Preview: MLS Conference Semifinals, Leg 1

MLS CUP MATH

cup logoThe Major League Soccer‘s conference semifinals start Sunday and then spill over to the Monday and Tuesday. The two-leg, total-goals series conclude on Sunday, Nov. 5, with games at the homes of the higher seeded teams.  (All times Eastern)

Vancouver vs. Seattle (Sunday, coverage begins at 8:30 p.m.; ESPN)

The host Whitecaps will have short rest but a lot of momentum having steamrolled San Jose on Wednesday night. The Sounders have reason to be confident — the defending league champions beat the Whitecaps, 3-0, in their most recent meeting. Vancouver won and drew its two home games earlier this year. It’s the first time Vancouver and Seattle have met in the MLS playoffs; they had eight such encounters in the A-League and North American Soccer League before it.

Red Bulls vs. Toronto (Monday, coverage begins at 7 p.m.; FS1)

After a record-setting regular season, the pressure is on Toronto to finish the job. TFC’s quest for MLS Cup begins Monday night at Red Bull Arena. The hosts are the sixth seed in the East, but did not play like it in their knockout round thrashing of Chicago. Toronto clinched the Supporters’ Shield with a 4-2 win over the Red Bulls in on Sept. 30. Daniel Royer scored a penalty for the visitors that night, and has been a key part of the Red Bulls’ recent success as he rounds back into form after an extended period out injured.

Houston vs. Portland (Monday, coverage begins at 9:30 p.m.; FS1)

Houston and Portland scored more goals than any other teams in the West. The Dynamo will be hoping their attack, so good at home this year, can produce more than it did on Thursday night — when they needed 120 minutes to get a goal against Kansas City. Two high-scoring matches were played between these sides early in the regular season: the Timbers won, 4-2, in March, and Houston’s home game was a 2-2 draw.

Columbus vs. New York City FC (Tuesday, coverage begins at 8 p.m.; ESPN)

Halloween night in Columbus will provide one of the more interesting scenes of this or any season. The Crew are hosting New York City in their first leg, in the first home game for the black-and-gold since the news emerged that the owner Anthony Precourt plans to move the team to Austin in 2019, unless he can make a deal for a new, downtown stadium. Against that backdrop, the teams will play for the second time in as many weeks, after a 2-2 draw at Citi Field in the regular-season finale. Zack Steffen, the hero of Columbus’ win over Atlanta, came up big in Queens as well, including a penalty save on David Villa.