Previewing the 2nd Legs of the MLS Conference Semifinals
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Friday, 04 November 2016 06:07

The home teams had their way during the first legs of the Major League Soccer conference semifinals, but that may not be the case during the quartet of second-leg showdowns on Sunday. 

The L.A. Galaxy, Montreal Impact, Toronto FC and Seattle Sounders head into their Sunday road trips with key advantages in their respective series, and most importantly, none of the leading sides conceded away goals. 

Colorado, FC Dallas and both New York clubs, City and the Red Bulls, have certain things they need to fix in order to secure a berth in the conference final round, especially FC Dallas, who enter Sunday with the largest deficit.

Below is an in-depth look at each of Sunday's second-leg matches.


LA Galaxy at Colorado Rapids (2 p.m. ET, ESPN) 

The Galaxy benefited from a fortuitous bounce on a Giovani dos Santos shot to pull ahead of the Rapids in the No. 3 vs. No. 2 matchup in the Western Conference. 

Robbie Keane is still working his way back to full fitness, which means the hot combination of Alan Gordon and Dos Santos should start at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. 

Gordon's physical presence up top will once again be needed to combat the height and strength of the Colorado back line, led by Defender of the Year finalist Axel Sjoberg.

In addition to the attacking duo of Gordon and Dos Santos, the central-midfield pairing of Baggio Husidic and Sebastian Lletget had a strong first leg. 

If Jermaine Jones plays more than a half, like he did in the first leg, Husidic and Lletget will have to deal with a more physical presence in the middle of the park. The Galaxy defense won't face an onslaught of chances early given the Rapids' nature to sit back and methodically pick teams apart, but they will have to be on alert to ensure one of Kevin Doyle, Shkelzen Gashi or Sebastien Le Toux doesn't break in on net.

A 1-0 victory for the Rapids would force extra time and give Pablo Mastroeni's side an advantage because of the altitude in Colorado.

The Rapids know exactly how to grind out a result, as they've won eight matches 1-0 in 2016. If Colorado have their way defensively, they shouldn't feel too much stress going forward. 

How much time Jones spends on the pitch might be crucial to the club's success since he provided a spark moving forward during the second half of the first leg. If he is able to attract defenders and open up play through the middle, the Rapids should be able to breach the Galaxy back line. 

The second-best team in MLS during the regular season also carry a massive advantage in net. Tim Howard is no stranger to big matches, and he is expected to keep the Rapids in it until the end. 


Montreal Impact at New York Red Bulls (4 p.m. ET, ESPN) 

Mauro Biello's Montreal Impact executed a perfect game plan in their first-leg win over the New York Red Bulls at Stade Saputo.

However, the Impact left the door open for Jesse Marsch's men to pounce since they only won by a goal. 

One of Montreal's biggest concerns entering the second leg is the health of forward Matteo Mancosu. The Italian left training on Wednesday, but he participated on Thursday, per Patrick Friolet of RDS. 

If Mancosu is ready to go, the Impact will have a strong finisher who is ready to pounce on the counter alongside Ignacio Piatti. If the scorer of three playoff strikes isn't fit, there will be a heavier reliance on Piatti to create in space. Dominic Oduro would be the logical option to move up top with Didier Drogba's status still up in the air. 

If Montreal gets the effort out of Patrice Bernier that it did in the first leg, the chances created by the Red Bulls' talented trio of midfielders will be few and far between. Bernier, who has been massive the last two postseasons for the Impact, will be tasked with silencing Sacha Kljestan, Dax McCarty and Felipe. 

It's hard to believe the Red Bulls will waltz out of the playoffs without scoring a goal, but this is the franchise that's had everything cruel happen to it since its inaugural season in 1996. Dropping out of the playoffs at this stage isn't a foreign concept to the Red Bulls, which is their exact motivation to win on Sunday. 

No club is hungrier for MLS Cup than the Red Bulls, and they're aware how important home-field advantage can be in this series, the Eastern Conference final and potentially MLS Cup final. 

