The theme of this year’s Major League Soccer playoffs might just be Oh Canada! Or maybe even New York, New York.
Two of the eight teams playing in the conference semifinals tomorrow are from up north: Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact.
Toronto, hosting a playoff game for the first time, beat the Philadelphia Union 3-1 in a knockout round match Wednesday to advance. It’ll host New York City FC in the first leg of the conference semifinals on Sunday.
The Impact eliminated D.C. United 4-2 on Thursday. Montreal will host the New York Red Bulls on Sunday.
The Red Bulls and NYCFC got knockout-round byes as the top two seeds in the Eastern Conference.
A look at all the two-legged MLS conference semifinals:
Colorado Rapids at the Los Angeles Galaxy: The second-seeded Rapids got a first-round bye after narrowly missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to FC Dallas. Known for a strong defense anchored by goalkeeper Tim Howard, the Rapids finished the regular season 15-6-13. Colorado, which won the MLS Cup in 2012, has scored the fewest goals of any team in the playoffs. The Galaxy are the more experienced side with Gio dos Santos, Robbie Keane and Steven Gerrard — if his hamstring is healthy. There’s also Landon Donovan, who continues to make his MLS comeback. Los Angeles has won five MLS Cups, more than any other team. Los Angeles (12-6-16) beat Real Salt Lake on Wednesday in the knockout round.
FC Dallas at the Seattle Sounders: The Sounders (14-14-6) had an amazing recovery in the Western Conference, going from last place and letting go of longtime coach Sigi Schmid, to a fourth-place finish in the regular season and a playoff berth. The upswing continued with the Sounders’ 1-0 victory over Sporting Kansas City 1-0 in the knockout round Thursday with a goal from Nelson Valdez in the 88th minute. With Clint Dempsey out because of a heart issue, the player to watch is Jordan Morris, who leads the Sounders with 12 goals. FC Dallas (17-8-9) had a first-round bye as the top seed in the west after securing the league’s Supporters’ Shield for the best record in the regular season. The team is going for a first-ever “Treble”: the U.S. Open Cup, the Supporters’ Shield and the MLS Cup. Neither team has ever won the MLS Cup.
New York Red Bulls at Montreal Impact: The Impact are making their second straight appearance in the conference semifinals. Last season Montreal fell in the round to the Columbus Crew. Montreal (11-11-12) may or may not have the services of striker Didier Drogba, who was officially out of the knockout round win over United with a back issue. The former Chelsea star has not played since he sat out of an Oct. 16 match against Toronto, reportedly because he wasn’t starting. The closest the Red Bulls (16-9-9) have come to the MLS Cup was in 2008, when they were runners-up to the Crew. As the top seed in the East, the Red Bulls are led by Bradley Wright-Phillips, who scored a league-best 24 goals this season.
New York City FC-Toronto FC: Toronto, coming off is first-ever playoff victory, is led by the talented trio of Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley. Giovinco leads the team with 18 goals and 17 assists, including a goal and two assists in the victory over the Union. The Reds (14-9-11) finished the regular season as the third seed. The key to the playoff with NYCFC could be the battle between Bradley at Frank Lampard. Second-seeded NYCFC (15-10-9) has conceded more goals (57) than any other team in the playoffs. In just its second season in MLS, NYCFC leads the series against Toronto 2-0-3. It will be NYCFC’s first-ever playoff game after the team’s first-round bye.