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ProSoccerTalk’s MLS playoff picks and predictions

Oct 28, 2013, 6:30 PM EDT

Major League Soccer’s 18th playoff season begins Wednesday. ProSoccerTalk’s writers have a few thoughts on how they might play out:

Who will come out of the East?

Liviu Bird: The New York Red Bulls

The Red Bulls have proven that they are actual contenders this year. They have only briefly relinquished first place and deserved to win the Supporters’ Shield.

Kyle Bonn: Sporting KC

With the Red Bulls getting all the attention, Sporting KC quietly won six of their last eight matches, conceding just four goals. For all the goals NY is scoring, KC have it in them to be the team that stops the NY hot streak.

Steve Davis: Sporting Kansas City

I know New York is the hot pick, but SKC has the better defense and better goalkeeper. Plus, lessons learned over the last two years – when good Sporting KC teams got so close – will pay off now.

source:  Richard Farley: New York Red Bulls

As much as I want to pick Kansas City, I think New York has enough to defend that number one spot.

Joe Prince-Wright: New York Red Bulls

Expect Sporting KC and New York to battle it out for the Eastern Conference, but New York gets it done.

Mike Prindiville: New York Red Bulls

I love to watch Sporting KC play and think a potential matchup against NYRB in the Conference Semifinals will be an absolute blockbuster. But as long as the Red Bull’s play up to their potential, they are the superior team.

Who will come out of the West?

Liviu Bird: Portland Timbers

My pick is based on their strong season from start to finish. The turnaround Caleb Porter has engineered is nothing short of sensational, and they are the most consistent team in the league.

Kyle Bonn: LA Galaxy

LA did just enough to get in, and I’ll take experience over youth in crunch time any day of the week.

Steve Davis: L.A. Galaxy

The asterisk here is whether Landon Donovan and Omar Gonzalez are healthy. If they are, the Galaxy and all that collective playoff knowledge will be hard to beat. Plus, Robbie Keane is the best player in the MLS post-season.

Richard Farley: LA Galaxy

As hard-to-call as the West looks, I’ll take the proven commodity.

Joe Prince-Wright: Portland

I think the Timbers will get it done. Of course they’ve tailed off a bit, but I think they’ll come up big when it matters.

Mike Prindiville: Real Salt Lake

In a wide open and unpredictable West, those who grind the hardest, prevail.

Where we would PREFER to see MLS Cup (based on “best atmosphere,” or “not LA again,” or whatever):

Liviu Bird: Somewhere in Cascadia

Not just because it’s the shortest trip for me — the atmosphere here is the best in the country, and if you want to advertise MLS to the rest of the world, the Timbers Army is probably the best conduit.

Kyle Bonn: New York

What better way to complete the redemption story than in your own house? New York proved this weekend the stadium and atmosphere have what it takes.

source:  Steve Davis: New York

The Big Apple? As Christmas approaches? I mean, it’s so darned romantic! Plus, the Red Bulls were Supporters Shield winners, so there is a beautiful symmetry to it … in addition to all those pretty lights!

Richard Farley: Seattle

It’s all about the numbers. Also, Seattle’s not a bad place to throw a party.

Joe Prince-Wright: New York

It’s about time the Red Bulls won MLS Cup, and I think a sold out RBA would be a great advert for MLS.

Mike Prindiville: New York

A number of other stadiums are considered better atmospheres but to have Red Bull Arena finally filled to capacity and rocking-out for a final would be a thing of beauty.

Where are the dark horse favorites?

Liviu Bird: Seattle

It’s hard to call them dark horses because of the star power on the team, but Seattle could still make a run at the Cup. The Sounders have proven they can beat teams 5-0, be beaten 5-0, and everything in between. Anything can happen in the MLS playoffs.

Kyle Bonn: Portland

It’s not often first-place teams fall under the “dark horse” category, but with everyone off the bandwagon thanks to their poor(er) form down the stretch, they qualify. First order of business in playoffs: don’t lose. They don’t.

Steve Davis: Real Salt Lake

Alvaro Saborio’s scoring rate (52 goals in 97 MLS matches) is prodigious. Nick Rimando is tops in goal. Kyle Beckerman commands that strong midfield and some of those “kids” are going to be something else.  So remind me again why we aren’t talking about this team a little more?

Richard Farley: Portland

Only five losses all year.

Joe Prince-Wright: Colorado Rapids

On their day they can beat anyone in the league. So many good young players, and having come up against Dillon Powers and Tony Cascio in their college days, I know how good those guys are.

Mike Prindiville: Colorado Rapids

Probably the darkest of all dark horses but with Seattle’s poor form, Portland’s playoff inexperience and a little bit of luck, it could happen.

