Tuesday night the MLS playoffs will return after an International Break. Let's set aside the absurdity of taking a break during the playoffs for a moment and focus on the matches at hand.
Eastern Conference Finals: Columbus vs. Toronto
The first leg of the Columbus-Toronto matchup will kick off at 8:00 pm at MAPFRE Stadium. Expect to see lots of #SaveTheCrew banners and signs, and expect a sellout crowd as the Crew host the Supporter Shield winners.
By about the midpoint of the season, I was starting to think that Toronto was going to run away with the MLS Cup this season, being determined to finish what they couldn't quite accomplish in the title match last year. But going into Tuesday night's game, the top seed team has two key players suspended. Both Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco are ineligible to play on Tuesday. Altidore was involved in a bizarre fight with USMNT teammate Sacha Kljestan during halftime of the last match against the New York Red Bulls. Meanwhile, Giovinco will miss the game on yellow card accumulation.
In the last round of the playoffs, Columbus used a strong first leg result of 4 - 1 over NYCFC to build an insurmountable lead to reach the Conference Championship round. If home turf is kind to Columbus again, they could outscore Toronto on Tuesday night and hope the margin is enough to survive what is certain to be a determined Toronto FC side next week at BMO Field.
It's no doubt that the absence of Giovinco and Altidore will hurt Toronto. The two are responsible for scoring nearly one third (32) of Toronto's 76 goals on the year. Meanwhile, Columbus figures to have all of their top scorers available for the match. Of course, Toronto won the Supporter's Shield by having great teamwork up and down the roster, so it's not a foregone conclusion the team will lose without them playing.
In the wake of the nonsense being pulled by the Crew ownership and their threats to leave Columbus for Austin, Texas, I'm inclined to root for the Crew to win it all this year. And some very kind fans in Columbus were nice enough to send me an official Lions Teeth jersey after I helped them tell their stories of following the team and dealing with the threats of seeing their team leave the city. So I'm going to go out on a limb and predict in this first leg that Columbus wins 3 - 1.
Western Conference Finals: Houston vs. Seattle
With the devastation in Houston caused by Hurricane Harvey a few months ago, it's a real feel-good story to see the Dynamo advance to the Western Conference Finals. The match kicks off at BBVA Compass Stadium at 9:30 pm on Tuesday night. While Houston is the underdog in the match (just like Columbus), the similarities to the situation end there. In fact, it is Houston who will be entering the match with a key player suspended, starting goalkeeper Tyler Deric. And the Dynamo have no fewer than seven players on the roster whose yellow card accumulation means they would be suspended for the second leg if they picked up a yellow card in Tuesday's match.
Meanwhile, Seattle is intent on getting back to the Finals to defend their 2016 MLS Cup victory, and they will get the opportunity to host the second leg of the match next week at Century Link Field.
I think Houston has overachieved reaching this round, and I don't see them having enough firepower to stick with Seattle through this round and advance to the finals. I say Seattle wins the match 2 - 1 and carries a lead into the second leg.