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The MLS Conference Finals kick off tonight, with three teams that everyone might have expected to make it this far, and Toronto FC one of the four as the surprise team left. Los Angeles FC and the Seattle Sounders battle for the Western Conference final on Tuesday night, with Atlanta United and TFC set to face off at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Wednesday to determine who will earn the right to play for the MLS Cup.
Where the MLS Cup Final will be played will be determined tonight should LAFC advance to their first-ever final in their second season. Should Seattle prevail, they would travel to Atlanta, or host Toronto, depending on the outcome of Wednesday's game.
Our preview of the two games breaks down what to expect on the field, in the penultimate round of the 2019 MLS season.
LAFC vs Seattle Sounders
Tuesday, October 29, 10 PM ET
As the top seed in the West, LAFC had to win just one game to get to this point in the playoffs. After suffering a first-round defeat at home last year in the playoffs against Real Salt Lake, all LAFC needed to do this year was to beat their rivals, the LA Galaxy, after failing to do so in their first five matchups. Bob Bradley's side let things get more interesting than they should have been, wasting a two-goal lead from Carlos Vela to concede an equalizer early in the second half.
However, that still left time for Diego Rossi to score the go-ahead goal and for Adama Diomande to score a brace, offsetting a goal from Rolf Feltscher in a wild 5-3 win for LAFC. It wasn't the most convincing of displays, especially defensively, with Walker Zimmerman coming on as a substitute and Dejan Jakovic getting a rare start.
The outcome was all that mattered, though, and one of the most prolific teams in league history is now on the doorstep of making their first MLS Cup final, in just their second-ever season. Standing in their way is Brian Schmetzer's side, which survived a scare in the first round of the playoffs against FC Dallas. Jordan Morris scored a hat trick, including the extra-time winner, but the Sounders blew a two-goal lead in the first half and needed several excellent saves from Stefan Frei to avoid falling behind before Morris' game-winning goal.
There was a bit less drama in their conference semifinal game, as the Sounders used their home-field advantage to see off RSL. Gustav Svensson and Nicolas Lodeiro provided the goals, which put the Sounders a win away from making their third MLS Cup final in four years.
The two sides have not met since April when they played in back-to-back games. LAFC won at home, where Tuesday's night game will be played at Banc of California Stadium, 4-1, with the next week providing a 1-1 stalemate between the two.
A win for LAFC will lend credence to what Bradley has created in the City of Angels, though for the season to go down as one of the absolute best ever in MLS history, LAFC need to win the Cup. Should Seattle take the game, Schmetzer will continue to cement his own legacy, having guided one of the more storied clubs in league history to yet another MLS Cup Final under his watch.
Atlanta United vs Toronto FC
Wednesday, October 30, 8 PM ET
Many might have found Atlanta's presence in this game, as the second seed in the Eastern Conference, a mild surprise given how the season started under new manager Frank De Boer. Tasked with replacing the loveable Gerardo Martino, who had just guided the Five Stripes to MLS Cup glory in just their second season, De Boer was not going to have the services of Miguel Almiron, who helped dictate play on the field for United over the first two seasons.
De Boer tinkered heavily with his side early on, as Atlanta tried to navigate through their first-ever appearance in the Concacaf Champions League. But their first league win didn't come until the fifth game of the season, a 2-0 win over the New England Revolution, who Atlanta beat in the first round of the playoffs. Shortly thereafter, De Boer's side reeled off five wins in a row and seven wins in nine games, seemingly righting the ship.
A big part of the resurgence was Josef Martinez, who set the goal scoring record in the league in 2018 (though was usurped by Vela in 2019). The Venezuelan smashed the record he co-owned with Diego Valeri, scoring in an incredible 15 consecutive games during the season. A slow start to the season, combined with missing a couple of games due to involvement at the Copa America, meant that Martinez finished third in the goal-scoring charts in 2019, but the menacing striker still found the back of the net 27 times, to give him 77 regular-season goals in just three MLS seasons.
After downing the Revolution in the first round of the playoffs, Atlanta reached their second consecutive Eastern Conference final by beating the Philadelphia Union 2-0 last week. Thanks to TFC's upset of New York City FC, that meant another game at MBS for the Five Stripes, giving the side a prime opportunity to defend their cup.
While Atlanta had to figure out life without Almiron in 2019, Toronto had to the same after Sebastian Giovinco's departure after a stellar career in MLS. The Reds weren't able to bring in a replacement for the Atomic Ant for their Champions League campaign but still got Alejandro Pozuelo into the side early in the season, announcing his arrival with a wonderful brace against NYCFC at the end of March.
A midseason swoon of eight games without a win made life tough for Greg Vanney's team, who was looking to make the playoffs after missing out in 2018. However, the 2017 MLS Cup champions finished the season on a 10-game unbeaten streak, earning fourth place in the East on Decision Day. That meant TFC hosted D.C. United in the first round of the playoffs, which resulted in a smashing 5-1 victory, thanks to four goals in the first half of extra time.
TFC then went on the road and took down NYCFC, thanks to two goals from Pozuelo. So TFC won't be too intimidated by a trip to MBS, especially considering that they have managed to make it this far in the playoffs without the services of Jozy Altidore, who is uncertain to play on Wednesday night.
TFC beat their counterparts in the most recent meeting, a 3-2 win in Toronto in June. Atlanta won the first game between the two most recent MLS Cup winners this year though, a 2-0 result back in May. A tight affair between the two sides will see one of these clubs battle for a second MLS Cup trophy in their team's history.