The 2015 MLS Playoffs have been notable for the same reason that their baseball equivalent was notable this October: We will be crowning a team as champion that hasn't reached the mountaintop for a few years.
Of the four teams remaining, three -- New York, Dallas and Portland -- have never won the biggest trophy in American soccer while the fourth -- Columbus -- hasn't won it since 2008. To boot, Columbus hasn't won a major trophy since 2009, Dallas hasn't won one since 1997, and Portland has never won a major trophy in its entire history, even including its NASL days in the 70s.
That's some good eatin' if you're looking for a story this postseason.
After this past weekend's international break, the playoffs resume this Sunday with the first legs of the Conference Finals. Here's an updated look at the bracket.
Eastern Conference Final
New York Red Bulls - Columbus Crew SC
The Supporters' Shield Champion Red Bulls will travel to C-Bus in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Final to face a Crew squad that has been hot and cold all year. Luckily for the Ohioans, Kei Kamara and Co. are Natalie Portman circa 2009 level hot after they got past a Montreal team that had been labeled by just about everyone with the much sought-after title of "Hottest Team in the League." Dare I say, this is the Eastern Conference Final that neutral observers of the league wanted to see.
The final is a rematch of the 2008 MLS Cup Final, which saw Sigi Schmid, Frankie Hejduk and Guillermo Barros Schelotto Crew squad defeat a Juan Pablo Angel led Red Bulls team, which had won the Western Conference back when MLS forgot how to playoff by allowing teams into the other side of the bracket as wild card teams. Excluding Dane Richards, who is on-loan from New York with the Indy Eleven of the NASL, there are exactly zero players from that game who remain with either team.
Stat to Know: You could make the argument that these teams are both one-man shows. Both rank in the top five in the league in goals, shots and shots on goal in the regular season, and both accounted for a significant chunk of their team's offensive output:
Kamara: 38% of goals, 29% of shots, 32% of SOG
BWP: 27% of goals, 24% of shots, 29% of SOG
Prediction: C-Bus takes the first leg at home, but New York gets an all important away goal. Columbus wins, 2-1.
Western Conference Final
FC Dallas - Portland Timbers
Dallas will travel to Providence Park to take on the
Timbers Army Portland Timbers in the first playoff series between the two teams. Despite the consistent parity that has marked the early history of MLS, this could be an early battle in the war of Western Conference supremacy. Both teams sport stars looking up at their primes, and both are set up to be contenders for the next couple of years, especially in a Western Conference whose standard bearers are either aging (RSL) or are constantly influx (LA).
This is only Portland's second Conference Finals appearance, and Dallas' fourth. The teams split their two regular season meetings with both sides winning at home but the first meeting, which Portland won at home, is what you'll be hearing about this week. Don't remember it? I'll give you the skinny: Oscar Pareja called Caleb Porter out for being a crybaby (he's not wrong) and offered him a tissue at the post-game handshake. Porter, being the pouty-faced crybaby that he is, promptly pointed to the scoreboard and threw the tissue away in anger. Remember?
We need more coaching feuds in MLS. Can you imagine what will happen if Portland wins this series? Caleb Porter might go full Cam Newton on Pareja. GOD I HOPE THAT HAPPENS.
Quote to know: "I've never had a coach come up and disrespect me like that," Porter said in the post-game press conference after the tissue incident. Disrespect him back, Caleb, please. Just forget the tissue and shoot a booger out of your nose at him. I'm serious.
Prediction: Porter and the Timbers will go down a goal early, but come back to draw Dallas at home, 1-1.
Do you disagree with my predictions? Am I too excited for #TissueGate, the Playoff Remix? Let it out in the comments section.