And then there were four, as the MLS Cup contenders in 2019 have officially been whittled down to the final quartet.
Ahead of the Conference finals next week, which teams still standing are on top and which are playing with house money? With a voting panel of one this time, my Power Rankings for the final four.
It should be no surprise that the team in pole position nearly the entire season remains on top here. A record-breaking regular season was followed up by LAFC’s first playoff win on Thursday – and what a win it was, as they finally got the result over the LA Galaxy, in the traditionally wild fashion befitting El Trafico clashes. The concern? LAFC may mentally relax after getting past their bogey team, and the Seattle Sounders could spring an upset to pip them to the MLS Cup final.
Yes, Atlanta’s games have felt closer than any other team remaining in the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs, but teams don’t win by proportion of victory, merely victory itself, and Atlanta know what to do. They have MLS Cup-winning experience, something both Seattle and Toronto FC also have of late, but with two titles already lifted this year and the MLS Cup-winning trot just last year, they get the edge. The question mark is whether the wheels will fall off for the Five Stripes at an inopportune moment, something that they have seemed to be on the verge of at a few points this year.
The Sounders aren’t far behind Atlanta, to be honest, and they feel like they’re getting stronger from game to game. The Sounders have yet to beat LAFC, although you could argue in three of the four regular-season games the teams have played, Seattle were unfortunate not to get a result. Still, whether it’s bad luck or a bad matchup, it’s a concern. At the same time, even with the traditionally high standards around the club, they won’t be favorites and therefore the pressure will be off. And No. 2 seeds tend to reach MLS Cup far more often than No. 1 seeds…
Put simply, TFC are the lowest seed left and they have the potential built-in excuse of missing Jozy Altidore and/or Omar Gonzalez if it all goes wrong. They are definitely playing with no pressure (other than local expectations) and are in the best form of the lot, 12 consecutive games unbeaten. When you’re down to the final four, even the fourth team has a good chance of making waves. But a road clash at Mercedes-Benz Stadium against Atlanta United, who are also feeling good right now, is by far the biggest test yet for Greg Vanney’s crew this year.