MLS Conference Finals Preview
We are nearing the end of the MLS season, and after two rounds of exciting playoff soccer, we have arrived at the Conference Finals.
In the Eastern Conference, we have the defending MLS Cup champion New York City Football Club, traveling to take on the Philadelphia Union.
In the Western Conference, we have the Supporter Shield Winning Los Angeles Football Club host the biggest surprise of this past season, Austin Football Club.
Philadelphia Union vs. NYCFC
For the second year in a row, NYCFC will face off against the Union with a berth in the MLS Cup Final on the line, but both teams will be at full strength this time.
Last season the Union had 11 players enter health and safety protocols before the game, causing them to be missing five starters during the 2-1 loss.
The Union returned this season on a mission to get their revenge.
Dániel Gazdag led an impressive scoring attack with 22 goals, while Julián Carranza and
Mikael Uhre supplemented that with 14 and 13 goals, respectively.
Kai Wagner was one of the Union's top playmakers, with a club-high 15 assists. Look out for the left-back to move up the pitch looking to make something happen.
In goal, three-time MLS Goaltender of the Year Andre Blake was a brick wall this season, having an absurd 16 clean sheets and a 72.9 save percentage Blake will undoubtedly have to be in peak form for the Union to win this game.
The Union have yet to lose in Subaru Park this season and will look to continue their winning ways Sunday.
NYCFC has had an eventful season.
After manager Ronny Deila departed in June and star striker Valentín Castellanos was loaned out in July, hopes for a repeat looked bleak as they sat at the middle of the table.
But after winning the Campeones Cup, NYCFC rattled off four straight wins to close the season and finished as the third seed in the Eastern Conference.
Offensively replacing Castellanos has been difficult. NYCFC has used a by-committee approach, as five players have scored five or more goals. Look for NYCFC's longest-tenured forward, Maximiliano Moralez, to play a massive role if NYCFC comes out victorious.
Last year's MLS Cup hero, Sean Johnson, had a fantastic season registering 15 clean sheets in goal. Johnson will have to play excellent to limit the Union’s incredible offensive attack.
Expect a tight, low-scoring matchup as these two Eastern Conference juggernauts face off.
Los Angeles FC vs. Austin FC
Los Angeles FC won their second-ever Supporter Shield. They also gained two massive mid-season transfers.
Winger Gareth Bale from Real Madrid to help supplement the scoring prowess of Cristian Arango and Carlos Vela.
While center-back Giorgio Chiellini from Juventus helped secure the backline.
Look for Bale and Chiellini to perform at their best, as they are known for stepping up when the lights are the brightest.
Maxime Crépeau started a career-high 33 games in net and will have to play his best for LAFC to advance to their first-ever MLS Cup Final.
Led by MVP candidate Sebastián Driussi, Austin FC took massive leaps forward in their second season as a club.
Driussi finished second in the Golden Boot race with 22 goals. When Driussi could not find the back of the net, Maximiliano Urruti picked up the scoring as he had nine goals.
Diego Fagúndez set up most of Austin’s goals as he had a team-high 15 assists.
Brad Stuver had an excellent second year as Austin’s primary keeper, with eight clean sheets and a 70.2 save percentage.
On Sunday, expect a high-paced, high-scoring game that ends with some late-game heroics.
Ben Palillo is a third-year majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, please email email@example.com.