Halloween is Monday, but Sunday is a holiday for Major League Soccer fans. That’s because both conference championship games will be played that day, setting the stage for the MLS Cup game.
First up Sunday will be No. 2 seed Austin FC at No. 1 seed LAFC at 3 p.m. EDT in the Western Conference title game from Banc of California Stadium. The game will be on ABC and ESPN3. A few hours later, it will be No. 3 seed New York City FC at No. 1 seed Philadelphia Union in the Eastern Conference title game. Kickoff will be at 8 p.m. EDT from Subaru Park. The game will be on FS1 and FOX Deportes.
Not this time, Austin FC
Let’s break down each game, led by the Western Conference matchup. LAFC comes into the game having won the Supporters’ Shield (best regular-season record in MLS) for the second time in four years. El Trafico beat LA Galaxy 3-2 in the conference semifinals on a 93rd-minute goal by Cristian Arango. Austin FC needed a penalty kick shootout win to get past Real Salt Lake in its playoff opener despite Real Salt Lake playing a man down for nearly 70 minutes, but looked more comfortable in a 2-1 victory over FC Dallas in the conference semifinals. Austin FC beat LAFC both times they met during the regular season, 2-1 on May 18 in California and 4-1 on Aug. 26 in Texas. But it won’t happen again. A third time won’t be a charm. LAFC is playing better right now. PREDICTION: LAFC 2, Austin FC 1.
Another Philly win
Philadelphia Union has had a great season. It went undefeated at home during the regular season (12-0-5), and led the MLS in least goals allowed (26) and goal differential (plus 46). The Union made it to the conference finals thanks to a 1-0 victory over upstart FC Cincinnati thanks in large part to another outstanding game from goalie Andre Blake, who made five saves. NYC FC is the defending MLS Cup champion. It has steamrolled through the playoffs, beating Inter Miami FC 3-0 and CF Montreal 3-1 in the conference semifinals. The Union won both regular-season matchups against NYC FC for the first time in club history, winning 2-0 on March 19 at Yankee Stadium and 2-1 on June 26 at Subaru Park. It’s impossible to bet against a Philadelphia pro sports team this fall, so let’s add the Union from the City of Brotherly Love to that list. PREDICTION: Union 1, NYC FC 0.
It’s been a roller-coaster of a season for NYC FC. The Cityzens started strong, but won only three of their last 11 regular-season games as they struggled to make adjustments following the departures of Coach Ronny Deila, who took a coaching job in Belgium, and leading scorer Taty Castellanos (no relation to the Phillies’ Nick), who was loaned to Girona of the Spanish league La Liga.
NYC FC beat the Union 2-1 last year in the Eastern Conference championship game, but there should be an asterisk next to the score. Eleven Union players, including Blake, missed the game because of MLS health and safety protocols (in other words, COVID).
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