The MLS Cup Playoffs are in full swing as the field has shrunk from 14 teams to eight. Round one is complete, and there was so much action, suspense, and drama in the first six matches. Let’s take a look back at what went down and get ready for the conference semifinals!
MLS Cup Playoffs Round 1
The first round was full of high-intensity games. It’s win-or-go-home time and the teams in the first round felt that. Home-field advantage played a huge role in this round as five of the six home teams were able to find a way to win! Without further ado, let’s look back at the matches that have set the field for the final eight of the eastern conference semifinals. Here are all the results from round one.
Philly outlast Red Bull
The opening game of round one of the 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs was no stranger to drama. Philadelphia Union and New York Red Bulls displayed their style of pressing each other into submission. For much of the first hour of the match that looked like the two teams running repeatedly into one another. It wasn’t much of a soccer game until Philly made a change to their formation and personnel.
Around the hour-mark, Philly brought on versatile striker Sergio Santos. Santos shifted how the Union played from a 4-3-2-1 formation to a 4-4-2 diamond. This allowed them to be more direct in their attack. New York showed they weren’t able to stop Philly from generating changes. Luckily for the Red Bulls, no one from Philly could put the ball in the back of the net. That is, until the very last minute.
This game went into extra time, and at the 120 + 3 minute mark, Union centerback Jakob Glesnes had a wonder strike that beat Red Bull keeper Carlos Coronel. Subaru Park erupted as the ball went in. It was just about the final kick of the game, and Philly would advance to play either Nashville or Orlando. The Red Bulls season ended in the most heartbreaking way possible.
SKC outclass Whitecaps
Sporting Kansas City had home-field advantage against many’s pick to be the dark horse in these MLS Cup Playoffs Vancouver Whitecaps. Vancouver fancied themselves as that underdog, as their coach Vanni Sartini was quoted saying that his team would go to SKC and get a win. That is something that is not an easy task to do against Peter Vermes’ Kansas City team. The match went SKC’s way early on.
Khiry Shelton scored first for the home side in the 17th minute. Everything was going Kansas City’s way in the first half until a penalty was conceded late on. Vancouver’s Cristian Dajome stepped up and banged home the effort to tie things up in the 39th minute. Just as it looked like the match would be tied at halftime, Sporting’s Nicolas Isimat-Mirin added a second for SKC on what was one of the final kicks of the first half. In the second half, SKC didn’t let Vancouver hang around to find another equalizer.
Graham Zusi scored a vintage and wicked goal just before the hour-mark to give Kansas City a two-goal lead. He banged a long-range effort past Maxime Crepeau in the 58th minute, and SKC held onto that lead for the remainder of the match. Vancouver tried to get back into things but fell short as their Cinderella run ended in the first round of the playoffs. SKC advanced to take on the winner Seattle vs Real Salt Lake.
NYCFC dominate Atlanta
New York City and Atlanta played a game in the Bronx on a baseball field and it showed that one side was ready for it and the other was not. NYCFC was fine with conceding possession, as they knew any turnover on their smaller field can quickly turn into an attacking threat. NYCFC was ruthless creating 10 chances and getting 13 shots. Atlanta looked like a team that was not ready to play. No team was able to find a breakthrough in the first half, but that would change in the second.
In the second half, NYCFC came out firing. They found their first goal four minutes after the second half started after Taty Castellanos controlled a high cross and hit it into the ground for a shot that seemed easy to stop. Atlanta’s defender George Bello and goalkeeper Brad Guzan watched the ball loop down and into their net. It was 1-0 NYCFC and they didn’t look back.
Alexander Callens added a second goal off of a nice set piece and was alert to the second ball. Callens headed home the effort after an initial shot was parried away by Guzan. No Atlanta defenders stepped towards Callens and he calmly headed the chance home. The game would end 2-0 as Atlanta was never able to get their attack flowing properly. Another strong team was knocked out of the playoffs. NYCFC advanced to the conference semis knowing they’ll get to play top-seeded New England Revolution.
Portland powers past Minnesota
Portland and Minnesota matched up in a game that was open and fun from the get-go. Both teams love to play free-flowing transitional soccer, and it was evident from the beginning of the game that this was how both the Timbers and the Loons were going to play this. Minnesota was able to play it a bit better inside the first fifteen minutes as they found a great team goal capped off by Franco Fragapane. The Loons thought they’d take a 1-0 lead to halftime, but Portland had other ideas.
