With the 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs on the horizon, things are about to get real…interesting across the league.
Thirteen out of 18 teams have punched their tickets to the 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs, and the remaining spots will be decided on the final day of the regular season. To its chagrin, the league will have to make do without Lionel Messi, as Inter Miami was officially eliminated from the postseason, causing a huge dent in worldwide media attraction for the league. But more on Inter Miami later.
Without the shadow of Messi, the rest of the teams can go for broke and try to win the MLS Cup. Some teams are firm candidates, while others are dark horses — here is a brief overview of the MLS postseason.
MLS Cup Playoffs Format
When the postseason begins, a total of 24 matches are lined up for the road to the MLS Cup. The biggest changes this year are a Wild Card round between the eighth- and ninth-placed teams in each conference, followed by a best-of-three first round that’s reminiscent of the old format from the mid-’90s.
Then it’s back to basics as the Conference Semifinals, Conference Final, and MLS Cup Final will be single-elimination matches hosted by the higher-seeded team.
MLS Cup Contenders
The Supporters’ Shield winners are firing on all cylinders. The only team this season to hit 20 wins, Luciano Acosta has emerged as Cinci’s leader in goals (16) and assists (13), which respectively rank second and fifth across the league. Pat Noonan has been able to squeeze a lot from his team that knows how to get wins and look good doing it. FC Cincinnati is the firmest candidate to bring home a title this December.
It took a little bit for the Union to get the season going but once they did, they never looked back. Dániel Gazdag has proven to be an adept scorer, while the backbone of the Union is set and the experience of having been in last season’s MLS Cup could prove to be pivotal for finally getting the team over the hump.
The defending champions had a mediocre season, winning 14 games but also losing 10. Denis Bouanga has had an MVP-caliber season, picking up the slack for a past-his-prime Carlos Vela. If LAFC can play better in defense, their offense might be enough to upset many and repeat.
Quietly, the Sounders put together a good season to hit 50 points and one last dance for a core group that might get broken up next season. Does this Sounders squad have one more trick up their sleeve?
The addition of Diego Rossi to complement Cucho Hernández has more than worked out. While we’ve only seen a small sample size so far, the Uruguayan and Colombian could be vital for a deep run in the playoffs. Wilfried Nancy has balanced his Crew squad, and the explosive team could surprise many in the postseason.
Orlando City SC
The Lions are playing with a belief and purpose that could make them a difficult team to beat. Balanced in all areas of the field, Orlando City could shock many in the playoffs and even steal the MLS Cup.
The U.S. Open Cup champions have picked up steam at the right time. It’s a Ben Olsen team and they could be Jekyll and Hyde, but the Dynamo have momentum, which is paramount come playoff time.
Lionel Messi and a slew of new talent did not save Inter Miami from themselves. The team showed a lot of promise but slowly began to fade as the games and pressure began to pile on. An injury to Messi killed their season and Tata Martino will now have to make some major changes as the team is still shaky in defense and in need of a true goal scorer.
Injuries and a horrid start condemned the Galaxy to yet another season without a playoff appearance. The once proud club has been in shambles for more than five years, and with no end in sight the Galaxy are simply not going anywhere.
What a mess. Their two star Italian DP’s look on the way out, and in need of a full time coach, Toronto FC is back to the drawing board and could produce the biggest flops in MLS history, Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi.