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New England Revolution at head of field


The Major League Soccer playoffs kick off with two games Saturday. The first round resumes with two games Sunday and two more on Tuesday.

Here is how the 14 teams that qualified for the playoffs stack up entering the quest to reach MLS Cup:

1. New England Revolution: Congrats, Revolution, you’ve won the first trophy in team history, earning the Supporters’ Shield for having the league’s best record. Now, can you overcome history? In the last 20 seasons, only four Supporters’ Shield winners went on to win MLS Cup (Toronto FC in 2017, LA Galaxy in 2002 and 2011, and Columbus Crew in 2008). Good news? Revs coach Bruce Arena was at the helm of that 2011 Galaxy team. (Playoffs Round 1: Bye to conference semifinals)

New England Revolution midfielder Carles Gil holds up the 2021 Supporters' Shield, which the team won by having the best regular-season record.

New England Revolution midfielder Carles Gil holds up the 2021 Supporters’ Shield, which the team won by having the best regular-season record.

MLS CUP PLAYOFFS 2021: Complete schedule with TV and streaming information

2. Seattle Sounders: Despite a less-than-impressive finish to the regular season, the Sounders are the most playoff-tested team in the league. Having reached four of the last five MLS Cups – winning two – the Sounders will be a favorite to make another run at a championship. (Playoffs Round 1: vs. Real Salt Lake, Tuesday)

3. Colorado Rapids: The surprising Rapids managed to win the Western Conference despite having the league’s lowest payroll (in fact, the four-lowest payroll teams made the playoffs, a group that also includes the Vancouver Whitecaps, Philadelphia Union and New York Red Bulls). Despite owning the conference’s No. 1 seed, expect the Rapids to embrace an underdog role for the playoffs. (Playoffs Round 1: Bye to conference semifinals)

4. Nashville SC: Nashville is just the fourth expansion team since 2010 to reach the playoffs in its first two seasons, an accomplishment also achieved by the Seattle Sounders, Atlanta United and LAFC. Now, Nashville will look to join Atlanta as teams to win MLS Cup in their second season. Featuring a stout defense led by USMNT player Walker Zimmerman, and an “M-L-S” attacking trio featuring MVP candidate Hany Mukhtar, Randall Leal and CJ Sapong, this team looks like a strong candidate to make a deep playoff run. (Playoffs Round 1: vs. Orlando City SC, Tuesday)

Nashville SC's Hany Mukhtar finished the season with 16 goals and 12 assists, ranking among the league leaders in both categories.

Nashville SC’s Hany Mukhtar finished the season with 16 goals and 12 assists, ranking among the league leaders in both categories.

5. Portland Timbers: Portland enters the playoffs having won three straight games and securing a coveted home playoff game. Can Diego Valeri, a club legend and one of the league’s greatest-ever players, help spark one more run at MLS Cup glory? (Playoffs Round 1: vs. Minnesota United, Sunday)

6. Sporting Kansas City: In the race for the Western Conference title all season long, SKC stumbled at the finish – losing its final three games – and botched an opportunity to claim a top playoff seed. The international break should serve this team well to forget the regular-season finish and recalibrate for the postseason. (Playoffs Round 1: vs. Vancouver Whitecaps, Saturday)

7. Philadelphia Union: Last year’s Supporters’ Shield winners managed to finish second in the Eastern Conference despite the offseason losses of Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie. Coach Jim Curtin and sporting director Ernst Tanner have built a consistent winner in Philly behind smart spending and one of the league’s premier youth academies. What this team needs now is a deep playoff run. (Playoffs Round 1: vs. New York Red Bulls, Saturday)

8. Atlanta United: Featuring Josef Martinez – one of the league’s most prolific goal-scorers since he entered the league in 2017 – and newcomer Luiz Araújo – who came into his own late in the regular season – Atlanta will be a tough draw for any potential Eastern Conference playoff opponent. (Playoffs Round 1: at New York City FC, Sunday)

Atlanta United's Josef Martinez has scored five goals in nine career MLS playoff games.

Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez has scored five goals in nine career MLS playoff games.

9. New York City FC: NYCFC is in the playoffs for a sixth consecutive season. However, that on-field success has not translated to the playoffs, having never reached the conference final. (Playoffs Round 1: vs. Atlanta United, Sunday)

10. Minnesota United: A Western Conference finalist last season, the Loons needed some late Decision Day shenanigans to even make the playoffs. Now, they get a brutal opening-round assignment, a road game in front of the boisterous Timbers Army. (Playoffs Round 1: at Portland Timbers, Sunday)

11. Vancouver Whitecaps: Not afraid to provide bulletin board material for the Whitecaps’ first-round playoff opponent, interim coach Vanni Sartini boldly stated “we’ll beat Sporting Kansas City.” (Playoffs Round 1: at Sporting KC, Saturday)

12. New York Red Bulls: While the Seattle Sounders have reached the playoffs a record 13 consecutive seasons, RBNY has done so in 12 straight years. Big difference? Seattle has reached four MLS Cups and won two. During its streak, RBNY has never gotten past the Eastern Conference final. Don’t expect that to happen this year, either. (Playoffs Round 1: at Philadelphia Union, Saturday)

13. Orlando City SC: This team has been an enigma all season. Orlando needed a win at Montreal on Decision Day to squeak into the postseason field. Now, Orlando will need big performances by players such as Nani and Daryl Dike to make any sort of playoff run. (Playoffs Round 1: at Nashville SC, Tuesday)

14. Real Salt Lake: RSL made the playoff field with a dramatic late-game goal in a Decision Day win over Sporting Kansas City. Their reward: A first-round matchup against a Sounders team with ample postseason experience. (Playoffs Round 1: at Seattle Sounders, Tuesday)

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLS playoffs: Ranking the 14 teams ahead of quest for MLS Cup



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