The MLS Cup Playoffs are here! The 4-seed LA Galaxy will head into the playoffs for a highly anticipated matchup against the 5-seed Nashville SC (who are led by one of the best players in the league).
LA and Nashville actually tied on points in the regular season with 50. The Galaxy got the tiebreaker edge however, due to having one more win than Nashville (14 to 13). The only difference in the tiebreaker is that now LA gets a home match instead of it being the Galaxy, who had to make the cross-country trip to Tennessee.
WHEN: Saturday, October 15th. 3:00 pm Eastern/12:00 pm Pacific
WHERE: Dignity Health Sports Park (Carson, California)
HOW TO WATCH: Univision, TUDN, MLSsoccer.com
Players to Watch
- MF Hany Mukhtar: Mukhtar was one of the best players in MLS this season, and is one of the MVP favorites because of it. He ended the year with 23 goals (tops in the league) and 11 assists (tied for ninth in the league). He also led the league with 57 points. He was also fourth in the league in key passes with 75. You get the point. Safe to say, he is as dangerous of an attacking player as there is in MLS. The Galaxy will have to try to keep him in check, because he is definitely a game-changer.
- D Walker Zimmerman: Walker Zimmerman is also one of the best players in MLS at his position. Within the last year he has put his name down as one of the USMNT's top centerbacks, and is one of the tops in MLS as well. The 29-year old is playing some of the best soccer of his career. I look forward to seeing the talented Galaxy attack going to head to head with Zimmerman in this contest.
- F CJ Sapong: CJ Sapong is probably Nashville's most dangerous offensive option outside of Mukhtar. He is tied for second on the team in goals with five, plus added five assists as well (third on the team). If LA puts a ton of effort into taking away Mukhtar, then Nashville will likely need Sapong to step up.
- F Chicharito: Chicharito just about goes without saying is arguably the most important player for the Galaxy. He led the team in goals this year with 18 (seven more than anyone else). Chicharito has the ability (much like Mukhtar) to take a match over. LA might just need him to do that.
- GK Jonathan Bond: Speaking of Nashville's offensive fire power, one of the main men tasked with slowing down Mukhtar and company will be LA's star keeper Jonathan Bond. One thing that Bond excels at is passing out of the back, which helps LA retain possession at a high clip (more on that later). Nevertheless, LA will need Bond to be strong in net, both in terms of stopping shots and passing.
- D Julian Araujo: Another key piece in the defensive unit is Julian Araujo. Although he also is a key piece in the attack as well (led the team in assists this year with nine). and he also completed a very strong 85.4% of his passes on the year, LA will need Araujo to continue to be a strong passer if they are going to advance to the second round.
This should be an entertaining matchup as it is a battle of two of the better offenses in the league. The Galaxy were sixth in the league in goals this year with 58, while Nashville was also top 10 (ninth, with 52).
Nashville has the edge defensively however. They allowed just 41 goals on the year, which was tied for fourth in the league. Meanwhile, LA was in the middle of the pack as they were tied for 14th with 51 goals allowed.
This will be an interesting stylistic matchup in that LA is heavily reliant on holding possession, while Nashville is not. The Galaxy are third in MLS in possession (54.2%), while Nashville is all the way down at 22nd (46.5%). This is not necessarily an indictment into the quality of either team, but is more-so just a sign in that the teams are different.
In terms of the head to head battles in the regular season, the two squads met twice in the regular season. LA won the first meeting 1-0 in April. The clubs then tied 1-1 about a month ago (September 10th). Dejan Jovelic scored the goal for LA in the first meeting, and then Riqui Puig scored last month. Mukhtar scored for Nashville (on a PK)
PREDICTION: LA Galaxy 2- Nashville 1
I predict LA will get the win here, as I believe they are a bit more balanced. Ultimately I predict that Chicharito will score at some point in the second half to break a 1-1 tie, and send the Galaxy into a playoff-version of El Trafico against 1-seed LAFC in the 2nd round.