MLS Playoffs 2020: Conference Semifinal Odds and Predictions

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistNovember 28, 2020

MLS Playoffs 2020: Conference Semifinal Odds and Predictions

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    Stew Milne/Associated Press

    Even by Major League Soccer's standards, the first six games of the 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs produced some stunning results.

    The top two seeds are out of the Eastern Conference bracket after the New England Revolution and Nashville SC upset the Philadelphia Union and Toronto FC, respectively.

    That leaves the Columbus Crew, who were pegged as the top team in the East after this summer's MLS is Back tournament, as the highest-remaining seed in the East.

    Three of the top four seeds in the Western Conference avoided first-round upsets. Only third-seeded Portland fell to FC Dallas.

    The pair of Eastern Conference semifinals will be played Sunday, while the two Western Conference games are spread out across Tuesday and Wednesday.

    The winners of each match will square off in the conference finals on December 6. MLS Cup is scheduled for December 12.

No. 4 Orlando City vs. No. 8 New England Revolution

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Date and Time: Sunday, November 29, 3 p.m. ET, ABC

    Odds (via DraftKings Sportsbook): Orlando City (+132); New England (+195)

    The chaotic end to Orlando City's win over New York City FC came at a high price.

    The Lions will be without goalkeeper Pedro Gallese and defender Ruan because of suspensions. Gallese picked up a second yellow for coming off his line before a spot kick was taken in the shootout and Ruan was handed a straight red in the second half.

    Brian Rowe, who made four starts in the final eight games of the regular season, will take over for Gallese in net. The 32-year-old allowed seven goals and did not record a win in those matches. Gallese allowed 20 goals from the 72 attempts on target he faced in regular-season games.

    Orlando City's game-changers in attack, led by Nani, can ease the pressure on Rowe and the defense, and an early goal would be massive for a team facing an opponent that should play with nothing to lose.

    The return of Carles Gil to the New England attack has boosted the team into the final four in the East. The Spaniard delivered a beautiful free-kick assist on the team's first goal against Philadelphia and has been fantastic in the two postseason contests.

    Gil has a goal and two assists in the postseason. He missed a large chunk of the regular season with an Achilles injury. If he can break down the middle of the Orlando defense to pick out Gustavo Bou, Adam Buksa and others, he may provide a bigger impact than Nani.

    The Portuguese is the most talented player on the field, and if he steps up to make a few key plays, the Lions should ride him to their second-ever postseason victory.

    Prediction: Orlando City 2, New England 1

No. 3 Columbus Crew vs. No. 7 Nashville SC

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    Jessica Hill/Associated Press

    Date and Time: Sunday, November 29, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

    Odds: Columbus (+128); Nashville (+205)

    If you like flashy, high-scoring games, Columbus vs. Nashville is not for you. 

    Sunday's meeting at Mapfre Stadium should be the lowest-scoring affair of the four conference semifinals.

    Nashville's approach for most of its expansion season has been to prioritize defense. Gary Smith's side has a strong spine with defensive midfielder Dax McCarty and defender of the year Walker Zimmerman, and it has not allowed a goal in 210 playoff minutes, including a 1-0 extra time win over three-time East champion Toronto FC.

    Columbus won its only regular-season meeting with Nashville by two goals September 19, but the second tally did not come until the second minute of second-half stoppage time. Nashville produced seven more shots than Columbus, but the Crew were more clinical in front of goal through Gyasi Zardes and Pedro Santos.

    If Columbus' attacking triumvirate of Zardes, Santos and Lucas Zelarayan takes advantage of the few chances they earn, they should push through to the conference final.

    However, Nashville should make some adjustments from its prior meeting with Columbus, and the confidence gained from knocking out Toronto should help it deal with whatever playoff nerves may be left.

    If an upset is to occur in the East, it would be in this matchup, and Nashville has the perfect style of play to remain disciplined on defense and strike when it matters most.

    Prediction: Nashville 1, Columbus 0

No. 2 Seattle Sounders vs. No. 6 FC Dallas

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Date and Time: Tuesday, December 1, 9:30 p.m. ET, FS1

    Odds: Seattle (-155); FC Dallas (+400)

    Here we go again with Seattle and Dallas. 

    The two Western Conference sides met in the 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2019 postseasons. Seattle won the last playoff meeting in extra time.

    Seattle was victorious in two-leg series in 2014 and 2016, while FC Dallas advanced in 2015. Each of those three series took place in the conference semifinals.

    As expected, reigning MLS Cup champion Seattle is the heavy favorite on home soil, and it could be considered the favorite to win again with Philadelphia and Toronto out.

    Raul Ruidiaz, Jordan Morris and Nicolas Lodeiro form the best attacking trio in MLS. They were responsible for all three of the goals in Sunday's victory over Los Angeles FC, and they combined for 29 goals and 22 assists in regular-season play.

    Containing each player for 90 minutes is a near-impossible task for even the best sides in MLS, so FC Dallas has quite the task on its hands.

    The good news for Luchi Gonzalez's side is it knows how to compete with Seattle in the postseason and just needs a 90-minute performance to shut down the Sounders. That was the game plan executed over 120 minutes against the Portland Timbers.

    While it is possible for Dallas to play at Seattle's level, it has not performed well away from home. FC Dallas was 1-5-3 on the road in the regular season and needed a last-second regulation goal to force extra time and then penalties against Portland.

    If Dallas defeats Seattle on Tuesday, it will be viewed as the top upset of the postseason, but it is going to be incredibly hard to limit the production of Ruidiaz, Morris and Lodeiro.

    Prediction: Seattle 4, Dallas 2

No. 1 Sporting Kansas City vs. No. 4 Minnesota United

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Date and Time: Wednesday, December 2, 9 p.m. ET, FS1

    Odds: Sporting Kansas City (-157); Minnesota (+400)

    Sporting Kansas City and Minnesota United have seen each other plenty of times in 2020.

    With MLS opting to schedule geographical rivals to limit travel, the Wizards and the Loons squared off on two occasions once the teams returned from Florida. They also played in the MLS is Back group stage.

    Kansas City needed just a to win the last meeting September 13, and the previous two contests saw the teams trade 2-1 wins.

    Sporting KC needs to look for more defensive stability in the first half after conceding twice to San Jose in the opening round's first 45 minutes. The back four, which features former West Ham United man Winston Reid, stabilized itself for most of the second half before Chris Wondolowski's 97th-minute equalizer.

    If Peter Vermes' side can be more consistent at the back over 90 minutes, it should contain Kevin Molino and others in the Loons attack.

    Minnesota is coming off a first-round win in which it absorbed 18 shots and seven attempts on target from the Colorado Rapids. If Sporting KC is able to create a similar amount of chances, it could gain the advantage and focus on limiting the Loons' final-third production.

    Back in September, Sporting KC held Minnesota without a shot on target while it sent seven attempts on net.

    Prediction: Sporting Kansas City 2, Minnesota 0


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