Wazza and co., the Red Bulls will surely come out on top in this lopsided match-up.

Atlanta United (60%) vs New York City FC (40%)
0-2-0

With neither team able to claim a win over the other during the regular season, it will come down to this two-legged playoff tie to determine which team is better this season. According to the “home-advantage” given to the higher seed in the tournament, Atlanta will have the edge over NYCFC, and it will be up to them to come back from their disappointing defeat against last year’s MLS Cup champions Toronto FC. NYCFC will need to beat Atlanta to really prove and determine that they are actually better than your average MLS team. Their season thus far doesn’t really display such, and a solid victory against this second-season expansion team should be plenty to silence any critics.

Western Conference

Sporting Kansas City (60%) vs FC Dallas (40%)
1-0-1

Having solidly beaten Dallas away in the second-to-last game of the season, SKC should be able to win the game at home, though that is where Dallas had their win in the series despite it coming closer to the middle of the season back when Dallas were at the height of their form. The advantage should go to SKC, and it will be their game to lose against an FCD team that seems to be having trouble accurately finding the net.

Seattle Sounders FC (10%) vs Los Angeles FC (90%)
0-0-2

LAFC are the “It” expansion team this season, and they seem to be doing it better than Atlanta did last season. I can see them having no problem with a Sounders team that they have already beaten home and away this season. Though in the Sounders’ defence, they have only lost twice since the end of June, which is a hell of a lot more than most MLS teams can lay claim to. That said, the Sounders do struggle against teams with such a free-flowing attack as LAFC have, so I’ll be curious to see how well they can stop the goals from coming.

Conference Final

Eastern Conference

New York Red Bulls (100%) vs Atlanta United (0%)
2-0-0

The Red Bulls have simply been the bogey team for Atlanta this season, even going so far as to pip them for the Supporter’s Shield. The Red Bulls have a solid team, arguably the best they’ve ever had, and while Atlanta can put forward one of the best attacking units in MLS history it seems that the Red Bulls are just destined to beat them. Though from Atlanta’s perspective, this is the perfect opportunity to step in and exact revenge for the Supporter’s Shield loss. If anyone can do it, it’s the team with Josef Martinez and Miguel Almiron at the helm.

Western Conference

Sporting Kansas City (100%) vs Los Angeles FC (0%)
2-0-0

SKC will have it tough, but as the third-best defence in the MLS they are one of the better-equipped teams to deal with the second-best offence in the MLS. If SKC can manage to score some goals against the second-leakiest defence in the playoff picture, then they’ll be able to win through to the finals. If LAFC can start scoring goals, however, then SKC will find it hard to keep up as they’ll have to let off their defensive pressure which could open space for LAFC to score more goals.

MLS Cup Final

New York Red Bulls (100%) vs Sporting Kansas City (0%)
1-0-0

While these teams only played each other once during the regular season, with the Red Bulls emerging the victor, I think that when combined with other results we have seen throughout the season as well as those predicted during these playoffs a repeat victory can be expected. The Red Bulls team is so well rounded and full of quality this season, it is hard to give a nod to a team like SKC whose claim to greatness was a combination of a great defense and other teams squandering points throughout the season. It’s likely that this game will go scoreless into the second half, but ultimately SKC will succumb to the pressure all over the field by the Red Bulls and will concede an easy goal or two to spell their own doom. This will be their first MLS Cup final in since 2008, but I believe that this is the year for the Red Bulls.