Neither the Columbus Crew nor the New England Revolution were among the top choices to win the MLS Cup when the Major League Soccer playoffs began. Now, both clubs sit just one game away from the MLS Cup Final, as Columbus hosts New England in the Eastern Conference final on Sunday.
Both the Crew and Revolution have impressed throughout the postseason, finding their rhythm just in time to make unexpected runs at the title.
Columbus Overcomes COVID-19 Setbacks
Columbus started its playoff run with a 3-2 win over the New York Red Bulls. The Crew then shut out Nashville SC 2-0 in the conference semifinals, with both goals coming in extra time.
“We’ve won three in a row, we’ve won four out of the last five, and our players are full of confidence,” Columbus head coach Caleb Porter told reporters. “We are defending well and we are scoring goals, and that’s exactly the way you want it to happen. You want to be peaking at the right time in the postseason, and that’s exactly what happened.”
Columbus proved its resilience in the win over Nashville. Seven players tested positive for COVID-19 in the week before the game, limiting both the gameday roster and the team’s ability to train.
While most of those players have returned to the team, it’s unclear exactly who will be available against New England. The Crew has listed starting goalkeeper Eloy Room as questionable.
“If you can imagine a player for 10 days being quarantined with no training, no fitness because we aren’t able to do anything physically with them that would raise their heart rate, it becomes very difficult and tricky for these guys coming back in to be able to play a major role,” Porter said of the situation.
Gil Return Sparks Revolution Playoff Run
New England entered the playoffs as the No. 8 seed in the east. After beating the Montreal Impact 2-1 in a play-in game, the Revolution upset the No. 1 seed Philadelphia Union 2-0, then beat Orlando City 3-1 in the conference semis.
That run may seem incredible to those who haven’t watched New England all season. But, the return of designated player Carles Gil has sparked the team after he played just six games during the regular season due to an Achilles injury. Gil scored two goals and added three assists during the playoffs, showing perfect chemistry with fellow designated players Gustavo Bou and Adam Buksa. The trio combined to score all but one of New England’s postseason goals.
“We didn’t practice together a lot, we haven’t played that many games together, but playing with Carles is much easier because he creates space,” Buksa told reporters. He’s a great player, one of the top players in MLS, and as I was saying before, I really missed him because having such a No. 10 midfielder on the team is simply much easier for the striker to create chances and finish them.”
With both teams red-hot heading into Sunday, oddsmakers see little to choose between in the Eastern Conference final. FanDuel lists New England (+150) as the slightest of favorites over Columbus (+155) in what feels like a true toss-up match for a spot in the MLS Cup Final.