Tue. Apr 16th, 2024

With the wildcard round done, it’s time for the first round of playoffs to start in Major League Soccer. Due to the change to a three-game first round series, it will offer a different look than the playoffs that we’ve been used to but the goal is to reward the higher seeds but ensuring that they can’t be knocked out of the postseason due to the variance that can come with a knockout tournament.

During round one, the first match will be a home match hosted by the higher seed followed by an away match and a third home tie if needed. There must be a winner to each match and if it is level after regulation, it will go right to penalties to determine a winner. Aggregate goals won’t matter. making it a true win-two-games-and-you’re-through scenario, more like a basketball or baseball series.

With the playoff bracket also comes time to predict who will lift MLS Cup, so let’s get to it

Round one predictions

Round one is going to be quite the affair with a team that got hot at the right time in Sporting Kansas City facing one of the league’s surprise outfits in St. Louis City. With experience on their side, Peter Vermes and Sporting have enough to get past St. Louis, especially thanks to now getting a home match. St. Louis’ biggest struggles this season came on the road so adding that with the pressure of a game three and it will send the club crashing out of playoffs. Elsewhere, the first round goes mostly chalk as the most exciting first round series of the Columbus Crew facing Atlanta United will be defined by how Atlanta manage the first game without having Thiago Almada available. Even without a victory to open, Atlanta likely win this in three games but again, questions arise — does the new format actually hurt the higher seed due to needing to travel into one of the toughest environments in the United States for game two?

Advancing from round one: 
Sporting Kansas City over St. Louis City SC 
Houston Dynamo over Real Salt Lake
Los Angeles FC over Vancouver Whitecaps
Seattle Sounders over FC Dallas
FC Cincinnati over New York Red Bulls
Philadelphia Union over New England Revolution
Atlanta United over Columbus Crew
Orlando City SC over Nashville SC

Conference semifinal predictions

Ben Olsen has the Dynamo firing on all cylinders and after already capturing a U.S. Open Cup title this season and Hector Herrera will help power them into the semifinals. LAFC and Seattle is a match fit for MLS Cup but no team knows how to get hot at the right time like the Sounders (more on that later). Defensively stout and with plenty in attack, if Albert Rusnak scores, they’re going quite far in playoffs. There’s also a lot of familiarity between FC Cincinnati and the Philadelphia Union but Pat Noonan will upstage Jim Curtin as Cincy are just so consistent at home. 

Advancing from the conference semifinals
Houston Dynamo over Sporting Kansas City
Seattle Sounders over Los Angeles FC
FC Cincinnati over Philadelphia Union
Atlanta United over Orlando City SC

Conference final predictions

We’re down to the final four and despite how wild the MLS season has been, the only true surprise of this group are the Dynamo. Atlanta United’s talent is known but they haven’t been performing to potential. Cincinnati and Seattle were expected to be here but the Dynamo’s midfield balance has seen them exceed expectations in every department. Pitted against the Sounders, all good things must come to an end as Brian Schmetzer books a place in MLS Cup. He’ll be facing Noonan and Cincinnati who are one of the only teams in the Eastern Conference that can keep up with Atlanta’s attack in what is quite an exciting match indeed.

Conference final winners
Seattle Sounders over Houston Dynamo
FC Cincinnati over Atlanta United

MLS Cup prediction 

Finals favor those who have been there before and few teams have been in as many pressure-filled situations as Seattle. With most of the roster that won Concacaf Champions League still there, there’s no situation during which the Sounders will feel out of a game and while Cincinnati have been excellent, these two great defenses coming together will hold it to a low-scoring match but one that Seattle find a way through to lift MLS Cup.

MLS Cup winner
Seattle Sounders over FC Cincinnati

Round one schedule

All times Eastern, all games are available on MLS Season Pass

Saturday, Oct. 28
Philadelphia Union vs. New England Revolution, Subaru Park (5 p.m.)
Los Angeles FC vs. Vancouver Whitecaps, BMO Stadium (8 p.m.)

Sunday, Oct. 29
Houston Dynamo FC vs. Real Salt Lake, Shell Energy Stadium (6 p.m.)
FC Cincinnati vs. New York Red Bulls, TQL Stadium (8 p.m.)
St. Louis City SC vs. Sporting Kansas City, CITYPARK (10 p.m.)

Monday, Oct 30
Orlando City SC vs. Nashville SC, Exploria Stadium (7 p.m.) 
Seattle Sounders vs. FC Dallas, Lumen Field (9 p.m.)

Wednesday, Nov. 1
Columbus Crew vs. Atlanta United, Lower.com Field (7:30 p.m.)

Saturday, Nov. 4
New York Red Bulls vs. FC Cincinnati, Red Bull Arena (7 p.m.)
FC Dallas vs. Seattle Sounders, Toyota Stadium (9 p.m.)

Sunday, Nov. 5 
Sporting Kansas City vs. St. Louis City SC, Children’s Mercy Park (5 p.m.)
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Los Angeles FC, BC Place (7:30 p.m.)

Monday, Nov. 6
Real Salt Lake vs. Houston Dynamo, America First Field (9 p.m.)

Tuesday, November 7
Atlanta United vs. Columbus Crew, Mercedes-Benz Stadium (7 p.m.)
Nashville SC vs. Orlando City SC, GEODIS Park (9 p.m.)

Wednesday, Nov. 8 
New England Revolution vs. Philadelphia Union, Gillette Stadium (7 p.m.)

Game 3’s if needed

Thursday, Nov. 9
Los Angeles FC vs. Vancouver Whitecaps, BMO Stadium (10 p.m.)

Friday, Nov. 10 
Seattle Sounders vs. FC Dallas, Lumen Field (10 p.m.)

Saturday, Nov. 11
FC Cincinnati vs. New York Red Bulls, TQL Stadium (2 p.m.)
Houston Dynamo vs. Real Salt Lake, Shell Energy Stadium (4 p.m.)
St. Louis City FC vs. Sporting Kansas City, CITYPARK (6 p.m.)

Sunday, Nov. 12
Philadelphia Union vs. New England Revolution, Subaru Park (3 p.m.)
Orlando City SC vs. Nashville SC, Exploria Stadium (5 p.m.)
Columbus Crew vs. Atlanta United, Lower.com Field (7 p.m.)

Confrence Semifinals

Nov. 25-26, schedule and broadcast info TBD

Conference Finals 

Dec. 2-3, schedule and broadcast info TBD

MLS Cup

Saturday, Dec. 9 (4 p.m.)

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