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Playoff Update: First Round in the West

November 16, 2020 - Major League Soccer (MLS) - Orlando City SC News Release

Last week we laid out the playoff situation in the Eastern Conference for the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs Round One. Now let's get to the West, which features an eight-team field with four quarterfinal games from November 22-24.

Western Conference Round One #1: #1 Sporting Kansas City vs. #8 San Jose Earthquakes

Sunday, November 22 - Children's Mercy Park, Kansas City, KS - 4 pm, FS1

SKC was the only team in MLS to improve more than Orlando City in 2020 on points per game, as Peter Vermes' side rocketed from an 11th place finish in 2019 to first in the West this year. The Kansans have been bolstered by DP signings Alan Pulido and Gadi Kinda, while Johnny Russell chipped in another strong campaign. After falling at home to Orlando on September 23, SKC closed strong, going 6-1-1 over the final eight games to lock up the top slot in the West.

They'll face a San Jose team that many left for dead about a month ago, when Matias Almeyda's group were letting in goals for fun. The Quakes managed to make the playoffs with 51 goals allowed in 23 games and a -16 goal differential, but they got the job done regardless, and more power to them. A few key replacements in the lineup, chief among them the switch to youngster J.T. Marcinkowski in goal, led San Jose to a 6-3-1 finish after beginning the year 2-6-5.

Normally you'd pick the top seed to beat the 8 most times, but this is not a normal year and San Jose is not a normal 8-seed. Expect plenty of goals and fireworks at Children's Mercy.

Western Conference Round One #2 - #4 Minnesota United vs. #5 Colorado Rapids

Sunday, November 22 - Allianz Field, St. Paul, MN - 7:30 pm, ESPN

After a tumultuous up and down campaign, the Loons somehow ended up right where they were last year, fourth in the West and hosting in the first round. That ended with a loss to Zlatan's Galaxy in 2019, so Adrian Heath and co. will be looking to reverse their fortunes this year against a plucky Rapids side that rose to fifth in the conference on Decision Day.

Minnesota made a huge splash over the summer, signing Argentine playmaker Emanuel "Bebelo" Reynoso from Boca Juniors to run their offense. Reynoso has shown his quality as a passer, recording seven assists in 826 minutes. He and former Lion Kevin Molino (9 G/4 A) have powered Minnesota's attack even as they've continued to yearn for consistency at the No. 9 spot, trading for veteran Kei Kamara at midseason. The Loons have been strong defensively even without 2019 Defensive Player of the Year Ike Opara.

Colorado dealt with a coronavirus outbreak that cost them a month of their season, but the Rapids showed their potential upon their return to action over the past few weeks. Youngster Cole Bassett has been a revelation with 5 G/5 A in 982 minutes at age 19, while Jonathan Lewis and Andre Shinyashiki have been solid contributors as well. The Rapids weren't particularly great on the defensive end, but they strung enough results together to pip Dallas and LAFC for the five spot.

Unlike last year, when Minnesota ran into Zlatan and Friends and had no answer, the Loons should be favored to advance. But these Rapids are a gritty bunch and could easily spring the upset on the road if the Loons aren't careful.

Western Conference Round One #3: #3 Portland Timbers vs. #6 FC Dallas

Sunday, November 22 - Providence Park, Portland, OR - 10 pm, ESPN

The Timbers had a shot at the 1 seed on Decision Day, but they only managed to squeak out a draw at the Banc, pushing them down to the 3 line. Portland has been, incontestably, the most fortunate team in MLS this year, leading the league in Big Chance Conversion Rate and GD-xGD by a mile. This essentially means that, on average, the Timbers would have scored way fewer and allowed way more goals than their shots for and against would indicate. But Portland proved in the bubble that they could carry that sort of run to a trophy, and despite losing DPs Sebastian Blanco and Jaroslaw Niezgoda to major injuries, no one will be betting against Portland.

FC Dallas were probably unfortunate to slip to the 6 seed, but they'll hope to go to Portland and get a win based on their youth. The Texans feature the "Luchi Gang," the group of Homegrowns who came up through the academy while Oscar Pareja was head coach and current manager Luchi Gonzalez was in charge of the youth ranks. Paxton Pomykal remains injured, but there's a strong young core in Tanner Tessman, Brandon Servania, Ricardo Pepi, and Bryan Reynolds. The question for Dallas-can their high-priced veterans produce in big spots? It's been an inconsistent fall for guys like Franco Jara, Santiago Mosquera, and even the ever-reliable Michael Barrios.

Dallas will need their big-name players to step up, because going to Portland and leaving as the lone team standing very often leads to early exits.

Western Conference Round One #4 - #2 Seattle Sounders vs. #7 LAFC

Tuesday, November 24 - CenturyLink Field, Seattle, WA - 10:30 pm, ESPN

Now this. This is the good stuff. If only it were on at a reasonable hour on the East Coast!

We will be watching anyway, because this is the biggest game of the first round out West, a rematch of the 2019 Western Conference Final that saw Seattle pull a stunning upset on a record-setting LAFC side en route to an MLS Cup.

The defending champs are the favorites this time, playing at home with a side that's maybe even stronger than it was last year. In Raul Ruidiaz, Jordan Morris, Nico Lodiero, and Joao Paulo, the Sounders have an astonishing combination of strength, speed, and sauce to blitz opponents and put them on the back foot. They're also organized and disciplined under the watchful eye of Brian Schmetzer, who is coaching for a contract extension. Seattle's only frailty this year, and what got them knocked out in the bubble against LAFC, is their center back pairing, and it remains to be seen if that can hold up through a playoff run.

LAFC, meanwhile, come in with a lot of pressure after their shocking seventh place finish. Against lesser opposition they'd be a trendy dark horse pick to go far, but many have them bowing out in the first round for myriad reasons-their well-documented struggles on defense, their unsettled goalkeeping situation, the fact that their two Uruguayan dynamos, Diego Rossi and Brian Rodriguez, will miss this game quarantining from international duty.

But LAFC have Carlos Vela back, and the 2019 MVP could be on a mission to prove himself the league's best player after missing most of 2020. Vela put together the best individual season in league history last year, and he's the x-factor in what promises to be a tremendous late night matchup. Brew up some coffee and enjoy.

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