Image courtesy of Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images
With MLS Playoffs just a day away. Here are some predictions from the TopBin90 team and some of our content creating friends from around MLS:
MLS Cup Winner: Montreal- One of the best teams in MLS this season. A team that had the second most wins in MLS and has shown to be strong both home and away (only three losses at home and two away). A strong midfield with the likes of Wanyama, and an MLS all star this season in Djordje Mihailovic, you add a striker who has been underrated this season in Romell Quioto (15 goals and 5 assist) they have a lot of ingredients of an MLS Cup Champion team. Montreal's biggest hurdle will be getting over Philadelphia Union, a team they weren’t able to beat this season but in my opinion Montreal are now a team that are more compact and have enough weapons to get them over the line.
Dark Horse Team: Nashville. Without a doubt a big factor for Nashville will be how well Hany Mukhtar can be for them this postseason. With 34 goal contributions, Nashville will be looking at Hany to take them to glory and I think he’s a player that has proven he could do that. Not talked about enough is the fact that Nashville moved from the east to west and finished 5th. A team that will stay defensively compact and rely on the individual brilliance of a player like Hany is the perfect combination to cause upets in a one game playoff style tournament like MLS playoffs are.
Player of the Tournament: Romell Quioto. Maybe a little Honduras bias on my end but I think Quioto will have a spectacular postseason. The Honduran has registered his best season in MLS in Montreal boasting 15 goals and 5 assists. Recently being named captain of Honduras and also becoming more of a veteran player with Montreal I think are important reasons for Quioto to transition from being a player that can contribute to a leader and a guy that Montreal look for in this post season.
MLS Cup Winner: Philadelphia Union - It just feels like it’s their time. Philadelphia has been historically good this season, and seem primed for another deep run. The difference this year to past campaigns is that they have a plethora of attacking options. Not only will the Union be defensively sound, but they will also be capable of putting multiple goals up on any opponent they face. Philadelphia should be able to return to the Eastern Conference Finals, the issue for them will be getting over the Conference Final hump mentally and pushing themselves into the Cup Final.
Dark Horse Team: FC Cincinnati - Staying in the Eastern Conference with this one. If Cincinnati can get past the New York Red Bulls Pat Noonan will then likely go up against his former team, Philadelphia. A Cincinnati versus Philadelphia matchup could be incredible. Both teams have shown an ability to score a ton of goals all season. FC Cincinnati’s main three attacking options Brenner, Brandon Vazquez, and Luciano Acosta have combined for 46 goals this year. Cincinnati’s weaker defense has also made for some very entertaining high scoring affairs and against Philadelphia this would be no different. Plus you add the history Jim Curtin and Noonan have with working together in Philly and this makes for a fun potential matchup with storylines both on and off the pitch. If Cincinnati can outscore Philadelphia and make it to the Eastern Conference Finals that would be a major accomplishment for a team that just a year ago was a wooden spoon regular. For me they are a primed dark horse candidate because they have several playmakers who are in form and scoring goals, while they are lacking a bit defensively, they should be able to compete with anyone they face because of their ability to put goals in the back of the net.
Player of the Tournament: Dániel Gazdag - Philadelphia have shown the ability in the past to stay defensively sound and keep games close. The difference in this Cup run and past seasons will be if their attack can stay hot and continue to score goals to get them across the finish line. If Philadelphia do indeed win their first MLS Cup then their playmaker Gazdag will be a key contributor to getting them there.
MLS Cup Winner: FC Dallas
Dark Horse Team: FC Dallas
Player of the Tournament: Paul Arriola
I went full FC Dallas on this one. They have a perfect mix of veteran leadership, strong goalkeeping, and powerful attacking talents. Maarten Paes has been excellent in goal for Dallas and a strong defensive line in front of him, led by Matt Hedges, has led Dallas to concede the second fewest goals in MLS only behind the Philadelphia Union. The Dallas 3rd place finish could easily have been higher, with 11 draws on the season. In crunch time of the playoffs, being able to grind out results and keep games close is key. FC Dallas should be able to do that and they have several capable goal scorers to finish the chances they get with Jesús Ferreira, Paul Arriola, and Alan Velasco. Player of the tournament will probably come down to whoever is the difference maker in the final, so I went with Paul Arriola on a whim. However, I think Brenner from FC Cincinnati could have a big tournament on the Eastern Conference side of the bracket as well. Regardless of the outcome, I have a feeling that the Western Conference is going to take the Cup this season.
MLS Cup Winner: LAFC - I hate to pick the odds-on favorite, but they are favorites for a reason. They are filled with star power, sure, but what makes them so good is their depth. When your players start to get tired, they can bring in guys off their bench that are just as good, if not better than your starters. LAFC are lethal up front and seemingly always attacking. This season, they were 2nd in the MLS in touches in the attacking third, 1st in touches inside the opponents penalty area, and 1st in both shots on target and xG. While their form towards the end of the season was shaky, they only lost 9 games all year, and 7 out of those 9 losses were decided by just one goal. This is the most talented team in the MLS this season and will have the trophy to show for it.
