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MLS Playoffs 2017: Time, TV schedule and how to watch conference semifinals online

All the MPF, #SaveTheCrew, and bad Western Conference soccer you could ask for

The MLS playoffs are scheduled in such a way that today’s trio of conference semifinals will almost certainly be the most exciting day of the entire program. Toronto FC have set themselves up very well, as their first leg win obliges the New York Red Bulls to open up on the road. Next up, NYCFC needs to stage a miracle comeback against the Columbus Crew, which promises plenty of goals for both sides. Finally, the Portland Timbers host a dangerous, counter-attacking Houston Dynamo following a 0-0 first leg that both teams seemed comfortable with.

New York City FC (East 2) vs. Columbus Crew (East 5)

Current score: 4-1 Columbus, which means NYCFC needs to make MLS history to advance.

Location: Yankee Stadium (Bronx, NY)

Kickoff time: 5:00pm Eastern (but if TFC-NYRB goes to extra time, this might be pushed back)

Referee: Kevin Stott

NYCFC starting 11:

I was wondering whether Patrick Vieira would bring out a 343, or 3412, or who knows what else. Instead, he’s sticking with the 433, but playing two very attack-minded fullbacks. The weakness is at center back, where Alexander Callens is suspended. Ben Sweat, who is not a natural center back, will deputize.

Columbus starting 11:

The only change here is Mohammed Abu replacing Artur, who had some pretty terrible giveaways that contributed to such a wide open first leg. Look for Kekuta Manneh to come in early in the second half as Columbus goes for the counter, and for Jukka Raitala to replace Hector Jimenez to lock things down late on.

What to watch for: This game should be nuts. Yankee Stadium’s tiny field dimensions contribute to wild games normally, and NYCFC needs to win by three or more goals to stay afloat. Vieira will go for broke, and Gregg Berhalter has been talking about going for the kill rather than just sitting back. If the Pigeons are going to come back, they probably need to score in the first 10-15 minutes, so look for this game to be played at 100mph from kickoff.

Reading material: Hudson River Blue tried to piece together what went wrong in the first leg, while Massive Report wants to see Columbus manage the game intelligently.

Available TV: ESPN, ESPN Deportes

Available streaming: ESPN3, WatchESPN, ESPN Deportes

Prediction: The Pigeons are missing their best defender, facing the hottest team in the playoffs, and they tend to bleed goals at home. This one will be fun: David Villa puts up a brace to make it 2-0 fairly early, but Ola Kamara pulls one back just before halftime. NYCFC makes wild halftime subs, comes close to making it 3-1, but they concede a back-breaker to Federico Higuain. Tommy McNamara scores what turns out to be the game-winner, but 3-2 today means the Crew go through 6-4 on aggregate.

Portland Timbers FC (West 1) vs. Houston Dynamo (West 4)

Current score: 0-0, because Houston is apparently opposed to playoff goals outside of extra time

Location: Providence Park (Portland, OR)

Kickoff time: 7:30pm Eastern

Referee: Ismail Elfath

Projected Portland starting 11:

Diego Chara is done for the year, and Caleb Porter has said that PTFC has prepped for this as if Fanendo Adi, David Guzman, Darlington Nagbe, and Sebastian Blanco are all out. My guess is that Adi is definitely not going to play, while Guzman is a doubt and the left midfield job will be split by Nagbe and Blanco. If one or both of that last pair can’t go, Darren Mattocks will have to drop back, with Jeremy Ebobisse (a rookie with 348 MLS minutes) starting an elimination game.

Projected Houston starting 11:

Angry Joe Willis will step in for the suspended Tyler Deric, while Philippe Senderos will continue, surprisingly, to keep Leonardo out of the lineup in the back. Ricardo Clark may return in place of Eric Alexander to partner Juan David Cabezas, while Tomas Martinez will stay in as the #10. The front three is a big variable given Wilmer Cabrera’s preference for rotation. Alberth Elis is a solid bet, but the left side (Alex or Rommel Quioto) and the #9 (Erick Torres or Mauro Manotas) are both basically a coin toss.

What to watch for: Houston hasn’t conceded in 417 minutes, and could set a club record if they keep a zero on the board for 75 minutes. Portland’s injury problems have left them looking like they’ll have difficulty breaking the Dynamo down, especially with the Houston counter always a threat. Diego Valeri may need to produce some wizardry to get his team out in front, because otherwise a lot of the circumstances point to Houston having an advantage here.

Reading material: Stumptown Footy is trying to sort through all the injuries the Timbers are coping with, while Dynamo Theory is wondering whether the Dynamo’s improving road form is enough to get the job done against one of the best home teams in MLS.

Available TV: Fox Sports 1, Fox Deportes

Available streaming: Fox Sports Go, Fox Soccer Match Pass

Prediction: The Timbers are banged up, and Houston is built to play counter-attacking soccer. PTFC gets the lead through Diego Valeri, but Houston grabs a goal on the break through Cubo Torres. 1-1 in Oregon, 1-1 on aggregate, and the Dynamo are the unlikely Western Conference finalist.

Toronto FC (East 1) vs. New York Red Bulls (East 6)

Current score: 2-1 TFC

Location: BMO Field (Toronto, Ontario, Canada)

Kickoff time: 3:00pm Eastern

Referee: Chris Penso

TFC starting 11:

This is the typical 352 that Greg Vanney has deployed all year long (give or take some games in a diamond). Drew Moor and Victor Vazquez have both returned from injuries in the first leg to start for a full-strength TFC. It wouldn’t surprise me a bit to see Vazquez removed by the hour mark if the Red Bulls haven’t mounted a comeback by then, while Tosaint Ricketts could be an option off the bench to hit NYRB on the counter.

NYRB starting 11:

Jesse Marsch has made one change, bringing in Gonzalo Veron for Sean Davis. If he retains the 3331, Veron will play up front, while Bradley Wright-Phillips will slot in as a midfielder on one side of Sacha Kljestan. It’s weird, but they’ve used it frequently when Veron subs into games.

However, they could also play a 3322, with Kljestan and Daniel Royer underneath two forwards. Either way, it’s clear that the Red Bulls are not going to simply hope they get to the 70th minute at 1-0 or 0-0. They’re taking their risk right up front.

What to watch for: It’s Metro Playoff Failure time, so MPF! MPF! TFC should be able to control this game from start to finish, but if they happen to concede early, things might get wild. I’d also note that we should expect NYRB to try to provoke Toronto’s more temperamental players into a red card. That means Felipe will take dives and dole out cheap shots.

Reading material: Once a Metro wants to see better use of substitutes, while Waking the Red is hoping Giovinco can take advantage of mistakes from Michael Murillo again.

Available TV: ESPN, ESPN Deportes

Available streaming: ESPN3, WatchESPN, ESPN Deportes

Prediction: TFC is the better team, coming in with a huge advantage. Even if Moor and Vazquez can’t go, this team will see their way past the Red Bulls. 3-1 on the day (goals from Justin Morrow, Jozy Altidore, and Sebastian Giovinco), 5-2 on aggregate, and make it 22 seasons without an MLS Cup for north Jersey’s also-rans.