MLS Playoffs 2017: Preview, Predictions & Players to Watch
Major League Soccer’s regular season is a grueling undertaking for the 22 teams scattered across the United States and Canada. The 2017 campaign started back on March 3, and is set to run through the end of October, with the playoffs starting on October 25. At this point in the season, the elite teams throughout the league are closing in on punching their ticket to the postseason, with Toronto FC and New York City FC having already clinched a playoff berth over a month in advance.
The MLS Cup is the league championship, which will be played on Saturday, December 9, 2017 at the home stadium of the team in the finals who had the better regular season record. MLS Cup is a winner-take-all affair with just one game played to decide the league’s champion. Last year’s MLS Cup was won by the Seattle Sounders.
Players to Watch
This year’s postseason will feature arguably the best crop of players in league history. In the Eastern Conference, Toronto FC is chalk full of superstar talent, led by former league MVP Sebastian Giovinco. The Italian forward has been magnificent since coming to MLS back in 2015, scoring 54 goals in 83 games. Spaniard Victor Vazquez is another Toronto player worth keeping an eye on as he leads the league in assists this season with 16.
New York City FC is another threat to run the table in the east as they’ve clinched their second playoff appearance in the team’s three-year history. Led by world-renown Spanish striker David Villa, NYCFC has a penchant for getting things done on the road. Villa, who has made 98 appearances for Spain’s National Team, has 19 goals in just 27 games played in 2017. His play this season merited a call-up to Spain’s international setup, which is an incredibly accomplishment because the 35-year-old had not been called up for Spain in over four years prior.
The Western Conference will likely feature some of the usual suspects in Portland and Sporting Kansas City. Portland midfielder Diego Valeri has taken the league by storm this year, scoring 20 goals and providing nine assists. This stat line is particularly mind-boggling when you realize that Valeri plays as a midfielder, a position that rarely scores in the double-digits.
Despite facing some stiff talent in the east from the likes of NYCFC, Atlanta United, and the Chicago Fire, I think Toronto FC will represent the Eastern Conference in MLS Cup for the second year in a row. The Western Conference is certainly a bit trickier to predict but I can’t look past the Portland Timbers. They won MLS Cup back in 2015 and have plenty of veteran players and gifted attackers who should contribute on their playoff run. Toronto and Portland would be a terrifically entertaining matchup to watch, and I’d give the edge to Toronto due to their lethal attack and superior depth. I predict that Toronto will be lifting the MLS Cup for the first time come December 9.