Illustration by Ari Libenson
The Major League Soccer (MLS) postseason is nearing its climax, with four teams left competing for the cup. The New York Red Bulls and Atlanta United have faced off in the Eastern Conference, while the Portland Timbers and Sporting KC are set to play in the Western Conference.
The results from this playoff bracket are especially significant, as they dictate which MLS team will be able to compete in the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) Champions league next year. The CONCACAF Champions league is a soccer league composed of the tournament winners and top tier soccer clubs from across North and Central America, in which MLS teams have had limited success. It’s possible that the team that goes in this year could represent a turning point in that pattern.
Perhaps the more exciting of the two conference championships was the first Eastern Conference game between Atlanta United and the New York Red Bulls, with Atlanta winning 3-0. This game was unique for a couple of reasons. One of them is that the Red Bulls are this year’s winners of the MLS Supporters Shield award, meaning they hold the best regular season record in the MLS. However, Atlanta was the runner up in the same category, making this just the fifth time in almost 25 years that the top two teams in the overall league table have locked horns in the postseason. The clash was arguably one of the most historic in MLS playoff history. Not only were these two teams first and second in the regular season, they also were the holders of the top two single season points in league history, making this game even more enticing. Furthermore, the gap between the second and third place teams is larger than it’s ever been in terms of points. Additionally, before tonight, the two teams had faced off four times, with the Red Bulls winning three and the other being a draw. This team had previously been their kryptonite, with Atlanta having scored only two goals in four matches. All of this changed Sunday night, with Atlanta rolling over the Red Bulls.
All of this is not to say that the Western Conference finals will be unexciting. Two great teams will be present with Sporting Kansas City (SKC) and the Portland Timbers. The contrast between SKC’s aggressive and risky offensive style and the Timbers’ focus on strong defense and counterattacks makes for an enticing match up. Unfortunately, the energy and excitement that can be found in the MLS does not seem to be reflected within the US men’s national soccer team. Recently, in a friendly match against England, they lost 3-0 and mustered little opposition. This marks their third loss so far, making their starting season record 0-3. Overall, the team did not have a successful game, with the coaches mentioning, “We were a little timid and we allowed a little bit too much space.”
Although they were playing against a FIFA semi finalist team, the performance was still disappointing and it seems to be apparent that the US team is still not very competitive internationally.