Luke Stergiou

Senior Photographer

The road to the MLS Cup has started, and the first round of the playoffs was intense. Big teams collapsed under the pressure, and underdogs rose up to defy expectations.

Starting in the eastern conference, third place New York City FC hosted sixth place Philadelphia Union. This game was a difficult must-win game for the Union. After coming off as one of the team’s best seasons yet, and clinching the last playoff spot in the eastern conference, the Philadelphia Union were looking to secure their first ever playoff win in club history. Although getting their first ever playoff win away from home was never going to be easy, and unfortunately, the Union came up short. New York City FC dominated the Philadelphia side 3-1, with their counter-attacking style of play just tearing the team to shreds. The Union also looked unmotivated in the first half, leading to many chances for NYCFC to steal the ball back, regain possession and score on the counter. NYCFC’s attacks, which consisted of David Villa and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, were too much for Philadelphia’s defense.

In Washington D.C., an even more intense game unfolded. D.C. United faced off against the Columbus Crew at Audi Field, with everything to play for. D.C. United started off strong, with the 4th place team scoring in the 21st minute to make it 1-0. Crew’s Argentinian striker Federico “Pipa” Higuain scored shortly after in the 30th minute to tie the game 1-1, only to strike again later in the 96th minute to make it 2-1 to the Columbus Crew. D.C. United  would tie up the game shortly before extra time ended, with Nick DeLeon scoring in the 116th minute, tying the 2-2 and sending the game into penalties. Unfortunately for D.C. United, Columbus Crew goalkeeper Zack Steffen made two key saves to win the game and upset D.C. United at home. Despite the loss, D.C. United can hold their heads high after an incredible season.

In the Western Conference, the playoffs were just as crazy. FC Dallas welcomed the Portland Timbers, who upset the Texan side at home. The Timbers dominated the game, with star midfielder and reigning MLS MVP Diego Valeri scoring twice, once in the 23rd minute, and once again in the 71st minute. Despite the Timbers going down to 10 men after Larrys Mabiala brought down Dominique Badji in the 58th minute, the Portland side stayed resilient. FC Dallas would score a consolation goal in the 94th minute of added time, but it wasn’t enough to advance in the playoffs.

In Los Angeles, arguably the craziest game of the MLS Cup Playoffs played out against third place LAFC and sixth place Real Salt Lake. Once again, another upset occured as Real Salt Lake beat the newest side in the league 3-2. Real Salt Lake started off the scoring in the 21st minute, but were quickly put back by LAFC’s Danilo Silva and Christian Ramirez’s goals in the 49th and 54th minute respectively. Even though LAFC had the momentum, Real Salt Lake would bring it back after a wonder goal from Damir Kreilach, making the score 2-2 and bringing the momentum back to the underdogs. The Utah side would then crush LAFC’s playoff dreams as the team scored a third goal in the 69th minute, with that goal ultimately being the decider for the game. Real Salt Lake would win the game 3-2 as one of the biggest underdogs of this 2018 MLS season.

In summary, the MLS Cup Playoffs have got off to a great start and will only continue to get better. With big teams like Toronto FC, Seattle Sounders and LA Galaxy, the playoffs look to be all about the underdogs this year.

Luke Stergiou can be contacted at ltergiou@kscequinox.com