The conference semifinal round of Major League Soccer’s playoffs takes place Wednesday and Thursday, with two games on each night. Here’s a look at what to watch in each contest.
Home teams are first in each matchup. Betting odds are via SugarHouse, and reflect potential results at the end of regulation.
Wednesday, 7 p.m. at Citi Field, New York (Fox Sports 1 in Engish, Fox Deportes in Spanish)
Odds: New York even money, Toronto 13/5, tie 13/5
Season series: A 4-0 Toronto win at home 4-0 on March 29, and a 1-1 tie in New York on Sept. 11.
Toronto player to watch: F Jozy Altidore. Two big questions loom over this game: what impact will the move from Yankee Stadium to the Mets’ home have, and will Altidore be healthy enough to play? He’s been dealing with a quad strain for a few weeks. If he can make it, even as a susbstitute, he could have a big impact.
Pick: New York. City’s lack of stars has let the Pigeons fly under the radar for much of the year. This team is really good, though, with underrated talents like midfielders Valentín Castellanos and Alex Ring. Toronto has the talent to pull off the upset, but I don’t think it will happen.
Thursday, 8 p.m. at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta (ESPN2 in English, ESPN Deportes in Spanish)
Odds: Atlanta 7/10, Philadelphia 18/5, tie 3/1
Atlanta player to watch: M Gonzalo “Pity” Martínez. United manager Frank de Boer left his $14 million man on the bench for the entirety of Saturday’s first round win over the New England Revolution, and the game ended up a little too close for comfort. It couldn’t possibly happen again, could it?
Philadelphia player to watch: M Brenden Aaronson. The Medford native struggled against the Red Bulls’ high press, not just last Sunday but during the regular season, too. Atlanta doesn’t play that way, and it might not be a coincidence that two of Aaronson’s three goals this year came against the reigning champions.
Pick: Atlanta. I was wrong with my Union-Red Bulls pick. Either I’ll be right about this game, in which the Union face a team with clearly superior talent, or the Union will be in the Eastern Conference final.
Wednesday, 10 p.m. at CenturyLink Field, Seattle (Fox Sports 1 in English, Fox Deportes in Spanish)
Odds: Seattle 13/20, Salt Lake 4/1, tie 3/1
Season series: Each team won its home game, Seattle 1-0 on April 6 and RSL 3-0 on Aug. 14.
Seattle player to watch: GK Stefan Frei. Though he allowed three goals in the wild first round win over FC Dallas, he also made four big saves to spare the Sounders from being upset.
Salt Lake player to watch: F Damir Kreilach. The 30-year-old Croatia native has four playoff goals in the last two years, including the opener in RSL’s first round win over the Portland Timbers.
Pick: Seattle. These teams have played some superb games against each other in their history. This might be another one. But if the Sounders tighten their defense up, their attack should carry the day at home.
Thursday, 10:30 p.m. at Banc of California Stadium, Los Angeles (ESPN in English, ESPN Deportes in Spanish)
Odds: LAFC 11/25, Galaxy 11/2, tie 19/5
Season series: A 3-2 Galaxy home win on July 19, and a 3-3 tie at LAFC on Aug. 25.
LAFC player to watch: F Carlos Vela. His regular season was the greatest individual campaign in MLS history: 36 goals and 16 assists in all competitions. But there was one thing he didn’t do: deliver LAFC its first victory over its crosstown rival. The five all-time meetings have produced three ties and two Galaxy wins.
Galaxy player to watch: F Zlatan Ibrahimović. Who else? Not only is he the Galaxy’s biggest star, he’s almost singlehandedly responsible for his team’s dominance in the series. In five “El Trafico” contests over the last two years, Ibrahimović has eight goals - twice as many as he has against any other MLS team.
Pick: LAFC. This is the toughest game of the four to call. LAFC have home field advantage thanks to a MLS record regular season points total, but crucial midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye is likely out due to a hamstring injury suffered in his Canadian national team’s big win over the U.S. last week. And of course, there’s that history. But if ever there was a time to end the drought, surely it’s now, with so much at stake?