10 Players That Could Decide the 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs
With the 2020 MLS Cup playoffs just days away, now feels like a good time to take a look at some of the players that are likely to make a big impact in the coming weeks.
The postseason kicks off on Friday, November 20, and supporters of every club will be hoping that their star players can produce a series of trophy-winning performances.
Can Diego Rossi fire LAFC to MLS Cup glory? Or will Andre Blake be the hero for Philly?
Here are 10 players that could decide the 2020 MLS Cup playoffs.
Diego Rossi – LAFC
It only makes sense to start with this year’s MLS Golden Boot winner, right?
It is no secret that LAFC has not been at their best this season. After all, the Black & Gold ended up finishing seventh in the Western Conference and only just scraped into the playoffs.
But Diego Rossi has remained a constant goalscoring threat throughout the campaign.
The Uruguayan ended the regular season with 14 goals in 19 games, finishing two goals clear of Raul Ruidiaz (Seattle Sounders), Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew), and Robert Beric (Chicago Fire).
Having netted in each of his last three appearances, Rossi will surely be confident of carrying his momentum into the postseason and guiding Bob Bradley’s side to the latter stages of the competition.
With Carlos Vela sidelined for much of 2020 due to injury, Rossi has stepped up in the MVP’s absence. The 22-year-old has established himself as LAFC’s main source of goals, so I can see him having a big impact on the playoffs.
Raul Ruidiaz – Seattle Sounders
Raul Ruidiaz’s record is nothing short of ridiculous for Seattle. The Peruvian has bagged 40 goals in just 62 appearances in all competitions since joining the Sounders in 2018, and he has helped his team reach the playoffs for the third season running.
The forward missed five regular-season games this term, yet he still managed to notch up 12 goals and four assists. He narrowly missed out on the Golden Boot, although I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he surpassed Rossi in the overall goalscoring charts.
Ruidiaz’s ability to score in spurts makes him the perfect playoff striker. Indeed, he has only gone two games without a goal on one occasion this season.
Only two teams scored more goals than Seattle in the West this year, and that is largely down to Ruidiaz. He netted his third goal in four games as the Sounders crushed San Jose Earthquakes 4-1 last time out.
Needless to say, the goal-hungry Peruvian is ready for the playoffs.
Chris Mueller – Orlando City
It feels like Chris Mueller has been around for a while now, doesn’t it?
The 24-year-old is closing in on a century of appearances for Orlando, and after showing great promise over the past couple of seasons, 2020 has undoubtedly been his breakthrough year.
Along with fellow forwards Daryl Dike and Nani, Mueller has led the Lions’ playoff charge this term. The versatile winger has been at the heart of everything good about Orlando in recent months, with many believing that he deserves a spot in this year’s MLS Best XI.
Mueller burst onto the scene by scoring three goals in the opening two games at the MLS is Back Tournament, before adding a further seven during the regular season.
He has also found a creative spark this year, contributing five assists, while a spectacular free-kick in a 4-1 victory over Atlanta United last month further enhanced his glowing reputation.
Following five failed attempts, Orlando has finally reached the playoffs for the first time in the club’s history. If Mueller continues to shine, the Lions could be a roaring success in the coming weeks.
Alejandro Pozuelo – Toronto FC
Greg Vanney was recently asked if Alejandro Pozuelo was the best player in MLS. The Toronto head coach replied, “It’s hard to argue that”.
Yes, it really is hard to argue that, especially when you consider the season that the Spanish midfielder has enjoyed up to now.
Pozuelo could barely have dreamed of a better start to the campaign. He lit up the MLS is Back Tournament, registering five assists in the first two matches in Florida. Since then, he hasn’t really stopped.
The former Swansea City man has racked up nine goals and four assists in his last 20 appearances, although his influence on the team is even greater. Pozuelo keeps Toronto ticking, creating multiple opportunities every single game.
It was always going to be difficult to replace Reds legend Sebastian Giovinco, but it feels like Pozuelo is doing a pretty good job at filling his boots.
Toronto lost in the MLS Cup final last year. Pozuelo could be the man to help the Ontario outfit go one better this time around.
Andre Blake – Philadelphia Union
More often than not, it is attacking players that are tipped to make the difference in the playoffs. But Andre Blake’s role for Philadelphia cannot be overstated.
The goalkeeper missed the Union’s final two regular-season outings after fracturing his hand against Chicago Fire, but head coach Jim Curtin has said that Blake is on course to recover in time for the first playoff match.
Fear not, Philly supporters!
Blake has been one of the standout goalkeepers in MLS throughout 2020. The Jamaica international has only conceded 21 goals in 24 appearances this year while keeping nine clean sheets along the way.