Bradley Wright-Phillips won't be able to do everything by himself, especially with Laurent Ciman and Victor Cabrera on his case. That means role players such as Alex Muyl and Gonzalo Veron will have to work magic behind the Englishman in order to avoid a shutout that would end the club's season. 

An early goal seems likely in this match given the pressing nature of the Red Bulls and the slick counter-attacking skills of the Impact. When that early strike comes, the match will open up and anything will be in play. 


Toronto FC at New York City FC (6:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1) 

Formations and suspensions were the biggest topics discussed after Leg 1 between Toronto FC and New York City FC.

Both Greg Vanney and Patrick Vieira trotted out three-man defenses at BMO Field, with Toronto's setup being more successful. 

The Reds have played well in the 3-5-2, but they are susceptible to mistakes if you attack the right areas on the flanks. As long as the proper cover is given on the wings, Toronto should withstand the attacks from Jack Harrison, David Villa and Co. 

The narrow pitch at Yankee Stadium should also help Toronto keep their back line organized. With less space to cover, the Reds should be able to limit the amount of green the home side has to operate in. 

NYCFC could have been playing without Villa after his egregious kick out at Armando Cooper in the first leg. But the Spaniard will not miss a game for his actions thanks to the MLS Disciplinary Committee's ruling. Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl provided insight on the decision during Fox Sports 1's UEFA Champions League pre-game show on Tuesday: 

With Villa still in the fold, NYCFC carry a strong chance of advancing into the Eastern Conference Final, but three goals in regulation without conceding are needed. 

Villa isn't the only scorer in the lineup, and if he can't work his way through the Reds' defensive barrier, Harrison and others will have to step up. Thomas McNamara, who didn't start in Leg 1, should be inserted into the starting XI to bring more creativity to the NYCFC midfield. 

The biggest key for NYCFC in the final third on Sunday is the movement of Ronald Matarrita and R.J. Allen from the full-back position. If Matarrita and Allen provide the necessary width on the flanks, Harrison, McNamara, Villa and even Andrea Pirlo have the ability to work fast in transition to test the Toronto defense. 


Seattle Sounders at FC Dallas (9 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1)

Before you begin writing the obituary on FC Dallas' successful season, let us remind you for the umpteenth time that this is MLS and anything is possible. 

Oscar Pareja's men face the steepest climb to the next round, as they're down 3-0 to the Seattle Sounders and failed to knock in a vital away goal.

FC Dallas need to attack from the first whistle, but some believe the club's front line may be too weak to threaten for 90 minutes after the losses of Fabian Castillo and Mauro Diaz. 

CONCACAF legend Carlos Ruiz may not start, but look for the Guatemalan to make an appearance early in the second half. El Pescadito has a knack for scoring in big games, and he could be exactly what the doctor ordered for the Supporters' Shield winners. 

Of course, the FC Dallas defense is important as well on Sunday since one Seattle goal will all but eliminate the home side. Matt Hedges, Walker Zimmerman and Carlos Gruezo, who is one of the most underrated players in MLS, will be tasked with keeping order in front of Chris Seitz while everyone else bombs forward. 

The Sounders enter Sunday with no pressure on their shoulders. All they have to do is find the back of the net once or hold FC Dallas to two goals or less. Both are easily achievable tasks with the club's personnel. 

Nicolas Lodeiro and Jordan Morris will be asked to do more defending from their forward positions, but that means they'll also have more chances on the counter. The speed and skill of the two was on display in Lodeiro's 55th-minute goal in the first leg. 

The triumvirate of Roman Torres, Chad Marshall and Osvaldo Alonso need to have near-perfect matches down the middle of the pitch in order for the Sounders to become the unlikeliest participants in the conference-final round.

Seattle seems like a lock to move on given its advantage, but FC Dallas stand a chance if they enter half-time with a lead.


Joe Tansey covers MLS for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @JTansey90. 

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