In its most basic terms, NYCFC win five games and they raise the MLS Cup. Simple as that. Sure, sure, you may say that technically they don’t need to beat everyone they play to advance, and yes, of course, that’s true. They could win on the road and then, ah, let’s not make this harder than it has to be. Win five, raise the cup.
And really, how hard can five wins be? They got a draw and four wins from May 31 to June 29 when they faced the New England Revolution, Philadelphia Union, Seattle Sounders, the New York Red Bulls and Minnesota United. And from August 6 through September 6th they got three wins in a row against the Red Bulls, the LA Galaxy and Revolution, then a draw (against the Red Bulls) and another win (against Sporting KC). So five wins isn’t completely out of the question, right?
So let’s take NYCFC’s playoff opponents in those five games one by one and see how it looks.
Big Time: A Look at NYCFC’s Playoff Opponents
How crazy is this? NYCFC will face Columbus – the only team standing in the east who has actually won the Cup – in what is essentially a three-game series for them. And who does this favor? On the one hand, you might say NYCFC, since they’ve had more time to prepare. On the other hand, not so much. For if Gregg Berhalter showed nothing else in the second half of the season finale it was that he knows how to adjust. Thus one has to assume the side that comes out against NYCFC at MAPFRE Stadium will be well prepared.
That said, there are a couple of things he probably can’t prepare for. One – while Zack SteffEn played well against NYCFC in the second half, and brilliantly against Atlanta, can we really assume that he’ll keep that up for the next two matches? Second, will the pressure of all the outside shenanigans involving the Crew moving or not moving finally start to wear on the team? And lastly, was that blow up we saw on the Citi Field pitch between Kekuta Manneh and Pedro Santos just a one-time thing or an indication of something darker?
Regardless, this has been a crazily even matchup. Two wins, three draws, two losses since NYCFC joined the league in 2015. And with this playoff leg kicking off in Columbus on Halloween, anything is possible.
And if NYCFC beat the Crew, then one has to expect they’ll face the team that has dominated the league all season long, right? A pre-Thanksgiving goal-fest in the Bronx followed by the Canadian version a week later? And while the memory of last season’s playoff shellacking is still a painful one for Blue York, it should be remembered that NYCFC’s record against the Reds is a pretty impressive two wins, four draws and a loss. Admittedly, that one loss came the last time the two sides squared off, and NYCFC hasn’t actually beaten Toronto since Jason Kreis was managing the side, but still, three draws and a loss under Patrick Vieira are nothing to sneeze at.
Oh and two more things: no Canadian side has ever won the MLS Cup, and no Supporters’ Shield winner has hoisted it in six years – which coincidentally was the last time a Supporters’ Shield winner was even in the final. So there’s that.
New York Red Bulls
Of course, Toronto still have to get past NYCFC’s bovine brethren, so let’s not dismiss the Red Bulls so quickly. For even though this runs counter to much of their history, I have to agree with Shep Messing and Steve Cangialosi who recently pointed out on Sirius XM that they seem to be getting hot at just the right time. Remember, they’ve only lost twice since August 18th (though admittedly one of those losses was to Toronto).
And the fact that they just put four goals on the Chicago Fire on the road indicates to me that while I recently said they had a lot of pressure on them, I am beginning to think they are turning that pressure to their advantage. It’s no secret that Jesse Marsch likes his players to feel under-appreciated, to play as if they have a chip on their shoulder. Starting out in the six spot could be just what they need to make a serious run this year.
Of course, the return of Daniel Royer doesn’t hurt. He adds an attacking and scoring component that complements Bradley Wright-Phillips dangerously. So much so in fact that I would gladly have NYCFC face almost any other of NYCFC’s playoff opponents than experience rounds five and six of the Hudson River Derby with a Red Bull side who feel they are on a mission from God.
Who’s coming out of the West? God knows. It’s a crap shoot isn’t it? My money is on the Vancouver Whitecaps, but my money was also on Atlanta United and the Chicago Fire, so what do I know? Of the sides remaining, NYCFC lost to Portland in the Bronx, lost to Vancouver in Canada, drew Houston up in Hartford, and beat Seattle in the rain in Yankee Stadium. So who knows?
The only things I can count on, however, are that the odds are they’ll be facing a club who’s hoisted the Cup already (only Vancouver have not) and that it will be in Yankee Stadium. On December 9th. When the temperature in New York City is usually between 45 and 34. Though once it was 66 on that day, so maybe we’ll get lucky. On the other hand, once it was 7°. Which sounds more like our luck. So that should be fun.
But honestly NYCFC’s playoff opponents are unimportant. Because the side they have to worry the most about is themselves. Remember, this is a very good team. A team that finished the season on 59 points. In 2016, 2014, and 2013 that would have been enough to win the East. In 2013, it would have been enough to win the Supporters’ Shield.
If they show up, they can win. If David Villa continues the form he showed against Columbus AND IF someone not named David Villa starts scoring goals again, they can win. If Rodney Wallace returns to the pre-Gold Cup form that made him feared by the defenders of the Eastern Conference, they can win. If Maxi Moralez begins creating space in the midfield again, they can win. If Yangel Herrera, Tommy McNamara, Jack Harrison, Alex Ring, and every other member of the City brotherhood play the way their fans know they can play – then NYCFC’s playoff opponents are in trouble because NYCFC can be unstoppable.
And they better be, because this is the Big Time.