As the first leg of the conference finals is set, Atlanta United seems poised to make the MLS Cup final. Meanwhile, in the West, The Timbers and Sporting KC have much to settle.
The MLS playoffs have been quite entertaining. In the Eastern Conference, Atlanta United has a commanding 3-0 lead on aggregate over New York Red Bulls. While out West, The Portland Timbers and Sporting KC will have an interesting second leg to settle the score. After a 0-0 draw, neither the Timbers or KC could find the back of the net.
However, the pressure is on this week to find out who will duke it out for the MLS title. While a 3-0 deficit seems daunting, crazier things have happened before. With enough home goals, the Red Bulls could make things interesting.
Atlanta United FC vs. New York Red Bulls
While this team is fairly new, make no mistake, Atlanta United mean business. In particular, their Venezuelan winger/striker Josef Martinez. If a man has made 30 goals in all competitions in a season, he should probably be marked well. However, marking a man with his blistering pace and ruthless finish in front of the net is awfully tough. The Red Bulls learned the hard way.
It was more than the Martinez show. In fact, Franco Escobar and Hector Villalba added to the show. Also, a quick shout out to the 70,000 plus fans that packed Mercedes-Benz Stadium. I must admit, those AUFC fans are amazing. Back to business now.
Martinez’s goal in the 32nd minute kicked things off for Atlanta. His MLS leading 31st goal of the season was courtesy of a Jeff Larentowicz assist. Indeed what a beautiful cross it was over NY defender Tim Parker. Follow that up with a controversial goal that was called back by the referee in the 53rd minute. The Red Bulls thought they had equalized after Bradley Wright-Phillips leveled the score. However, after video replay confirmed that Alex Muyl was in an offside position and blocked AUFC goalkeeper Brad Guzan, it was immediately called back.
From there Atlanta dominated the rest of the second half. The second goal came thanks to a counterattack when Julian Gressel assisted Escobar in the 71st minute. Villalba finished the day off in the fifth minute of stoppage time to give Atlanta the commanding 3-0 lead. Unfortunately for the Red Bulls, this is going to be a difficult one to comeback from. In order to win this, New York has to at least score north of five goals without conceding any to Atlanta.
Safe to say, good luck with that. However, the Red Bulls did have some holes to fill due to injury. In fact, Kemar Lawrence was missing in defense. The winner of this series will host the final at home on December 8th.
But who will they face from the Western conference? That’s an excellent question.
Portland Timbers vs. Sporting KC
Unlike their counterparts in the East, the Western finals are going to be decided after someone breaks open the 0-0 draw from leg one. The Timbers and KC could not separate after 90 minutes.
Some shots went wide, others hit the post. It was that kind of night for both teams. An unfortunate result for the top seeded KC as they failed to get an away goal. However, it is safe to say that both goalkeepers were performing at their best. Especially Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia, who saved two threats of Portland free-kicks. Both set pieces came off the foot of Diego Valeri.
Timbers goalkeeper Jeff Attinella also made some impressive stops during the game. However, Attinella’s backline held up well enough for him to only make one save all game. While on the other side, Melia was forced to make 6 saves.
Things got a bit crazy in the 66th minute when Portland thought it had taken the lead off a David Guzman goal. Unfortunately, it was ruled offside and the game remained scoreless.
This game’s biggest moment was when Portland lost defender Larrys Mabaila in the 19th minute. Unfortunately, it was a non-contact leg injury away from the ball.
With all of the drama that occurred during the game, KC still has a great chance to win this at home. As do the Timbers, who can really make things interesting by scoring an away goal. The winner of this series heads to the team that comes out of the East.
Predictions for the second leg
Out East, it looks like the climb back will be too much for the Red Bulls, who were the top seed of the entire MLS playoffs. Especially if Martinez scores the way he did in the first leg. Atlanta’s pace and solid defense prevail 2-0 in New York, winning on a total aggregate of 5-0.
Meanwhile, in the West, the team that scores the opening goal wins the series. Portland has last season’s MVP in Valeri patrolling their midfield. While KC leads with a balanced attack led by Daniel Salloi. This matchup is even. Both teams defend well and can strike at any moment. However, a Valeri free kick or Timbers set piece will be the difference. The 2015 MLS champions return to the final after winning 1-0. Once again, the precious away goal decides the winner.
The MLS playoffs have been nothing short of spectacular. Atlanta United looks amazing. Again, shout out to those AUFC fans. As for the Western teams, either one deserves to play for the title. The conference finals conclude on November 29th with the Red Bulls hosting Atlanta United at 6:30 PM central time. Followed by the Timbers and KC at 8:30 central time from Kansas City.
So, MLS fans cheers to another week of great soccer.
Hardworking, loyal, and passionate. I love the people that surround me because they allow me to be who I am. A lover of sports, video games, and life itself. I am a son, a brother, an uncle, and a person who holds nothing but love in his heart. I do this for Rosa Maria Magana and Edward Magana. A.k.a my folks in heaven. Music and sports keep me alive and well.