For the first time ever, Major League Soccer’s knockout round features four matches—expanding on the previous format of two—with everything at stake. Wednesday and Thursday’s matches are all or nothing. Win or go home.
On Thursday night, another hallmark rivalry takes center stage. Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact meet for arguably the biggest 401 Derby in the rivalry’s history (7 p.m. ET, UniMás, TSN 1/4/5, RDS1). All eyes will be on Golden Boot winner Sebastian Giovinco as well as Didier Drogba, who now has 11 goals in 11 games since signing for Montreal in August. This marks the second time the Canadian clubs will play in a five-day span and tensions will be at an all-time high with so much on the line. Following the derby, Sporting Kansas City and the Portland Timbers wrap up the knockout round at Providence Park (10 p.m. ET, UniMás, TSN 1/4/5). The Timbers are making only their second appearance in the MLS Cup Playoffs, and they’ll go up against a battle-tested Sporting KC club only two years removed from lifting the coveted MLS Cup trophy.
Winners from the knockout round matches will advance to the Conference Semifinals, a two-legged series, which begins on Sunday, Nov. 1. The New York Red Bulls (East #1) and Columbus Crew SC (East #2) await the Eastern Conference winners, while FC Dallas (West #1) and Vancouver Whitecaps FC (West #2) wait in the West. Matchups will be determined by seeding, with the highest seeded team in each conference facing off against the lowest seed.
Wednesday, October 28
D.C. United (East #4) vs. New England Revolution (East #5), 7:30 p.m. ET (UniMás with English-language SAP, TSN2, CSN-NE Alt)
What to watch for: After pacing the Supporters’ Shield race for a vast majority of the season, D.C. United struggled down the stretch but still managed to win two of its last three. Despite a challenging conclusion to the regular season, United boasts one of Major League Soccer’s most formidable defenses and ranks third in home wins (11). That will be key against a visiting New England side that can attack from anywhere—whether it’s up top from Charlie Davies, Lee Nguyen and Kelyn Rowe in the midfielder, or Chris Tierney flying up the flank.
Who to watch: Revolution midfielder Lee Nguyen is the architect of New England’s attack, and when he’s firing on all cylinders, he opens space for Charlie Davies (last postseason’s leading goal scorer), Juan Agudelo, and Kelyn Rowe to get shots on goal. Although Nguyen’s goals total dipped from his MVP-caliber 2014 campaign, he posted a career-high 10 assists this season. Nguyen and Davies can’t waste any opportunities against a D.C. United team that allowed the third fewest goals in MLS (45) thanks to another outstanding season from goalkeeper Bill Hamid and a strong sophomore campaign from defender Steve Birnbaum.
Seattle Sounders FC (West #4) vs. LA Galaxy (West #5), 10:00 p.m. ET (UniMás, with English-language SAP, TSN2, RDS2, JOEtv)
What to watch for: LA and Seattle return to CenturyLink Field, the site of last year’s Western Conference Championship Second Leg in which the Galaxy advanced past Seattle to MLS Cup on aggregate away goals. LA head into the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs in the midst of a three-game winless run, but can look to their postseason record against Seattle (4-2-0) as a sign of hope. After a stretch in the summer in which Seattle were in the midst of a five game losing streak, the Sounders are 5-1-4 since August 22 and are currently on an eight-game unbeaten run (4-0-4). Sounders FC will also benefit greatly from home field advantage. The club averaged a record-breaking attendance of 44,247 at CenturyLink Field this season and finished the year with the third most home wins in MLS (11).
Who to watch: LA Galaxy forward Robbie Keane finished the season with a career-high 20 goals to finish third in the Audi Golden Boot race and has notched six goals and three assists in nine career games against Seattle. Keane will be joined by teammates who will be experiencing their first taste of the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs. Midseason acquisitions Giovani dos Santos (WATCH: Giovani dos Santos arrives in Los Angeles), Steven Gerrard, and Sebastian Lletget have combined for 12 goals and 10 assists. Seattle will rely on their fearsome forward line of Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins, who connected for a pair of goals on #DecisionDay. The attacking duo have combined this season for moments like this AT&T Goal of the Week and will hope goalkeeper Stefan Frei carries over his excellent regular season form over to the postseason. Frei enjoyed a career year in 2015 posting career-highs in Goals Against Average (1.08), Shutouts (10) and Saves (111).
