Orlando City's season may be over, but there's still everything to play for in the Final Four of Major League Soccer in the conference finals. In the east, the Philadelphia Union host the reigning MLS Cup champions New York City FC. Out west, the Supporters' Shield winners Los Angeles FC host upstarts Austin FC with each team looking to make its first MLS Cup final appearance.
This has been a fairly uneventful playoff. There's been fun stories to look at and some attractive football being played, but little in the way of chaos or drama. Three of the top four seeds in the league are in the conference finals, and the lowest seed left is three-seed NYCFC, who won the league last season.
Despite the lack of a real underdog or upsets along the way, this is a powerhouse final four and sets up a potentially all-time MLS Cup final no matter who wins either conference.
The eastern matchup is a bit of a grudge match as a rematch of last season's conference final. Last year, Philadelphia was hit with COVID right before the game and missed most of its staring lineup because of it. New York ended up winning against Philly's reserves and won the whole league.
This time around, it'll be strength on strength. Both teams are near full strength and play some of the best soccer league wide. New York struggled after losing manager Ronny Deila and star striker Taty Castellanos, but the Cityzens are in red-hot form over the last month and in these playoffs.
Midfield dynamo Maxi Moralez continues to terrorize opposing defenses despite his age, and Brazilian striker is back to his pre-pandemic best after a goal in Montreal to help NYCFC advance to this point.
Philadelphia still boasts the best defense in the league, led by goalkeeper Andre Blake who made several saves in the playoff win against FC Cincinnati. The Jamaican will need to be at his best to get the Union to its first MLS Cup final.
In the west, LAFC are clear favorites as the most talented squad in the league. In a wild playoff game against the rival LA Galaxy, LAFC found another superstar in Designated Player Denis Bouanga. The Gaonese forward showed flashes in the regular season, and finally found the finishing touch against the Galaxy with a pair of goals.
Austin FC likes to say its been doubted by everyone, but Los Verdes had an amazing season en route to the No. 2 seed in the West. MVP candidate Sebastian Driussi had a phenomenal goal against FC Dallas that ened up being the game winner in the last round of the playoffs.
LAFC is the favorite, but Austin has enough match winners to break through to the MLS Cup final.