Dark Horse Team: Cincinnati - I’m going to go with a pretty big underdog here and take Cincinnati. They were top 5 in the league in Goals, xG, % of shots on target, and chance creation. Do I think Cincinnati will win the cup? No. Do I think they will make a deeper run than they are expected to? Yes. It is their first playoff appearance in club history, so I expect the players to be extra motivated and their fans to travel well. They open up with New York Red Bulls, who have lost in the first round of the playoffs 3 years in a row. Cincinnati matches up nicely against them, as shown evident by them forcing draws in both meetings this season. I like Cincinatti to pull off the upset in the first round and potentially give Philly a hard time as well.
Player of the Tournament: Sebastian Driussi - Driussi was runner-up to Mukhtar in the MLS Golden Boot race, but actually finished with more non-penalty goals than the leading marksman (Driussi 18, Mukhtar 17). He also created the 5th most chances in the league this season. I think he puts the team on his back and leads the tournament in G+A. He’ll help them cruise to the Western Conference Final and If anyone can take down LAFC, I think a Driussi-led Austin FC has the best chance.
MLS Cup Winner: CF Montreal
Dark Horse Team: Austin
Player of the Tournament:
CF Montreal wins it all. Looking back over the last 6 games at least in the east and Montreal are the team in form. The added fact that Philly while winning the east there current form looks a little suspect to be able to carry it all the way through. Montreal also has a decent away record and should they run into Philly along the way I doubt that Philly has enough in the tank to beat out Montreal. Montreal have scored 63 goals this season which is the 4th best in the MLS while also boasting the best away record. The pressure to win out is more on Philly and LAFC. Montreal takes Austin in the final.
Dark horse I am going with Austin. I think these are the guys Charlotte will look towards at least for the first few seasons to emulate.. To go from 2nd from bottom in the West to 2nd this season is impressive in itself plus I have a soft spot for these guys. Do they have enough in the tank to beat out LAFC? Probably not but they did take it to them during the season. The only concern I have for them is that the form seems to be dipping when it's most crucial. Shout out to the weareaustintv boys!
MLS Cup Winner: CF Montreal
Dark Horse Team: “Texas”
Player of the Tournament: Romell Quioto
History shows it is very hard for a team with regular season dominance to carry their success over to postseason glory. Let’s put it this way: Only once since 2012 has a #1 seed even made it to the final. That team was the 2017 Toronto FC side that won the domestic treble, winning the Supporter’s Shield, Canadian Championship, and MLS Cup. Last year saw the 4-seeds square off in the Final. So, odds are not in LAFC or Philadelphia’s favor. For that reason, I have selected Club de Foot Montreal as my pick to lift the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy, or “MLS Cup”.
Montreal has 1 loss since mid-July. Since then, they have gone 11W – 1L – 3D. As the two seed in the East, they will have the advantage of playing all of their playoff games at home unless they run into Philly. If they do, Montreal boasts the best road record in MLS, earning a post-shootout era record 35 points on the road in 2022. They are a tough team to beat, they routinely shred teams tactically, and if they go on the deep run I predict, Romell Quioto will be a big part of their success as he sort of quietly contributed 15 goals and 5 assists in the regular season.
To choose a dark horse contender is really like shooting fish in a barrel. I’m going to cheat a little bit by selecting “Texas” as my dark horse front runner. While Austin and FC Dallas are the Western #2 and #3 seeds, respectively, I think they qualify as dark horse candidates as they are underrated by most, and they have to go through The Mighty Black and Gold, LAFC.
For Austin they have the capability to follow the path laid by Atlanta United to become the 2nd team to win MLS Cup in their 2nd season. Sebastián Driussi can be “that guy” who can single-handedly carry a team to a trophy. Thanks in large part to his goal scoring prowess, Austin actually finished the season 3rd in the league with 65 goals scored, behind only Philadelphia and LAFC. If they can score while defending pragmatically, the Cup will not be out of their reach.
Now, if you had to guess which team had the second fewest goals conceded during the 2022 MLS season you probably would not guess that it was FC Dallas. They say that defense wins championships, and FC Dallas is a team that has gone well under the radar for how good their defense has been, conceding a mere 37 goals, one fewer than LAFC. Their road record leaves a lot to be desired, and their offense doesn’t evoke fear in their opponents, but that’s why they are an ideal dark horse candidate because no one thinks they will realistically win the Cup, especially when you consider they’ve failed to win the Cup in their first…..26 seasons. Maybe this is the year they get the proverbial monkey off their back.
