With MLS Cup less than a week away and a bevy of action to recap, let’s revisit the matches that have led up to this monumental contest in the American soccer sphere.
The opening match of this year’s Audi MLS Cup Playoffs featured the New York Red Bulls and FC Cincinnati, a team led by the upstart youngster and the first overall pick in the 2019 expansion draft Brandon Vasquez. The youth product had an opportunity to showcase his potential in this game through an 86th-minute game-winning goal to send Cincinnati into the next round and the Red Bulls back to New Jersey.
In yet another one-goal victory the LA Galaxy were able to take down Nashville SC, a team that many had pegged as a dark horse to win MLS Cup behind the staunch defensive play head coach Gary Smith had employed in his side. All it took for the Galaxy was a second-half header by way of defender Julian Araujo, as they cruised to a 1-0 victory in the opening round.
One of the more shocking appearances in the postseason was that of Pablo Mastroeni’s Real Salt Lake, who had been clinging to the bottom of the Western Conference for the first half of the season while RSL put up an admirable fight against Austin FC, pushing “The Oaks” all the way to a penalty shootout. If not for Scott Caldwell conceding a penalty kick in the 94th minute after he handled the ball in his own box, Salt Lake very easily could have won the game in 90 minutes. Unfortunately, MVP candidate Sebastian Druissi converted the spot kick and sent the game to its extra frame. Though they fell, Salt Lake’s core is young enough to stick around for a while, as the likes of Tate Schmitt and Pablo Ruiz only look better and better as they grow.
Montreal and NYCFC seemed to have little trouble handling both Florida-based teams of Orlando City SC and Inter Miami. A 2-0 win in Canada for the Impact after a one-goal, one-assist showing from U.S. international Djordje Mihailovic sent them onto the next round.
The defending MLS Cup champions were able to make light work of David Beckham’s MLS project as they took on Inter Miami at Citi Field, the home of MLB’s New York Mets. Their 3-0 victory marked the largest margin for any of the clubs featured in the opening round, with lanky striker Heber adding the cherry on top in the 92nd minute of the game.
FC Dallas and Minnesota United closed out the first round of play with their battle in Frisco, and it was easily one of the most nerve-wracking games of the entire playoffs to this point. Emanuel Reynoso broke the initial deadlock in the 53rd minute, only to have his side’s lead erased 11 minutes later when midfielder Facundo Quignon brought Dallas back on level terms in the 64th minute. The teams remained tied at one throughout the remainder of 90 minutes, as well as an entire two halves of extra time, sending the match to penalty kicks. Minnesota’s Wil Trapp, who shot second in the group, had his shot saved by Dallas’ Maarten Paes. Unfortunately, Trapp’s miss was all Dallas needed to advance, converting on all five of their opportunities.
Even though they won commandingly against the Red Bulls in round one FC Cincinnati were no match for Jim Curtin’s seasoned Philadelphia Union side. The Union had secured a first-round bye thanks to finishing first in the Eastern Conference standings but the break seemed to affect the squad little. Leon Flach found the back of the net in the 59th minute, scoring his first goal in 2022 and inevitably proving to have scored a game-winning goal in the process as the Union defeated Cincinnati 1-0.
In a playoff edition of “El Trafico” that featured the Supporter’s Shield winners, LAFC, and the LA Galaxy, the two teams scored a combined five goals in 90 minutes and was capped off by Cristian Arango’s 93rd-minute winner to give FC a 3-2 win. The Galaxy had been convinced they’d sent the game to extra time when Dejan Loveljic scored in the 85th minute to make it 2-2, canceling out a goal from LAFC’s Denis Bouanga that had set the score at 2-1 just five minutes before that.
Heading across the northern border, NYCFC made light work of their opponents yet again, tearing through the Montreal Impact to the tune of a 3-1 victory. Montreal’s only goal came in the 85th minute, scored yet again by Mihailovic. His stellar play somehow did not earn the 23-year-old a spot in camp for the upcoming Fifa World Cup in Qatar. NYCFC looks as dangerous as ever though, which is impressive considering they loaned their 2021 MVP candidate and golden boot award winner Taty Castellanos to Girona in the winter.
Two early goals were exactly what Austin needed to successfully get themselves over the hump and into the Western Conference finals for the first time in club history, with a 2-1 victory at home against interstate rivals FC Dallas. Seba Druissi’s magical run and finish in the 29th minute showed why he could very well be given the Landon Donovan MVP award this year, and it will be exciting to see how Los Verdes perform now with real expectations for once.