DECEMBER 8, 2018
Champions: Atlanta United
Knockout Round Conference Semis Conference Finals MLS Cup
NYCFC Atlanta United Atlanta United
Philadelphia Union NYCFC
D.C. United NY Red Bulls NY Red Bulls
Columbus Crew Columbus Crew Atlanta United
LAFC Sporting KC Sporting KC
Real Salt Lake Real Salt Lake
FC Dallas Seattle Sounders
Portland Timbers Portland Timbers Portland Timbers
The Knockout Round is a one game playoff.
The Conference Semi-Finals and Conference Finals consist of two legs (a home and away game).
The MLS Cup Final has one game. (The team with the most regular-season points hosts the MLS Cup.)
As predicted, Atlanta is in the finals. Now it has to defeat Portland, who is a great team at the moment, and has been for a few years. Given the departure of Caleb Porter and Darlington Nagbe, Portland is still doing well. Now, oddly enough, Nagbe will go against his old team in the MLS Cup finals, and it's anyone's ball game. However, I still stand by my prediction of Atlanta winning the whole thing. With that said, don't underestimate Portland. It's a team with plenty of talent. It should be a spectacular game.
Atlanta is looking amazing as usual. With Nagbe back in the lineup, ATL – also featuring Almiron, Guzan and the regular season goal-scoring king, Josef Martinez – is the team to beat. With over 70,000 people present for home games, adorning large flags behind the goal-lines, it has the feel of an epic Argentinean stadium in full throttle. Who says soccer hasn't arrived in America?
NY Red Bulls have the ability to take down Atlanta in a two-game battle, but it will be unlikely for NY to stop the wave in the South.
Portland was the first team to reach the Conference Finals after it defeated Seattle in a very exciting Leg 2 showdown, which was decided in penalty kicks. Portland is looking great, with plenty of momentum after taking down its Northwest rival in front of lively crowds, but in all likelihood it will meet Sporting Kansas City in the next round and I predict* Sporting Kanas City will represent the Western Conference in the MLS Cup final.
D.C. United finished in a surprising 4th place and qualified for the Playoffs. However, it lost in the opening Knockout Round. Oddly enough, despite struggling throughout the season, languishing in the lower rankings, it was a team that played well but didn't get results. In the end, its quality of play on the field was worthy of a 4th place finish in the Eastern Conference.
LA Galaxy finished in a disappointing 7th place and did not qualify for the Playoffs.
LAFC lost an exciting game at home against Real Salt Lake. Bob Bradley deserves a lot of credit; LAFC were playing great soccer all season, second only in quality to Atlanta United.
(This Blog piece was originally posted on 11-2-18 and gradually updated.)
* Prediction occurred here on 11-11-18 circa 6:45-7:00 AM Central Standard Time.