The MLS Season is over - that can only mean one thing, time for the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs to begin. The Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs have everything, since it’s MLS there’s wacky rules like the snake fight and ghost hunt and who could forget the pie eating contest? One year as a tie breaker Andrew Shue and Stern John had a juggling contest because the ball deflated and nobody could find a pump before stoppage time ended. Aside from that, the playoffs give MLS a chance to show that it’s a Real League by having a post-season just like all the other real sports in America.
Who cares that it takes six weeks from October to December to get through the six games from the knockout round to the final despite the fact that half the games happen mid-week? Do you not like that more than half the teams qualify? Well what other mechanism do you suggest for deciding what should happen to the best and worst teams in the league? Is it weird that the last two finals happened in Toronto in December in the coldest games played in MLS history? Does it make sense that the two leg format of the playoffs encourages teams to play turgid, defensive, borderline unwatchable soccer in what should be the most visible showcase for the league just so it can cash in on cramming in extra games for the schedule to squeeze out a little extra revenue?
Like I said, stop asking questions, if you like soccer you might enjoy what the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs have to offer.
They did it, they made the playoffs - even with a backloaded schedule and a roster featuring Darren Mattocks, DC is in the post season. The roster features three Americans to watch:
Paul Arriola - The speedy right winger has found a place in the DC front four. He might not be crucial to their success, but his ability to stretch the field will be useful as DC looks to rely on Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta to make a playoff run.
Russell Canouse - The DC United midfielder seemed poised to take a step forward in his career after making his debut in 10 games in 2017. That seemed like it was going to be derailed as he missed the first 16 games of the year with a knee injury. Upon returning, Canouse claimed a starting spot, displacing hype child Chris Durkin, and has brought stability in central midfield and is an unsung reason why DC is going to the playoffs.
Bill Hamid - The goalkeeper finally lived up to his potential after washing out in Europe and coming back to MLS. If soccer has 4-A players, Hamid is one of them. Still, he’s a big reason why DC is in the post-season and if he can keep his consistent play in net going and avoid mistakes or injury DC could ride their hot-streak to the final.
The problem with giving players to watch from Philly is that they have a lot of interchangeable pieces that probably aren’t going to be useful for the national team. Keegen Rosenberry, Mark McKenzie, CJ Sapong, Marcus Epps? Sure they could all start - after all Philly proved the moneyball concept in soccer by showing that mostly mediocre players could come together and make the playoffs in a 23 team league where 12 teams make the post season. Here’s who to watch:
Austin Trusty - The 20 year-old center back is probably the American with the highest upside on the roster and is the most reliable to start.
Alejandro Bedoya - The midfielder will look to add to his yellow card total in the post-season.
Fafa Picault - As the American international who seems poised to take over the mantle of “winger who gets called into the national team sometimes” from Chris Pontius, Picault could make some noise this post-season.
You’re going to watch Tyler Adams, there’s more to say about others, but Adams can take over a game from central midfield, he sets the tempo for the team, he helps keep the press going and is a big reason the team has been so successful this year. He has a chance to do something special for New York and bring a MLS Cup home to the club before taking off for Germany.
Others to watch: Tim Parker and Alex Muyl - Parker seems to have at least earned a look at center back for the national team while Muyl may challenge Picault for mantle of “winger who gets called into the national team sometimes” from Chris Pontius one day.
There’s not a lot here in terms of Americans who get serious minutes that would be on the national team radar - James Sands got some token time. Otherwise there’s Sean Johnson who lived up to the promise he had of not living up to the promise of a player good enough to washout in Europe and Ben Sweat who is a solid MLS defender. You’ll get to watch Johnson try and keep Picault and Sapong from scoring in the knockout round.
Darlington Nagbe - After a massive offseason trade brought Nagbe to Atlanta from the Portland Timbers he was as advertised. Occasionally he made a difference but his contributions mainly went unnoticed even as he missed significant time due to an injury. Nagbe had a chance to step in for Miguel Almiron and help give Atlanta United the Supporters’ Shield, but the team failed to achieve a win against Toronto on decision day.
Andrew Carleton - Just kidding, he’s not playing in the playoffs.
Greg Garza - The left back’s injury woes struck again as Garza missed more than half the season. When he did play his speed and interplay with the Atlanta attackers made him an asset for Tata Martino’s club and if he can stay healthy - it’s a big if at this point - a strong showing in the post-season could earn him a January call up.
Michael Parkhurst - Parky has been an unsung hero for Atlanta. His reading of the game, positioning and especially his passing for the team both in attack and defense. It’s a bit of a puzzle as to why he’s not been a national team call up more, but not everyone is as good as Matt Besler.
Brad Guzan - The Atlanta keeper is the only member on the roster that is a USMNT mainstay. He’s occasionally prone to error, but his distribution is a key to the team’s build up in possession, he’s generally fearless in the air and is as good of a shot stopper as there is in MLS.
Gyasi Zardes - The Crew are in the MLS Cup Playoffs because Gyasi Zardes got a hat-trick on decision day. I pretty much can’t believe it either. The striker should win comeback player of the year for the league and like it or not he should be in the national team picture as the Stars and Stripes have lacked a consistent goal scorer badly over the last few years.
Wil Trapp - Yeah he’s on this team.
Zack Steffen - In his 28 starts this year Steffen managed 10 clean sheets and allowed just 35 goals. In the six games he missed, Columbus allowed 10 goals - his play is critical to the team’s success and their game against DC United should be one where he gets to show off his skills against the hottest team in the league.
Gregg Berhalter - The presumed next USMNT manager will have his work cut out for him on the road in DC. He managed to make the playoffs this year in the most unlikely of circumstances with the club owner seemingly actively trying to sabotage the team while antagonizing fans and then there was Zardes trade at the beginning of the year. Berhalter at least tries to get his teams to play positive attacking soccer and DC and Columbus should play a wide open, fun game in the knockout round.