Major League Soccer's regular season ended on a dramatic note, with the New York Red Bulls hanging on to edge out FC Dallas and lift the Supporters Shield for the second time in three seasons. But, in truth, the real business for both the Red Bulls and the rest of the 11 teams who made the postseason begins now. As much as coming out on top over a 34-game regular season may be a more accurate barometer of quality, it is the team that goes onto claim MLS Cup who will be the winners that live longer in the memory.
The quest for MLS Cup gets underway this week, with the teams ranked three to six in both the Eastern and Western Conference competing in the knockout round for the right to move onto the Conference semifinals.
Here’s what to know about the four matches, with betting odds provided by oddschecker.com.
D.C. United vs. New England Revolution (Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. EDT, RFK Stadium, UniMás )
Four-time MLS Cup winners, D.C. United spent four months in first place this year, but the team has stumbled into the playoffs, winning just two of their last nine matches. And on Sunday, United was on the end of a 5-0 mauling at the hands of Columbus Crew. It is hardly ideal preparation for a club trying to land its first MLS Cup since 2004. It now comes up against a New England Revolution team looking to go one better than last year, when they fell to the LA Galaxy in the MLS Cup final. The Revs almost threw away their chance to avenge that loss when going on a four-game winless streak, before bringing it to an end just in time for the playoffs by beating New York City FC, 3-1, on Sunday. Lee Nguyen and Charlie Davies both found the net that night and, along with Jermaine Jones, will be crucial to the hopes of Jay Heaps’ squad in the nation’s capital.
Odds: D.C. United 8/5, New England Revolution 13/8, draw 12/5
Prediction: New England Revolution
Montreal Impact vs. Toronto FC (Thursday, 7 p.m. EDT, Stade Saputo, UniMás )
After nine long seasons, countless false dawns, and a whole lot of money spent, Toronto FC has finally made it into the MLS playoffs. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the Reds now faces a trip to their biggest rivals, where they were just defeated on Sunday. Montreal has been invigorated by the arrival of Chelsea legend Didier Drogba, who has scored 11 goals in as many MLS appearances, including three to help his side finish the regular season with three straight victories. And the Ivorian will surely be licking his lips at the prospect of going up against a Toronto defense that finished with the joint worst goals-against record in the regular season. But Toronto can never be ruled out, for one simple reason: Sebastian Giovinco. The Italy international has torn through MLS this season, finishing with a joint-high 22 goals and a league-leading 16 assists. If anyone can make up for his team’s defensive shortcomings, it is the man nicknamed "the Atomic Ant."
Odds: Montreal Impact 6/5, Toronto FC 11/5, draw 12/5
Prediction: Montreal Impact
Seattle Sounders vs. LA Galaxy (Wednesday, 10 p.m. EDT, CenturyLink Field, UniMás )
A mouth-watering prospect and undoubtedly the pick of the knockout round games on paper. Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins go up against Steven Gerrard, Giovani dos Santos and Robbie Keane. It's also the fourth highest payroll in MLS against the second highest, and the latest meeting in what has become the dominant Western Conference rivalry. They have met in the playoffs in three of the past five years, with the Galaxy winning on each occasion. Bruce Arena’s team would go on to win the MLS Cup three times in that spell, while the Sounders remain without the one domestic honor they crave most. Now, hosting a Galaxy team that has struggled to find balance since the star arrivals of Gerrard and Dos Santos, in front of a huge, passionate crowd, the Sounders will believe that this is their time.
Odds: Seattle Sounders 5/4, LA Galaxy 21/10, draw 12/5
Prediction: Seattle Sounders
Portland Timbers vs. Sporting Kansas City (Thursday, 10 p.m. EDT, Providence Park, UniMás )
The Galaxy were left facing the daunting task of a trip to Seattle thanks to a 2-1 defeat in Kansas City that clinched Sporting a spot in the playoffs. And Peter Vermes’ squad has a habit of delivering when it really matters, having also lifted the U.S. Open Cup this year, to go with its MLS Cup triumph in 2013 and now a fifth straight playoff berth. An experienced group of players will have their work cut out, though, traveling to Portland and one of MLS’ best atmospheres at Providence Park. Portland also come into its second playoff appearance in three seasons in fine form. Caleb Porter’s side won its last three matches to claim the No. 3 spot thanks in no small part to the goals of Fanendo Adi and Darlington Nagbe.
Odds: Portland Timbers 5/6, Sporting KC 16/5, draw 13/5
Prediction: Portland Timbers