Who Has the Advantage in the MLS Conference Finals?

Looking ahead to the first leg of the Conference Finals, read about what teams have the advantage.
by Katherine Rupp   |   Wednesday, November 18, 2015

US Soccer Federation (USSF)

The Western and Eastern Conference Finals are on Sunday, November 22nd. With an international breaks’ worth of rest for the teams – excluding two players who will be mentioned later – in the waning weeks of the 2015 MLS season, take a look at who should head to the MLS Final.

New York Red Bulls vs. Columbus Crew

As New York Red Bulls travel to Columbus Crew SC’s Mapfre Stadium for the first leg of a home and away series, the team will visit a strong Columbus team that hasn’t won MLS Cup since 2008. However, the Crew SC team seems to have built itself a strong pedestal with which to possibly use as a showcase for its MLS Cup trophy at the end of the season.

Like how Columbus often seems, the team is steady and firm in players like Ethan Finlay (who many, like myself, believe he deserves a USMNT call up sometime in the near future), Wil Trapp (who’s also shown himself capable on the U-20 team, regardless of how the young Yanks performed recently at the U-20 World Cup), and Kei Kamara, who’s been the sparkplug of the season for Columbus, but also – it could be said – the sparkplug of the 2015 season across all MLS clubs.

Even though Columbus is showing itself as the ‘underdog’ in the Eastern Conference Final series as Crew SC finished second place in the East while New York Red Bulls finished first, Columbus most certainly has a solid team beyond Finlay, Trapp, and Kamara, to be able to advance to MLS Cup.

On the other end, however, is that the New York Red Bulls, because the team has often been the underdog (partially because of the ‘Curse of Caricola’ – even if that was demolished once the Red Bulls once the Supporters Shield in 2013, which was the team’s first trophy – and partially because of the ‘That’s so Metro’ mindset that’s been ingrained in many a minds) in MLS play, ever since the club has existed, including when it was the New York/New Jersey MetroStars.

With a jam-packed roster with players like Matt Miazga (who is now cap-tied to the USMNT after coming on as a substitute against St. Vincent and the Grenadines), the Wright-Phillips brothers of Bradley and Sean who both add a bold forward and attacking option, as well as Dax McCarty who is captain and has become what could be seen as the heart and soul of the club, the Red Bulls have a lot of moving parts that may just bring it past Columbus.

Advantage: New York Red Bulls (only slightly)

FC Dallas vs Portland Timbers

On the other side of the country is where the Western Conference Final’s first leg will be played in Portland, Oregon, and this is also an interesting matchup. With the Timbers hosting FC Dallas at Providence Park on Sunday, they should be ready for fast pace action and a young group of players thriving to show off what quality the team has.

That shouldn’t deter Portland, however, as even though the Timbers have had a shaky 2015 season (let alone an interesting road to get to the Conference Finals…like a a shootout that lasted to where goalkeepers were shooting) where the Pac Northwest team has been off and on, when the team is on, it’s on.

That said, as newly-USMNT-minted midfielder Darlington Nagbe is a key cog to the Timbers machine, he’s also boosted to a higher level when teammates Maxi Urruti and Diego Valeri are playing to their own high playing expectations. Portland, with its many interesting pieces that seem to finally have come together this season, definitely are the underdog from the Western Conference.

Portland’s opponent, FC Dallas, had somewhat of a strong, understated 2015 regular season, regardless of the team ending up in first in the West. After leaving the Colorado Rapids, Oscar Pareja has transformed this very young FC Dallas team (with the average age of the starting eleven as a little bit over 24 years old) into what could become a powerhouse team for the next few years in MLS.

FC Dallas fans, if they don’t, should realize what an amazing and skillful group of plays they watch every week at Toyota Stadium in Frisco. From Victor Ulloa as a Homegrown Player to David Texeira and Matt Hedges (who should – hopefully – be called up to the USMNT) to Designated Players Mauro Diaz and the ever-so-talented Fabian Castillo, FC Dallas has so many weapons on its roster, it’ll be quite the task for the Timbers to take them down.

Advantage: FC Dallas

Regardless of whether you’re a New York Red Bulls or Columbus Crew SC fan or a Portland Timbers or FC Dallas supporter, the Conference Finals – both Western and Eastern – look to be some of the most exciting in years. And for all the neutrals out there, just sit back and watch and enjoy the next few weeks’ worth of games.

Katherine RUPP

Drake University
Club Domestic:
Sporting KC
Club Foreign:
Tottenham Hotspur
Unabashed Minnesotan by birth. Tried reliving the glory days of collegiate intramural soccer championships but an ACL tear dashed future hopes of adult recreational greatness. Covering a city’s team that’s too big for one state: SKC.