MLS Cup Winner: Philadelphia Union- The Union are good at soccer. I should just leave it at that but that wouldn’t do their 2022 season justice. With a roster that consists of homegrown contributors, international bargains, and intra-league steals, they will go down as one of the best teams in MLS history. Defensively, their 26 goals conceded set an All Time MLS record for fewest goals conceded in a single MLS season. Offensively, they became the 1st team in MLS history to win 4 games by 6 or more goals. 49 of their 72 goals were scored at Subaru Park which ties the all-time MLS record for most home goals in a single season. Oh, and they were undefeated at home in 2022. I guess now would be the perfect time to mention they will have homefield advantage throughout the entirety of the playoffs unless they match up with LAFC in the final. Notice I haven’t mentioned a single name yet? This is a team effort. Head coach, Jim Curtin, has this team bought in and playing one of the most distinct and efficient styles in all of MLS. They press from the front, are tough to break down, force you into mistakes, and are absolutely lethal in transition. Was that convincing enough?
Dark Horse Team: FC Cincinnati & Real Salt Lake- Look, I know you just spent a minute or so reading why the Philadelphia Union were going to win MLS Cup but I failed to mention that there is a good chance they will have to go though the only Eastern Conference playoff team to beat them in the regular season to do so; FC Cincinnati. Former Union assistant and 1st year head coach for FCC, Pat Noonan, has transformed the 3x Wooden Spoon winners into the number 5 seed in this year's MLS Cup Playoffs in just 1 season. They added 29 points on to their 2021 total, conceded 18 fewer goals, increased their front 3’s goal contributions from 19g/15a in 2021 to 46g/22 in 2022, and rank 3rd in points v. EC playoff teams this season. But Blake, they’re going to be playing away for the majority of the playoffs! They earned 25 away points this season which is good for 4th in the Eastern Conference. If FCC are to make a run, every game is going to be an absolute shootout, but that’s exactly what we like over here at MLS Gone Wild. The saying usually goes, “offense wins games, but defense wins championships” but in FCC’s case, that defense isn’t going to win them anything. Their playoff success relies heavily on Acosta, Vazquez, and Brenner outscoring the opposition. Watch out, Philly.
My Western Conference Dark Horse is a team that has played this role a number of times over the past half decade. As the 7 seed last year, RSL went on to take down 2 seeded Seattle and 3 seeded SKC on their way to the Western Conference Final. In 2018 as the 6, and last, seed in the Western Conference, they advanced over 3 seed LAFC. If they were to defeat Austin on Sunday afternoon, RSL will become the lone MLS side to advance in 4 of the last 5 postseasons. Not only does this team have a history of playing spoiler, they have playoff experience as they have 6 of their starters returning from last year’s playoff run, they split points with Austin this season, they understand that they don’t have to dominate a game to win it, and head Coach Pablo Mastroeni has this team believing. I didn’t pick the upset, but I won’t be surprised if it happens and you shouldn’t be either.
Player of the Tournament: Andre Blake- I’ve got to go with my name partner Andre Blake on this one. He is 1st in MLS in clean sheets, 1st in save percentage, concedes the fewest goals/90, and has prevented the 2nd most goals in all of MLS with 10.7 goals prevented. The 2022 Union have been historically good defensively and a lot of that credit falls to the Jamaican international. If Philly do, like I predict, go on to win this year’s 2022 MLS Cup, I believe Andre Blake will join the likes of Tony Meola, Nick Rimando, Stefan Frei, and Sean Johnson as the 5th goalie to win the prestigious MLS Cup MVP award.
MLS Cup Winner: Nashville SC
Dark Horse Team: New York Red Bulls
Player of the Tournament: Hany Mukhtar
MLS Cup Winner: LAFC, they have been the team to beat since early on this season. With a front three of Gareth Bale, Chicho Arango & Carlos Vela it’s hard to say that they will choke once again. I have my doubts on Gareth and how sold he is on helping LAFC win MLS cup but LAFC has an insane squad with tremendous amount of depth. Let's give credit to Cifuentes, a lowkey hero for the black and gold this season with 7 goals & 7 assists he's surely to pick up Bales slack going into the playoffs. Not only have they been solid in the attack, LAFC has only lost 3 points from a winning position, so if anyone lets these guys score first good luck on coming back. 38 goals conceded, 9 clean sheets, Giorgio Chiellini & Crepaeu yeah good luck. LAFC my winners for 2022.
Dark Horse Team: AUSTIN FC, Why does it feel wrong typing this out? From bottom of the Western Conference in 2021 to 2nd seed in the Western Conference in 2022, Austin has shown that it can compete with the elite MLS clubs. A team that finds itself playing its best football when the media is against them has once again been “doubted” by the MLS experts. Lets not forget ATX has the Golden Boot & MVP runner up Sebastian Driussi who is looking to cement his name in MLS history, plus a hungry Diego Fagundez who is reminding the league just who he is with 15 assists and 6 goals in 2022. Austin has a home match vs RSL this sunday and if they win that then a home match vs Dallas/Minnesota will follow. Q2 will be packed to the rim and cheering on the Verde team, beware of this team when they are in full force.
Player of the Tournament: Cristian Arango