Larrys Mabiala attempted a bicycle kick that almost went in, he was rather unlucky to have his attempt blocked, but a few minutes later he found the game-tying goal. Mabiala rose above everyone to head home the equalizer in the 43rd minute. The goal helped change the tide of the match as Portland had all the momentum going into the second half.
In the second half, many were surprised to see Portland star Sebastian Blanco still on the pitch. He looked like he took a knock at the end of the first half, but came out for the second half with his team. He would be the difference-maker in this game. He scored two brilliant goals in the second half the first to go ahead 2-1 in the 47th minute. He hit a rocket that Minnesota keeper Dayne St. Clair couldn’t stop. He then added Portland’s third goal just about 20 minutes later to ice the game. Minnesota was hoisted by their own petard and crashed out of the playoffs. Portland advanced to the conference semis where they knew they’d have a matchup with the number one seed out west, Colorado Rapids. That match will be played on Thanksgiving afternoon at 4:30 pm EST
Nashville scores three unanswered to overtake Orlando
Nashville and Orlando came together to play what would be a very uncharacteristic game for the home side. Nashville is one of if not the best defensive team in MLS. Against Orlando in this playoff match, they allowed Orlando to be open and cut through them at times. Orlando got off to a hot start inside the first 15 minutes. Striker Daryl Dike rose above everyone to nod home a header to give the road team the lead. Nashville was stunned, but the feeling was short-lived.
Not seven minutes later Orlando allowed MLS MVP candidate Hany Mukhtar to run at their backline. Mukhtar was able to weave his way in on goal, shot, and scored to level the match at one. The match went to halftime with that scoreline.
In the second half, Nashville came out and looked like their old selves. They shut down Orlando’s attacks and were able to move the ball forward with ease as Orlando pushed their numbers forward. This bit them in the behind in the 74th minute as Mukhtar was able to run at the backline again he squeezed a perfect shot past Orlando keeper Pedro Gallese to make it 2-1. They didn’t stop there as Nashville put the final nail in the coffin in second-half stoppage time as Cadiz put in Nashville’s third goal. Orlando’s up-and-down season ended, while Nashville knew they were headed to Philly for their eastern conference semifinal match.
RSL beat Seattle on Penalty kicks
Seattle was the number one seed in the west for most of the 2021 season. They fell to the two-seed on the MLS’ Decision Day, which meant playing around one game against the Lions of Real Salt Lake. RSL had always been a midtable team in 2021, but on this night they were ready to outclass the class of Seattle for 120 minutes.
The Sounders came out and dominated possession. In the entire game, they had 62% possession. As they dominated the ball, they dominated all other stat categories in this match. Seattle had 21 shots, with 15 chances created throughout the entire match. They were not able to convert any of these chances. While Seattle completed 548 passes at a 77% clip, they were not able to create any goals in 120 minutes of play. RSL defended well for the entire game. Their idea was to hit Seattle on the counter but were never able to. They had zero shots or chances created in 120 minutes. However, they were able to weather the storm and get themselves to a penalty shootout.
The Penalty shootout started with Seattle going first. Both teams converted their first five penalty kicks to move on to sudden death. If in a round of kicks one team scored and the other didn’t, then the match would be over with the scoring team winning. On the sixth kick, Seattle’s Kelyn Rowe was stoned by RSL keeper David Ochoa. He was pumped up and so was RSL. RSL’s sixth kicker, Justen Glad, stepped up to take his kick. He took his attempt well beating Seattle keeper Stefan Frei, but the ball hit the post! Luckily for Glad and RSL the ball ricocheted off the post and went past the line to give RSL the win! RSL is the only away team to win on round one of the 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs; they move on to play at SKC. Seattle is the highest seed that got beat as the 2-seed out west falls in disappointing fashion.
Conference Semifinals are set!
Now the final eight are set! Colorado, Portland, Kansas City, Salt Lake, Philly, Nashville, New England, New York City make up the conference semifinals. These eight look to make the final four in the conference finals. Here are the matchups coming up over the next week.
- Colorado vs Portalnd – Thursday, November 25 @ 4:30 pm EST
- Kansas City vs Salt Lake – Sunday, November 28 @ 3 pm EST
- Philadelphia vs Nashville – Sunday, November 28 @ 5:30 pm EST
- New England vs New York City – Tuesday, November 30 @ 7:30 pm EST
The last eight look to make it to the game that will determine who will make MLS Cup in 2021! will there be any upsets like as we saw one in round one? Or will the majority of the home teams make it through, showing the importance of home-field advantage? We’ll have to wait and see! Don’t miss this awesome MLS Cup Playoff action!
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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union via Twitter