The 18th MLS Cup champion will be …

Liviu Bird: Portland

It’s Portland, for all the reasons I listed above. One final nugget: on only five occasions in 2013 have the Timbers failed to get at least one point on the road and all three at home — and that’s a formula for playoff success if I’ve ever heard one.

Kyle Bonn: LA Galaxy

It’s that experience thing again. So hard to pick against. I know, I know. I hate myself for going here too, but with having put New York out in the semifinals, the Galaxy get it done.

source:  Steve Davis: Sporting Kansas City

The league’s best road team (8-5-4 away in 2013) won’t mind playing in New York, so they’ll get through to the final … and they’ll host MLS Cup in KC.

Richard Farley: LA Galaxy

In the absence of a truly convincing alternative, I’m picking three-peat.

Joe Prince-Wright: New York Red Bulls

I just don’t think the big boys out West, Seattle, LA, and RSL, are in top form heading into the playoffs and the Red Bulls are flying.

Mike Prindiville: New York Red Bulls

The time has come. Mike Petke’s passion and dedication is what this squad has been in dire need of for a long time. Most importantly, this is a team that’s peaking at the right time. The stars have aligned in New York.

(MORE: Are there too many playoff teams?)

(MORE: MLS playoff schedule and TV times)

(MORE: Top story lines for the MLS playoffs)

(MORE: MLS Week in Review for Round 35)

(MORE: MLS Eastern Conference playoffs are set)

(MORE: MLS Western Conference playoffs are set)

  1. talgrath - Oct 28, 2013 at 6:48 PM

    I just don’t see the Galaxy getting a three-peat, they’ve looked far too shaky this year. There’s a lot of love for SKC, but they’ve looked too terrible at home to really make this happen. As much as the Sounder in me says “Sounders FC take the cup”, the realist in me says it’s the NYRB. The Red Bulls finally seem to have shaken off their tendency to give up late and stupid goals and they have home field advantage if they get to the Cup, the Red Bulls have been good at home this year.

    • rphillish - Oct 28, 2013 at 7:46 PM

      I think the Galaxy could pull it off, but only if someone like Zardes really steps up. A month ago, I wouldn’t have picked the Red Bulls, but they’ve been pretty impressive lately, and I could see it happen if they keep it up.

  2. pecorasc - Oct 28, 2013 at 9:42 PM

    Hold on a second…

    Kyle and Joe both made mention of Portland tailing off or having poor(er) form down the stretch. They won 5 of last 8 and haven’t lost since August 30th, with a +12 goal differential during that stretch. I just can’t believe those comments.

    • wfjackson3 - Oct 29, 2013 at 9:55 AM

      Do you think Portland can pull it off when they can’t take a draw? Also, does anyone have any stats on the most draws (or least wins) that any MLS cup winner has had in the past? (Maybe those numbers should be percentages, I don’t know how many league games they used to play).

      • pecorasc - Oct 29, 2013 at 11:06 AM

        Is there any team that can win a playoff series if they can’t at least get a draw? I don’t think so (except maybe Seattle, see: Gonzalez no goal).

        Portland has lost once at home all year. The next two rounds being aggregate and their current run of form bode very well for them. I’m confident in their chances against Col/Sea, and think they have a so-so shot to make the final. I’m not unrealistic. To say that they’ve struggled down the stretch is unrealistic.

      • pecorasc - Oct 29, 2013 at 11:10 AM

        I think Bird summed it up best:

        “on only five occasions in 2013 have the Timbers failed to get at least one point on the road and all three at home”

        That is indeed the formula for playoff success.

      • mlsconvert88888 - Oct 29, 2013 at 11:58 AM

        People may disregard the Portland Artists (they sure can draw!) in the playoffs, but I saw a stat that makes me think they are dangerous. Of their 5 losses, only 1 was by more than a single goal (RSL beat them 4-2 back in August), meaning they probably wont get blown out in an away leg so bad that they don’t have a chance to surmount the deficit at home.

      • wfjackson3 - Nov 1, 2013 at 4:56 PM

        I hear what you guys are saying, but so many of those “not losses” were just draws. Can they actually go out and beat a team when they need to? I am not convinced. Draws don’t advance you in the playoffs.

  3. geojock - Oct 29, 2013 at 11:55 AM

    Interesting to see that no love for Montreal or Houston. Both are in poor form lately, but have had some really good streaks this season. Houston has some good players, but a history of making runs. Montreal has looked unstoppable at points in the season and have lots of experience.

  4. jdfsquared - Oct 29, 2013 at 5:15 PM

    I’d love a Porter-Petke young American manager final! Portland’s traveling fans packing a corner of a rocking RBA?! Sounds like an awesome ad for a still-young league.

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