Orlando City Playoff Update: First Round in the East
We'll be updating the overall picture of the MLS Cup Playoffs throughout Orlando City's run. We begin with the first round in the Eastern Conference, which features two play-in games followed by four quarterfinals spanning November 20-24.
Eastern Conference Play-In #1: #8 New England Revolution vs. #9 Montreal Impact
Friday, November 20 - Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA - 6:30 pm, FS1
The Revs appeared on course to avoid the play-in round going into Decision Day, but a loss at Shield winners Philadelphia combined with a win by the New York Red Bulls cost them their spot in the quarters. To make matters worse, Nashville's late upset of Orlando City knocked New England down to eighth. They still appear to be a formidable dark horse, though, as DP playmaker Carles Gil has returned from a lengthy injury absence. Daryl Dike's college teammate Henry Kessler anchors a back line that has been solid all season.
Montreal very much backed into the playoffs, racking up points against Vancouver during the first phase of the regular season return before barely getting in on the final day with a dramatic comeback against DC United. Thierry Henry hasn't quite figured out how he wants this group to play, but they have European-proven talent in the form of forward Bojan and defensive midfielder Victor Wanyama.
New England are fairly heavy favorites here, but Henry's crew could sit back and sneak out an upset.
Eastern Conference Play-In #2: #7 Nashville SC vs. #10 Inter Miami CF
Friday, November 20 - Nissan Stadium, Nashville, TN - 9 pm, ESPN2
The second play-in sees both 2020 expansion sides face off. Nashville clinched with a couple games to spare and moved up to the 7 line by beating Orlando on Decision Day, while Miami needed all they had to survive lowly Cincinnati and secure the very last spot available.
Nashville were among the stingiest teams in MLS this season, allowing just 22 goals on the year, the third-fewest in the league. Big money acquisition Walker Zimmerman is an MLS Defender of the Year candidate, while their midfield pairing of Anibal Godoy and Dax McCarty has provided veteran steel. Miami went for glitz and glamour, and while they came up well short of that, they're loaded with major talents like Gonzalo HiguaÃn, Rodolfo Pizarro, and Blaise Matuidi. With that roster, anything is possible.
Like New England, Nashville will be roundly expected to advance, but Miami could be very dangerous considering their pieces if they're able to move past this round.
Eastern Conference FIrst Round #1: #4 Orlando City SC vs. #5 New York City FC
Saturday, November 21 - Exploria Stadium, Orlando, FL - 12 pm, FOX35 Plus/UniMÃ¡s
The marquee matchup of the first round pits Orlando City against old rival NYCFC. The Lions were one of the biggest success stories in MLS this season, as Sigi Schmid Coach of the Year finalist Oscar Pareja engineered a run to the MLS is Back final and a dominant regular season where Orlando only trailed for a grand total of nine minutes in their last 17 matches. Orlando City boasts arguably the most purely talented top two in MLS in Nani and Mauricio Pereyra, while Chris Mueller (10 G/7 A) and Young Player of the Year finalist Daryl Dike (8 G/4 A) have been stellar.
NYCFC looked dead in the water after a 1-5-0 start, but despite heavy injuries throughout the season, Ronny Deila has managed to get his Pigeons playing their best soccer at the right time, going 11-3-3 over their last 17. The return of playmaker Maxi Moralez has been key, and this game should be the first time we get to see Pereyra and Moralez-perhaps the top two true No. 10s in the league-going head to head, as both were absent for the teams' last meeting on October 14.
This is a heavyweight battle that could easily be a conference final, but only one team can move on. Orlando has perhaps the slight advantage thanks to playing in front of fans at home.
Eastern Conference First Round #2 - #3 Columbus Crew SC vs. #6 New York Red Bulls
Saturday, November 21 - MAPFRE Stadium, Columbus, OH - 3 pm, UniMÃ¡s/MLSSoccer.com
While considerably less exciting on paper than the first game, this one features two teams who endured shaky Octobers to post big Decision Day victories and secure their seeds. Columbus fell apart in Orlando in their penultimate game, but rebounded with a win over Atlanta United on the final day to lock up the 3 line, while the Red Bulls overcame a pounding in the Hudson River Derby to upset Toronto and sneak past the play-ins.
Columbus got off to a dominant start to the year, allowing just two goals in their first 10(!) games, but injuries have taken their toll and the Crew have been more human as of late, conceding 19 times over their final 13. The Red Bulls have seen young talents like Brian White and Caden Clark step up, and they've been able to snag enough results despite firing head coach Chris Armas midseason.
This one certainly looks like it leans Columbus, but the Red Bulls have been known for late dramatics this season, and it would surprise no one if they pulled it off again.
Eastern Conference First Round #3: #2 Toronto FC vs. Play-in winner TBA
Tuesday, November 24 - Rentschler Field, East Hartford, CT - 6 pm, FS1
Eastern Conference FIrst Round #4 - #1 Philadelphia Union vs. Play-in winner TBA
Tuesday, November 24 - Subaru Park, Chester, PA - 8 pm, ESPN
The play-in winners get the prize of facing one of the top two teams in MLS this year on three days rest. Fun! The higher-seeded play-in winner will face Toronto while the lower-seeded side will take on Philadelphia, meaning the Reds can't face Inter Miami and the Union won't see Nashville. No matter the opponents, both of these teams will be strong favorites to move on.
The Union won their first-ever trophy this fall in capturing the Supporters' Shield, doing so with a full team approach that has largely eschewed starpower for building from within and supplementing with TAM pieces in key spots. This playoff run will be Homegrown midfielder and Young Player of the Year finalist Brendan Aaronson's stateside swan song before he joins up with Red Bull Salzburg in a $9 million deal.
Toronto, on the other hand, likes to lavish the cash, with big-time DPs like Alejandro Pozuelo, Jozy Altidore, and Pablo Piatti accompanied by (former?) USMNT stars Michael Bradley and Omar Gonzalez. The Reds have often been overwhelmingly dominant this year, but they've been somewhat more fragile in the back than Philly, which led to their loss in the Shield race. Nevertheless, this is a powerful and deep team that will be difficult for any team in the conference to contend with.
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Major League Soccer Stories from November 12, 2020
- Orlando City Playoff Update: First Round in the East - Orlando City SC
- Philadelphia Union Sign Academy Products Brandan Craig and Quinn Sullivan to Homegrown Player Contracts - Philadelphia Union
- Chicago Fire FC Homegrown Goalkeeper Chris Brady Named USL League One Young Player of the Year - Chicago Fire FC
- Jorge Mas Reflects on Inaugural Season Ahead of MLS Playoffs - Inter Miami CF
- LAFC Co-President Larry Freedman Nominated as Finalist for Best Executive at World Football Summit Awards - Los Angeles FC
- 2021 Topgolf Live Stadium Tour Coming to Earthquakes Stadium - San Jose Earthquakes
- Topgolf Live Stadium Tour Comes to Providence Park in Fall of 2021 - Portland Timbers
- Austin FC Set to Participate in 2020 MLS Expansion Draft on December 15 - MLS
- Chicago Fire FC Exercise 2021 Contract Options on Four Players - Chicago Fire FC
- New England Revolution Announce 2020 Team Awards - New England Revolution
- Nashville SC Restricted in Tickets Available for First Ever Playoff Match Due to Scheduling Conflict - Nashville SC
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