Thursday, October 29
Montreal Impact (East #3) vs. Toronto FC (East #6), 7 p.m. ET (UniMás, with English-language SAP, TSN 1/4/5, RDS1)
What to watch for: Montreal’s meteoric rise up the Eastern Conference table was nothing short of astounding—especially considering the team snapped a 26-game road losing streak in May. The Impact registered a 7-2-2 record after Didier Drogba’s arrival in September and haven’t lost at Stade Saputo since August 22. After falling short in this year’s CONCACAF Champions League Final, Montreal has another shot at winning a trophy. Toronto bested Montreal in their regular season series, winning two of three matches and outscoring the Impact 6-4. The Reds were a prolific offensive side this year, scoring 58 goals—second only to the New York Red Bulls—and have no shortage of big-game experience between Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, and Benoit Cheyrou. With the pressure of the franchise’s first playoff berth mounting, leadership will prove vital for TFC.
Who to watch: Had Didier Drogba played a full season with Montreal, there’s no telling just how many goals the Ivorian and Chelsea icon could have scored. He finished the regular season with 11 goals in 11 games, but is by no means solely responsible for the Impact’s revival. Newcomer Laurent Ciman has established himself as one of MLS’ elite defenders, while midfield maestro Ignacio Piatti turned in nine goals and eight assists in 26 appearances. Audi Golden Boot winner Sebastian Giovinco took home hardware for his record-setting season, becoming the first player in MLS history to notch 20 goals and 10 assists, and he, like Drogba, is capable of commandeering a game. However, TFC will continue leaning on a star-studded supporting cast that includes U.S. Men’s National Team stars Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore (13 goals), and budding Canadian international Jonathan Osorio.
Portland Timbers (West #3) vs. Sporting Kansas City (West #6), 10:00 p.m. ET (UniMás, with English-language SAP, TSN, KMCI-38, ROOT Sports NW)
What to watch for: During a nine-game stretch (3-3-3) from August 2 to October 3, the Timbers managed only seven goals and were teetering on missing out on the playoffs. They turned it around in impressive fashion in their final three games, scoring an imposing 10 goals during their winning streak to end the regular season. The club’s high-flying tempo is reminiscent of the 2013 team that made it to the Western Conference finals and that notched the third highest goal total that year with 54. Sporting KC advanced to their fourth straight postseason appearance and will be looking for its second MLS Cup in three seasons (2013). SKC enters the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs on the heels of capturing the 2015 U.S. Open Cup title in a 7-6 penalty shootout victory over the Philadelphia Union in September.
Who to watch: Portland Timbers attacker Darlington Nagbe enters the postseason as one of the hottest players in MLS, having notched three goals and an assist in his past two matches. Nagbe will be given the space to attack thanks to the services of midfielder and the 2015 Supporters Player of the Year Diego Chara and Fanendo Adi, who scored 16 goals this season. Goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey has had an impressive first season with Portland, tying for the MLS lead in shutouts with Vancouver Whitecaps FC’s David Ousted (13). Sporting KC midfielder and MLS MVP candidate Benny Feilhaber had a standout 2015 season in which he posted career-highs in goals scored (10) and assists (15). Since joining the league in 2014, forward Dom Dwyer has scored 34 goals, third-most in MLS behind LA Galaxy’s Robbie Keane (39) and New York Red Bull’s Bradley Wright-Phillips (44). The chemistry between Feilhaber and Dwyer will pose problems for Portland’s backline. Feilhaber assisted five of Dwyer’s goals this season—the second-most connections among teammates behind Kei Kamara and Ethan Finlay—including the game-winner against LA Galaxy on Sunday.