Philadelphia welcomes Red Bulls to rivalry to open MLS playoffs


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New York Red Bulls defenseman Sean Nealis, center, tries to lead the ball with Nashville SC’s Jack Maher, left, and Walker Zimmerman (25) in the first half of an MLS football game on Sunday 7 November 2021, in Nashville, Tenn (AP Photo / Mark Humphrey)

PA

The last time the Philadelphia Union faced the New York Red Bulls to open the Major League Soccer playoffs was in 2019. And it was memorable, especially for the Union.

Philadelphia was 3-1 behind in the first half, coming back and winning 4-3 in overtime. Marco Fabian scored the game-winning goal in the 105th minute. It was the Union’s first playoff victory.

“I have fond memories of that 2019 game against Red Bull. We obviously made playoff history for the club by winning the first game,” Union captain Alejandro Bedoya said. “But it’s a whole new year and a whole new season, a whole new team with different players, so hopefully we’ll perform at a level where we’re not going to lose 2-0 or 3-1 to have to to recover.

The two teams face off again to open the playoffs on Saturday as the league returns to play after an international break.

Philadelphia secured the second seed in the Eastern Conference behind Supporters’ Shield winner New England, who are awarded a first-round bypass. This is the Union’s fourth consecutive playoff trip.

Last year, after winning the Fan Shield, the Union fell to the Revolution in the first round.

The Red Bulls, who have made the playoffs 12 straight years, finished seventh seed.

The two teams have met three times this season, with Union winning first at home followed by two draws at Red Bull Arena.

“We’ve made some interesting appearances over the past few months, we’ve had a three-chance win against Philly, and right now we have one more chance,” said Red Bulls coach Gerhard Struber. “We’re still very, very close to scoring points against Philly.”

VANCOUVER WHITECAPS at SPORTING KANSAS CITY, Saturday

The two teams have never met in the playoffs, but they have met twice in the regular season this year, sharing the results.

Vancouver, sixth seed in the Western Conference, earned a playoff berth for the first time since 2017. The Whitecaps are leading a six-game unbeaten streak and are led by Brian White with 12 goals and five assists.

Kansas City, the third seed, has 16 goals from Daniel Salloi.

Last season, Sporting went from the first round to penalties after a 3-3 draw against the San Jose earthquakes. Kansas City fell in the conference semifinals to Minnesota.

ATLANTA UNITED AT NEW YORK CITY FC, Sunday

Both teams have played twice in the regular season, with the NYCFC winning the first before a draw in Atlanta. They’ve met once in the playoffs before, with Atlanta winning 4-1 overall in the 2018 Eastern Conference two-legged semi-finals.

Atlanta won the MLS Cup championship that year against the Portland Timbers.

NYCFC, making their sixth straight playoff appearance, fell to Orlando in the first round last year.

Fourth-seeded NYCFC is leading a five-game unbeaten streak in the playoffs. The team is led by Valentin “Taty” Castellanos, who won the Golden Boot this season with 19 goals. He also had eight assists.

Josef Martinez has scored 12 goals this season for fifth-seeded Atlanta.

MINNESOTA UNITED at PORTLAND TIMBERS, Sunday

Fifth-seeded Minnesota has won both games against the Timbers this season, extending a seven-game unbeaten streak in the series. Portland, fourth seed, hasn’t won against the Loons since 2018.

The Timbers won the MLS Cup in 2015 and finished second in 2018. It’s the fifth straight season they’ve made the playoffs.

The Loons are playing in the playoffs for the third straight year. They won their first playoff game last year in the opening round against Colorado, then beat Sporting KC in the conference semifinals before losing to the Sounders.

Felipe Mora leads the Timbers with 11 goals while Robin Lod has nine for the Loons.

ORLANDO CITY in NASHVILLE SC, Tuesday

Nashville won the third seed this year after becoming one of seven expansion teams to make the playoffs last year.

The two teams, who have never met in the playoffs, have faced each other three times this season, each time playing in a draw. Nashville has finished with 18 draws this season to tie a league record.

Sixth-seeded Orlando advanced to the playoffs with a 2-0 Decision Day victory over Montreal to end a four-game winless streak.

Hany Mukhtar has scored 16 goals for Nashville this season, including two straight goals from free kicks.

Nany and Daryl Dike each have 10 goals for Orlando this season.

REAL SALT LAKE at SEATTLE SOUNDERS, Tuesday

The two teams have met twice during the season, each winning at home. They have met three times in the playoffs, the last in 2019 when the Sounders won the Western Conference semi-final 2-0.

The second-seeded Sounders have advanced to the playoffs in each of their 13 seasons in the league, for the most consecutive playoff appearances in MLS history.

Seattle has made the MLS Cup final four times, winning the title in 2016 and 2019. Last year, the Sounders advanced to the final but fell to Columbus.

Seventh-seeded RSL has reached the MLS Cup title match twice, winning it in 2009.

Raul Ruidiaz leads the Sounders with 17 goals this year. He has nine goals and six assists in 10 career playoff games.

Damir Kreilach leads RSL with 16 goals this season.

LOOKING FORWARD

The winner of the first-round game between Portland and Minnesota will face the seeded Rapids in the Western Conference semifinals at Thanksgiving in Colorado.

The winner of the NYCFC-Atlanta game advances to face seeded New England in the Eastern Conference semifinals at Foxboro.

The MLS Cup final is set for December 11.

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