Fresh from winning their first-ever Supporters’ Shield, the U will be brimming with confidence. The return of Blake is only going to enhance the club’s chances of claiming more silverware this season.
Valentin Castellanos – New York City
It’s fair to say that Valentin Castellanos struggled during the early stages of the campaign. The Argentine fell out of favor after a below-par showing at the MLS is Back Tournament and found himself featuring predominantly as a substitute when the regular season resumed.
However, Castellanos has recently become a star performer for the Boys in Blue. With the playoffs just around the corner, the youngster has definitely peaked at the right time.
NYC head coach Ronny Deila has consistently picked the 22-year-old in his starting XI over the past couple of months, and the forward has not let his boss down. Castellanos has bagged six goals and two assists his last seven outings, including a hat-trick against the Red Bulls.
Earlier in the campaign, Castellanos was merely a fringe player. But as we head into the postseason, he is now one of the first names on Deila’s team sheet.
Momentum is key at this stage of the season. If Castellanos can continue to fire, he will almost certainly have a big say in the outcome of the playoffs.
Chris Wondolowski – San Jose Earthquakes
At the ripe old age of 37, you would think that Chris Wondolowski is past his best now. But like a fine wine, the veteran striker just keeps on getting better.
Of course, Wondolowski has been in an out of Matias Almeyda’s team this year. That is only natural for a player of his age. But when he has been called up, the San Jose legend has stepped up to the mark and delivered.
Wondo netted a brace against Real Salt Lake last month to put the Quakes within touching distance of the postseason. A few days later, he scored in a famous 3-2 victory over LAFC as San Jose booked their place in the playoffs.
We will be starting a petition for Wondo not to retire. Let us know if you’re interested in signing.— San Jose Earthquakes (@SJEarthquakes) November 5, 2020
We all know that San Jose is not among the bookies’ favorites to win the MLS Cup. In fact, the Goonies are rank outsiders. But with Wondolowski – the greatest goalscorer in MLS history – still hitting the target at a rapid rate, anything is possible.
Wondo is due to retire at the end of the season. Could he write a fairytale ending to a remarkable career?
Carlos Vela – LAFC
After being named the MVP and claiming the Golden Boot last year, it looked as though Carlos Vela would continue his domination of MLS in 2020.
Unfortunately, a lengthy injury has seen the LAFC forward spend the majority of the current campaign on the sidelines.
But if you look at Vela’s record before and after his injury, it’s easy to make a case for him excelling in the playoffs. The Mexican scored two goals in three games before his injury, and he has already notched up two goals and one assist in four outings since his return.
At the end of the day, you’d be foolish to bet against Vela firing LAFC to MLS Cup glory. Sure, he has only played eight games this year. But he is still one of the best players in the league, if not the best.
Write Vela off at your peril!
Tim Melia – Sporting Kansas City
Sporting KC ended up clinching top spot in the Western Conference by beating RSL 2-0 on the final day of the regular season. Despite finishing level with Seattle and Portland on 39 points, Peter Vermes’ side was awarded first place, with the standings being decided on a points-per-game basis.
Not only were the Wizards one of the highest scorers in the West this year, they also finished with the third-best defensive record in the division. SKC’s backline has been sturdy throughout the campaign, with goalkeeper Tim Melia playing a starring role.
Melia has been one of the most consistent performers in MLS this year, but in recent weeks, the experienced shot-stopper appears to have upped his game.
The 34-year-old finished the regular season with three straight clean sheets, meaning he has now achieved five shutouts in his last 11 appearances.
With the solid center-back pairing of Winston Reid and Roberto Puncec ahead of him, Melia looks set to carry his eye-catching regular-season form into the playoffs.
Diego Valeri – Portland Timbers
When Diego Valeri joined the Timbers all the way back in 2013, few could have predicted the impact that he would make in Oregon.
After guiding Portland to the MLS Cup in 2015 and picking up the MVP award in 2017, it’s safe to say that Valeri is a living legend at Providence Park.
The Timbers’ MLS is Back Tournament triumph earlier this year has only enhanced his status. The club captain contributed two goals and two assists in Florida, before adding a further seven goals and four assists when the regular season resumed.
Valeri has been a fountain of creativity throughout the campaign, although that is not a shock. I’m expecting the Argentine magician to add to his tally in the coming weeks, making Portland a genuine title challenger.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for the playoffs to get underway!
Remember, the postseason commences on Friday, November 20, with the 2020 MLS Cup final scheduled for Saturday, December 12.
If you think any other players deserved mention in this post, why not share your opinions in the comments section below?
Keep an eye out in our soccer picks section for MLS predictions and betting previews as the playoffs draw nearer. I’ve also taken an initial look at the 2020 MLS Cup odds and given my thoughts on the likely winners.