For each of the eight teams left in the Major League Soccer playoffs, it’s halftime. The first legs of each Conference Semifinal matchup have been played, and we now know exactly what each team needs to do in order to move onto the Conference Finals. Can they do it? Let’s take a look.
A Reminder About Format
The MLS playoffs start with a single-game knockout round and end with a single-game championship match, but the two rounds in between follow a two-leg, aggregate score format. The lower seed hosts the first leg and the higher seed hosts the second, so that overtime (if necessary) happens on the higher seed’s turf. One crucial element: away goals are a tiebreaker in regulation.
DC United 0 – 1 New York Red Bulls
What New York needs to do: The Red Bulls got a crucial away goal and didn’t allow DC to score any. That means that a draw is as good as a win Harrison this Sunday.
Can they do it? Absolutely. The Red Bulls are the league’s best team, and DC has been an unreliable team lately.
What DC needs to do: DC needs to win, preferably by more than one goal, in Harrison. If they finish regulation with a 1-0 lead, they’ll still have to deal with extra time and, if necessary, a shootout. A higher-scoring win would lock it up, as DC would then take the tiebreaker on away goals.
Can they do it? Unlikely. The Red Bulls are a very tough team. Anything can happen in MLS, but allowing New York a win in the first leg has probably doomed DC United.
Portland Timbers 0 – 0 Vancouver Whitecaps
What Portland needs to do: The first leg’s 0-0 draw makes the second leg’s formula simple: Portland just needs to avoid a loss. A draw is good enough as long as goals are scored, as the Timbers would then win on the away goals tiebreaker.
Can they do it? Yes, they can. The Timbers are getting hot at the right time, and the fact that they kept the Whitecaps off the board in Portland was huge.
What Vancouver needs to do: Because of the away goals tiebreaker, Vancouver needs outright win. They can do it in regulation or, if they get a 0-0 draw in regulation, they can do it extra time or in the shootout.
Can they do it? Vancouver has the talent to pull this off, but their fans should be nervous as they go up against a Portland team that’s heating up. The Timbers came frighteningly close to a goal in the first leg – it bounced off of the inside of the goalpost. Scary stuff.
Montreal Impact 2 – 1 Columbus Crew
What Montreal needs to do: Thanks to their 2-1 lead, Montreal can survive with a draw. A goal in Columbus would give them a lot of breathing room, though: if Columbus wins by a score of just 1-0 at home, they’d earn a 2-2 aggregate and advance on the away goals rule.
Can they do it? Montreal has the inside track, but Columbus is a fierce opponent with a great home crowd. This is a worrisome match for Montreal supporters, but a survivable one.
What Columbus needs to do: Columbus got an all-important away goal in the first leg, so they’re in a decent position despite being down a goal. They’ll only need one goal if they can keep Montreal off the board in Columbus, but that won’t be easy with Didier Drogba in blue.
Can they do it? Columbus has been excellent this year, and we think they can take care of business at home.
Seattle 2 – 1 FC Dallas
What Seattle needs to do: Seattle, like the Impact, managed a win in the first leg. If they can get an away goal or two, this will be all sealed up.
Can they do it? Seattle has played better lately, but FC Dallas has been much better over the course of the season. We’re not confident that Seattle can keep things together long enough to move on.
What Dallas needs to do: Dallas needs to come back and even up the aggregate, but they already have an all-important away goal. A 1-0 win would be enough.
Can they do it? FC Dallas is the best team in the Western Conference. That’s no guarantee of anything in MLS, but it’s also a reason to expect quality soccer.