It’s playoff time in MLS! With the play-in games kicking off on Wednesday and the first round kicking off on Saturday, we won’t be short on playoffs action over the next few weeks.
Now, not unlike preseason, the pre-postseason (just give it time, that term is going to catch on) is a time full of hope. Maybe this team could make a run! Maybe that team could make a run! Here at Backheeled, we want to nurture that hope. We, uh, also want to dash that hope. Woah, woah, it’s not because we’re mean. It’s because we want to keep everything balanced. Balance is good, right?
Anyway, we’re bringing you one reason why each of the 18 MLS playoff teams will (and won’t) win MLS Cup.
Let’s get to it.
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Why they will: Because their left side will pull everyone apart.
After winning the Supporters’ Shield, Cincy are going all in for MLS Cup (even though Pat Noonan doesn’t really care about it).
FC Cincinnati can beat you in a bunch of ways, but they’d really prefer to beat you down their left side. 38% of their attacks have come down the left this year, compared to 33% on the right and 29% down the middle. MVP favorite Lucho Acosta loves to drift from his No. 10 spot, where elite left wingback Alvaro Barreal is already hanging out. Those two players are two of the top six chance-creators in MLS, based on FBref’s expected assists metric.
Lucho and Barreal will be unstoppable on the left.
Why they won’t: Because margins are thin in MLS.
FC Cincinnati are MLS Cup favorites, according to the oddsmakers. They’re the best team in MLS. And yet? Even for them, the margins are thin. Want some proof? They’ve only won three of their last eight games! So, yeah, I could run through Cincinnati’s issues at right wingback, their Aaron Boupendza problem, and my lack of confidence in Roman Celentano in goal.
But the real answer to why Cincy won’t win MLS Cup is because MLS is designed to tip the odds away from the one and towards the many.
Why they will: Because they have one of the hottest strikers in the league.
Duncan McGuire is balling in a big way right now. The 22-year-old rookie has 13 goals in the regular season and is third in MLS in goals (4) since October 1, only behind Denis Bouanga and Teemu Pukki. He’s been hot this year, outpacing his xG by a wider margin than literally any other player in MLS.