At long last, the 2019 MLS play-offs are here. This is what the whole season has been building towards. The regular season comes with its own twists and turns, but it’s in the play-offs where legends are made. Los Angeles FC enter the post-season as the favourites to win MLS Cup having strolled to the Supporters’ Shield, but what other teams will challenge?
It’s been a vintage season for goalscorers, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Josef Martinez and Carlos Vela all setting new records with their exerts. Will that trend continue into the play-offs? Or will we see tighter encounters with more on the line? Here is a preview of the 2019 MLS play-offs.
As already referenced, LAFC are favourites to add a first MLS Cup to the Supporters’ Shield they have already picked up this season. Bob Bradley’s side have set a new precedent in 2019, dominating the regular season from start to finish. In Carlos Vela, they boast MLS’s top scorer and and maybe even best player (although Ibrahimovic might have something to say about that).
Indeed, LAFC are the league’s top scorers by quite some distance, but the argument could be made that they have lost some momentum in recent weeks, winning just two of their final regular season fixtures. They haven’t beaten a play-off team since August 17 either. Momentum is is important heading into the post-season and Toronto FC are the team with the best recent form behind them, winning three and drawing three of their last six fixtures.
Beyond that, New York City FC also look to be in good shape ahead of the play-offs. They finished top of the Eastern Conference and have managed to find a good balance after a difficult start to the campaign. Uncertainty over their home stadium and whether it will be available (the Yankees’ own play-off schedule might clash with NYC FC’s) might be a factor, but Dome Torrent’s side are strong. And with Martinez fit again Atlanta United will also fancy their chances of keeping their crown.
1u - Back New York City FC To Win MLS Cup @ +450
The New England Revolution looked set for a season to forget until the appointment of Bruce Arena as head coach and technical director turned things around. Arena, of course, is a veteran of the league and knows how to forge a winning team. The Revs might not be a winning team as such, but the former LA Galaxy and USA boss has certainly made them much tougher to beat, particularly at Gillette Stadium. That will be a valuable trait over the play-offs.
Portland’s attack came alive over the final few games of the regular season, scoring seven times in just three matches. Gio Savarese will be without both Diego Valeri and Brian Fernandez for the play-offs, but the Timbers still have players who can decide a match. Of course, the play-offs will be tougher without arguably their two best players, but we should be wary of writing off the Portland Timbers.
0.5u - Back New England Revolution To Win MLS Cup @ +3400
Players to watch
This season has been about goalscorers. Vela set a new regular season scoring record by netting his 32nd of the year before the play-offs and the Mexican will be looking to carry that form into the matches that really matter. Indeed, if Vela can find his groove then it doesn’t look like many will be able to stop LAFC.
Ibrahimovic might stand a chance, though. If the LA Galaxy can beat Minnesota United in Round 1 they will face their Carson rivals in the Conference semi finals and the Swedish striker always finds his best form against LAFC. Ibrahimovic has 30 goals in 29 games so far this season. If he can get hot, the Galaxy can make a deep run. A Vela-Ibrahimovic duel would be a defining moment of the play-offs.
Storylines to follow
David Beckham was given the ideal send-off from MLS as he lifted the 2012 MLS Cup to bring down the curtain on his career in North America. Wayne Rooney hasn’t had the same impact in MLS as his countryman, but he has revolutionised DC United in his short time there. The forward will be leaving to return to England with Derby County after this season is over, so could he emulate Beckham in finishing up with a piece of silverware in his hands?
These play-offs could also be the end for Ibrahimovic in MLS with the Swedish striker still to confirm whether or not he will stay with the LA Galaxy for next season. His personal duel with Vela and the LAFC could, as already referenced, be the most memorable moment of this series, if such a clash materialises in the Western Conference semi finals.