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Only one hurdle remains until the MLS Cup will be up for grabs, and four teams are left to compete in the conference finals. Both games can be expected to be competitive, given the caliber of the teams still playing. After beginning the playoff process with 14 teams qualifying for post-season play, only two will be left to compete for the Cup on November 10th.
Atlanta United vs Toronto FC
In their two playoff matches, United have not ceded a goal, having shut out both New England and Philadelphia. For a team known more for their free-flowing offense led by Josef Martinez and Julian Gressel, manager Frank DeBoer believes that defense ultimately wins soccer matches and has made it a priority. With United holding a 1-0 lead against the Union in the latter stages of the second half, DeBoer substituted striker Ezequiel Barco for defensive midfielder Emerson Hyndman, something he rarely did during the regular season. One would expect the same style of play against Toronto, who finished fourth in the regular season table and have advanced by beating Wayne Rooney-led DC United in extra time and Eastern Conference first-place team NYC FC with a narrow 2-1 win. The Reds were missing star striker Jozy Altidore and key defender Omar Gonzales in both wins, but Greg Vanney’s side were clearly the better squad against an often-lackadaisical New York City team. It is unsure how fit Altidore and Gonzales will be for the road match against Atlanta on Wednesday, but it is difficult to see the Canadian side advancing beyond this match. Look for Atlanta to beat Toronto 2-1 and advance to the MLS Cup final on November 10th.
LAFC vs Seattle Sounders
Following a 10-day layoff, it was clear from kickoff that Bob Bradley’s LAFC squad would not follow in the footsteps of Eastern Conference first place team NYC FC. Nor wold they allow a repeat of not beating the Galaxy in their five previous matches. Weathering early pressure from fellow city rivals LA Galaxy, LAFC kept their foot on the accelerator, taking a 2-1 lead into halftime and ultimately walking away with a 5-3 win. While the media focus centered around LAFC’s Carlos Vela (2 goals) and the Galaxy’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic (one goal), LAFC also demonstrated the strength of their bench, bringing on striker Adama Diomande in the 59th minute and scoring what would be the two goals to advance LAFC to the Conference finals. LAFC will face the Seattle Sounders, who finished second in the regular season table. In their prior two playoff games the Sounders beat a feisty Dallas squad in extra time win and earned a hard-fought 2-0 victory against Real Salt Lake. Their next match, however, will prove to be too much for the Sounders, who have not had to play against an offensive juggernaut like they are expected to encounter in Los Angeles. While manager Brian Schmetzer is expected to give more support to his defensive back line, they are unlikely to be able to withstand the goal-scoring machine at Banc of California Stadium. LAFC will punch their ticket to the MLS Cup final on November 10th with a 4-2 win over the Seattle Sounders.