Drama is bubbling as the 2020 Major League Soccer season ticks towards its conclusion, with a number of surprise entrants making up this year’s conference semifinals.
The last eight kick off the next stage beginning Sunday, when Orlando City will host the New England Revolution and Nashville face a testing trip to Columbus Crew in the Western.
Midweek soccer then returns to the schedule as the Seattle Sounders host FC Dallas on Tuesday before the Eastern semifinals wrap up with Minnesota United out to extend a nine-match unbeaten streak at Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday:
Former champions reside on both sides of the bracket as we enter the business end of the campaign, including defending champions Seattle. Minnesota and Orlando City are enjoying their longest postseason runs to date, while expansion outfit Nashville are hoping to keep causing a stir in their MLS debut.
The opening round of the playoffs saw several hot title contenders fall by the wayside. The cream will keep rising to the top as the best four teams from each conference collide.
MLS Conference Semifinals Schedule
Sunday, November 29
Orlando City SC vs. New England Revolution, 3 p.m. - ABC, ESPN Deportes
Columbus Crew vs. Nashville SC, 8 p.m. - ESPN, ESPN Deportes
Tuesday, December 1
Seattle Sounders vs. FC Dallas, 9:30 p.m. - FS1, FOX Deportes
Wednesday, December 2
Sporting Kansas City vs. Minnesota United, 9 p.m. - FS1, FOX Deportes
MLS Cup Playoffs Tune-In Information
TV: ABC, ESPN, ESPN Deportes, FS1, FOX Deportes
Live Stream: fuboTV (watch for free)
In a first round replete with must-watch moments, the most dramatic came from Orlando City’s shootout win over New York City FC following a 1-1 draw after extra time. Goalkeeper Pedro Gallese was shown a second yellow for encroaching off his line mid-shootout, though it failed to turn the tide as defender Rodrigo Schlegel stepped in to make the winning save:
The Lions lost their appeal against Gallese’s dismissal and will need to field a replacement stopper for Sunday’s showdown with New England, per Julia Poe of the Orlando Sentinel. Schlegel is likely to be overlooked as stand-in despite his late heroics with the Revolution in dangerous form after they defeated Supporters’ Shield winners, the Philadelphia Union.
Bruce Arena has won five MLS Cups with two teams—twice at D.C. United (1996-97) and three with the LA Galaxy (2011-12, ’14)—and could become the first coach to take North America’s top domestic title with three clubs. To put those accolades into context, no other coach has won the MLS Cup more than twice, and Sigi Schmid is the only other manager to win with two teams:
Elsewhere in the Eastern Conference, the competition also looks incredibly close between Columbus Crew and Nashville, two franchises who benefited largely from their superb defenses this term.
Nashville are at a significant disadvantage considering Columbus have had three days extra rest compared to Gary Smith’s side, who also had to endure 30 minutes of extra time in a hard-fought first-round win over Toronto.
The Black and Gold emerged as 2-0 winners at Mapfre Stadium when these teams clashed in their only meeting back in September. Gyasi Zardes—one of the top scorers in MLS this year with 13 goals—grabbed a 90th-minute nerve-settler that day and is looking to hit the back of the net for a third straight game after decisive strikes against Atlanta United and the New York Red Bulls.
Columbus have lost only once in their last 19 outings at Mapfre Stadium and are seeking a fifth successive home win, but they’ll take on a Nashville team growing accustomed to upsets:
The tale of the tape is similar for Dallas, a team that’s never lifted the MLS Cup, ahead of their visit to two-time champions (2016, ’19) and current titleholders, the Sounders.
Luchi Gonzalez is the youngest active coach in Major League Soccer at 40, but that lack of experience didn’t prevent him guiding the Toros back to the Western Conference semifinals for the first time since 2016.
Seattle—who finished second in the conference—will still be considered favorites given their last league loss at home to Dallas was in May 2011, going unbeaten in their last 12 meetings at Lumen Field in Washington. It’s worth noting Dallas forced extra time in the first round of last season’s playoffs, only for Jordan Morris to complete his hat-trick in the 113th minute en route to another Sounders championship.
Tuesday’s hosts also happen to be in unforgiving form following convincing home wins over San Jose (4-1) and Los Angeles FC (3-1), albeit benefiting from a botched Carlos Vela penalty in the latter:
The fourth and final semifinal could be the toughest to predict, pitting Minnesota against the the only team that’s managed to beat them twice in 2020, Sporting Kansas City.
Adrian Heath has hit a sweet spot in his season with Minnesota chasing a 10th consecutive game without defeat, though the Loons’ away form has been their graver concern all season.
SKC lost to Minnesota during the ‘MLS Is Back’ tournament in Florida, but Peter Vermes’ men got their revenge with wins at home and away when the season resumed in its ‘normal’ format. His side needed spot-kicks to advance after drawing 3-3 with the Earthquakes in the last round, though that still extended a pretty impressive undefeated run of their own to five games.
Minnesota have lost in all five of their league visits to Children’s Mercy Park to date, though this fixture would be an opportune moment to buck the trend in what’s already been a historic campaign for the club.