New York Red Bulls vs. Montreal Impact
The Red Bulls enter this match playing like the team that won the Supporters’ Shield last season. They now have a serviceable backline after injuries decimated it throughout the season, and aside from Alex Muyl stepping in for Lloyd Sam, the starting lineup is identical to 2015’s.
Their gengenpress system is working charms right now. Jesse Marsch has his team in a more organized and a more suffocating system than he has all season, and that should be a scary thought for an Impact team that struggles to gain much traction in midfield.
Montreal come into this game after a statement domination of D.C. United, who seemed almost overconfident at home on Thursday in the knockout round. The Impact, however, will likely be no match for a Red Bulls team that will build around No. 10 Sacha Kljestan and his distribution to the best finisher in MLS, Bradley Wright-Phillips.
In the first leg, the Impact will look to keep NYRB off the scoresheet for as long as possible so as to avoid giving away an all-important away goal. They will start the game playing conservatively, partly because of the above reason and partly because they are most effective when playing in space.
First leg prediction: 1-1 draw. Piatti scores on the counter, but BWP equalizes and both teams settle for a draw.
LA Galaxy vs. Colorado Rapids
The Galaxy had a fairly easy time with Real Salt Lake in their knockout round domination in midweek. In true Bruce Arena fashion, they finally played a lineup, for the first time all season, that got the best out of a team that had struggled to find an ideal starting XI. 35-year old Alan Gordon played like he was ten years younger, and his presence made a huge difference.
LA need a No. 9 on the field to free their skill players, as was shown when Gyasi Zardes was played as a center forward. With Gordon starting as a lone striker, Giovani dos Santos was given ample space to play off of, and, well, Emmanuel Boateng happened.
The Rapids, however, have a much better defense than RSL. Axel Sjoberg is the height of an NBA player and is a top contender for Defender of the Year, and they have a defensive midfielder (Sam Cronin) who can actually run, unlike Kyle Beckerman. Colorado are based around their compactness and conservativeness, so they should be well-equipped to handle a fast-moving and creative Galaxy attack.
Prediction: 0-0 draw. LA are tired and Colorado will have no interest in making much of an attempt at attacking.
Toronto FC vs. NYCFC
Toronto FC, for the most part, didn’t have too much of a problem with Philadelphia in the knockout round. They won 3-1, with Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco both continuing their MVP form.
They played a 3-5-2 and generally did a better job of controlling the midfield and distributing the ball to the strikers. Taking advantage of gaps Alejandro Bedoya left when he ventured forward, TFC constantly overwhelmed the central channel and often neglected runs from Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour so as to break through centrally.
NYCFC will play their possession game in the back, something they do much better on the road. They will play slow in the backline, drawing the opposing team forward, before getting the ball to Andrea Pirlo and letting him spray balls to the wings, where Jack Harrison or Tommy McNamara will lead attacks.
It’s worth noting that starting goalkeeper Josh Saunders was recently benched due to mistake-prone performances. Eirik Johansen is the player filling in, and while we won’t know until game time who will start, NYCFC will need Johansen to be able to handle the increased passing responsibilities that come with playing for Patrick Viera.
Prediction: 2-1 TFC. Toronto get the win, but NYCFC get that crucial away goal.
Seattle Sounders vs. FC Dallas
The Sounders enter this game having narrowly beaten Sporting KC at home in the knockout round. In a game marred by Ozzie Alonso vs. Dom Dwyer scraps and Benny Feilhaber going absolutely berserk on Ismail Elfath, the unlikeliest of heroes secured the win for Seattle with an offside-goal in the 85th-minute. DP-bust and failed signing Nelson Valdez sent CenturyLink into a frenzy with just his third ever goal in a Sounders uniform.
It was a pretty crazy match. Now, the Sounders will have to play a very different game.
FC Dallas, playing on the road in Seattle, will sit deep in their 4-4-2 and look to play fast in transition. Without Mauro Diaz in the game, this is what they almost certainly do. With such a stout center back pairing and two of the better defensive midfielders in the league, the Sounders will not have an easy time creating penetration.
Prediction: 1-0 Sounders. Nicolas Lodeiro scraps out a goal late.