The playoffs are here! MLS starts winnowing down its 12-team lineup in a hurry tonight and tomorrow night; the one-round knockout matches will bring MLS Cup contenders to the conference semifinals starting Saturday. As the field reduces from 12 teams to 8, we look at some of the players who will — by virtue of losing — get their last reps in before the Hex starts Nov. 11 in Columbus.
Philadelphia Union at Toronto FC, Wednesday, 7:30 pm ET, ESPN2/UniMas
For the favored Toronto FC, USMNT stalwarts Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore are likely to be in the starting lineup, as will potential ‘18 World Cup goalie candidate Clint Irwin (who’s currently not on our depth chart, but certainly could be the Designated Survivor of USMNT keepers). For the Union, midseason acquisition and Klinsmann favorite Alejandro Bedoya will be part of a Union team looking to “spoil the party,” as teammate Chris Pontius asserted, so maybe don’t have the Union advance so far in your MLS Playoff Bracket.
Real Salt Lake at LA Galaxy, Wednesday, 9:30 pm ET, UniMas
If the USMNT had a seniors division, there’d be some great candidates here, as the Galaxy’s Landon Donovan (who thought that’d be a thing to type in 2016) and RSL’s Nick Rimando and Kyle Beckerman all look to feature in this sure-to-be-entertaining matchup, where the most critical player might be on the field in the U.S. Hex Opener, albeit in red, white, and green. Galaxian Gyasi Zardes is still out with a broken foot.
Montreal Impact at D.C. United, Thursday, 7:30 pm ET, UniMas
The peaking-at-the-right-time United host an Impact team that is in a mild state of implosion, if reports of Didier Drogba’s discontent are to be fully believed. Keeper Bill Hamid and defender Steve Birnbaum, both recent USMNT call-ups, should start for United against the Impact’s decidedly international lineup.
Sporting Kansas City at Seattle Sounders FC, 10 pm ET, Fox Sports 1/UniMas
One of the biggest MLS/USMNT stories of the season was Clint Dempsey’s heart condition, keeping him sidelined and seemingly spelling doom for a Sounders team that stumbled out of the gate and fired coach Sigi Schmid mid-season. Then Uruguayan miracle-worker Nicolas Lodeiro came to Seattle, and not only did the Sounders make the playoffs, but they’re actually hosting a playoff match. Lodeiro’s been good for Jordan Morris, the USMNT’s pre-Pulisic Great White Hope; they’ll look to advance against a Sporting side including Matt Besler, USMNT outcast Benny Feilhaber, and potential USMNT recruit Dom Dwyer, who last we checked was on track to be called up by next year.