Are you not entertained? Welcome to the MLS Conference Finals

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2019’s conference finalists bring a unique blend of championship pedigree that promises to deliver on fans’ expectations. The last three MLS Cup winners and Los Angeles FC, which is being hailed as perhaps the greatest team in U.S. professional soccer history, will vie for U.S. soccer’s top honor.

 

Eastern Conference Finals – Toronto FC at Atlanta United (Wednesday, Oct. 30 at 5 p.m. PST)

This is a battle of the old and the new. Toronto dominated the middle of the decade using the old method of MLS success, acquiring older superstars in Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore to make back-to-back MLS Cup Finals.

Atlanta United is the antithesis of that — a club just three years old that has brought in young international talent to play new-age attacking soccer. They are the defending champions.

In a matchup of the last two MLS Cup winners, Atlanta holds a clear advantage. The Five Stripes had a better regular season and they have Josef Martínez, who will be the best player on the field and should score at least once.

It will be up to the Toronto defense to contain him as best they can, while Alejandro Pozuelo will be the Reds’ key man going forward. If Pozuelo can produce a moment or two of pure miracle, Toronto will move on, but it will have to be more than magical, and barring the supernatural, Atlanta United should return to the MLS Cup Finals.

 

Predictions

Jasper Kenzo Sundeen: Atlanta United 2, Toronto FC 1

Spencer Golanka: Atlanta United 1, Toronto FC 0

 

 Western Conference Finals – Seattle Sounders FC at Los Angeles FC (Tuesday, Oct. 29 at 7 p.m. PST)

The postseason vets versus the “best team in MLS history.” Both clubs have been in the playoffs each season of their existence (Seattle 11, LAFC 2), and both are poised for an MLS Cup Final appearance. 

LAFC was a sight to behold on the pitch and in the stands, as the group of 3252 supporters turned up the volume, and the team made the most of their season. 

2019 records:

  • Most points in a season in MLS history
  • Highest goal differential in MLS history
  • Tied record for most goals scored in MLS history
  • FW Carlos Vela, most goals in a season in MLS history
  • Least losses in MLS history

Yeah. They are that good.

Seattle won’t go down without a fight, however. Even with an inconsistent defense, the Sounders have as good of an attacking front as anybody in the league. With the plethora of Jordan Morris, Raúl Ruidíaz, Nicolás Lodeiro and Cristian Roldan, Seattle is more than capable of reaching its third MLS Cup Final in four years. 

 

Predictions:

JKS: LAFC 3, Seattle Sounders 1

SG: LAFC 2, Seattle Sounders 3

 

Ranking the best MLS Cup Final matchups:

 

1) Atlanta United v. LAFC

This game would have one theme and one theme only: attack. If you thought LAFC versus LA Galaxy had a lot of goals, you ain’t seen nothing yet. This match will be end-to-end excitement, anything can happen between the first and final whistles.

Beyond that, though, this would be a battle of the MLS’ new-age teams. Atlanta is in its third season of existence, and it won the MLS Cup Final last year. LAFC is just two years removed from their inception and is trying to follow in the Five Stripes’ footsteps and capture their first MLS Cup in their second season.

Atlanta United broke multiple records in 2018. Josef Martínez scored the most goals in MLS history and the Five Stripes finished with the most points in MLS history. Those records lasted for exactly one season before Carlos Vela and LAFC shattered them. This is the defending champs against their heir-presumptive. This is Atlanta United against Los Angeles FC.

 

2) Seattle Sounders v. Toronto FC

Occupying the two slots in two of the last three MLS Cup Finals, these two powerhouses somehow always end up playing late into October more often than not. Although this matchup hasn’t been pretty to the eye in the recent past, these two clubs have faced off in the MLS Cup FInal, trading victories.

The trilogy would cement the two as the league’s most successful rivals. In 2016 at BMO Field, the Sounders beat Toronto via a Román Torres penalty conversion after extra time. In 2017 at BMO Field, Toronto dominated a lackluster Seattle on its way to a 2-0 win.

On paper, Seattle is infinitely better than its counterpart. Don’t sleep on the big game talent of Alejandro Pozuelo and Jozy Altidore (if he plays) for Toronto, however, as both combined for 23 goals and 19 assists.

 

3) Toronto FC v. LAFC

This won’t be the prettiest game you’ll see. Toronto is a tough, experienced team that finds ways to win, but it hasn’t defeated LAFC this season — few teams have. The Falcons would be favorites by a country mile and then some, and they would probably beat Toronto by several goals.

But this matchup would feature a thrilling and particular narrative. Manager Bob Bradley would be coaching his LAFC team against Toronto FC, who would be captained by his son, Michael Bradley. 

The Bradleys are U.S. soccer royalty, and seeing them face each other across the pitch — Bob Bradley directing LAFC from the touchline and Michael Bradley pulling Toronto’s strings from the midfield — will be a sight to behold.

 

The best players in each conference final

 

  • Carlos Vela: FW/LAFC

 

Carlos Vela is fresh off what is probably the best season in MLS history. The presumptive MVP scored 36 goals — a single-season record — in just 32 appearances. His one weakness, Zlatan Ibrahimović’s LA Galaxy, was vanquished in the conference semifinals as Vela scored twice and grabbed another assist. The bottom line is that the Mexican attacker can score from anywhere in the attacking third. He has a wicked left-footed shot that seems to find the goal no matter what, and his speed and on-ball skills should force at least a goal per game for Los Angeles, if not more.

 

 

  • Josef Martínez: FW/Atlanta United

 

Atlanta United simply wouldn’t be where they are in the race for the MLS Cup without their star goal scorer, Josef Martínez. In three seasons with Atlanta, he has tallied 77 goals in 80 games. He knows when, where and how to get the ball to slap the back of the net with nearly every shot he takes. Having broken the single-season scoring record before Vela, in addition to winning MLS season, MLS All-Star and MLS Cup MVP.

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