The single-elimination MLS Cup Playoffs will kick off on Friday as the bottom-four qualifiers in the Eastern Conference will face off in a play-in round to get into the main knockout bracket.

MLS Cup Playoffs Odds
The New England Revolution will host the Montreal Impact in a play-in game as the MLS Cup Playoffs begin on Friday. (Image: Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today Sports)

The New England Revolution will play host to the Montreal Impact, while Nashville SC will take on expansion side Inter Miami.

Henry Leads Displaced Impact to Postseason

The play-in round allows teams in the 14-team Eastern Conference to have similar chances of making the playoffs as those in the 12-team Western Conference. MLS used points per game to determine the teams that reached the playoffs, though that didn’t impact the Eastern Conference, where all 14 teams played a complete schedule of 23 games.

New England comes into the MLS Playoffs as the No. 8 seed in the east under the guidance of head coach Bruce Arena. The former USA national team head coach will face off against Thierry Henry, the French legend who is in his first year as the manager of the Impact.

Arena praised Henry for his accomplishments under difficult circumstances in his first season.

“One thing that I think that’s been challenging for Thierry, as well as it’s challenging for people like myself and all the other coaches in the league, is dealing with your players during the pandemic,” Arena told reporters at a virtual press conference. “It was magnified in the case of Montreal given the fact that they had to leave home and take up shop in New Jersey. That’s extremely challenging, and the fact that Thierry was able to get his team through this and qualify for the playoffs Is remarkable.”

Henry won a World Cup as a player with France in 1998 and has several European domestic titles to his name as well. But he’ll have a tough time guiding Montreal to a title this year. The Impact (+380) come in as a significant underdog to New England (-170) in their play-in game on Friday.

Nashville, Inter Miami Debut in MLS Playoffs

Oddsmakers expect the second play-in game to be closer. Nashville SC (+130) comes in as a slight favorite over Inter Miami (+190), thanks largely to Nashville’s home-field advantage.

The two clubs have something in common. Both clubs joined the league in 2020 and reached the MLS playoffs in their first seasons. But Nashville coach Gary Smith thinks his club deserves a little more credit in that regard than Miami.

MLS Cup Playoffs Odds (via FanDuel Sportsbook)
New England Revolution: -170 Draw: +300 Montreal Impact: +380
Nashville SC: +130 Draw: +220 Inter Miami CF: +190

“In any normal year, they wouldn’t have made it,” Smith told reporters, as his club finished as the No. 7 seed, while Miami ranked 10th in the Eastern Conference. “I would suspect that there’s probably a little bit more disappointment in their camp in the way that things have gone this year. However, they’ve certainly finished the season off in a decent run, and they’ve clinched that final spot, so they’ll be dangerous, there’s no doubt about it.”

Every team in the MLS playoffs will also have to battle another foe: the COVID-19 pandemic. ESPN reported Wednesday that teams that suffer outbreaks during the playoffs will likely have to forfeit their matches and exit the bracket.

The playoffs will move forward on an accelerated schedule, with the final two teams battling for the MLS Cup on Dec. 12.