Previewing the MLS Cup Playoffs outside of Orlando City

Oct 9, 2022; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles FC forward Kwadwo Opoku (22) dribble the ball
Oct 9, 2022; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles FC forward Kwadwo Opoku (22) dribble the ball / Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports
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The Western Conference is led by the Supporters' Shield champions LAFC, who get a bye to start the playoffs. LAFC dominated the league at the midpoint of the season, but nearly lost out on the regular season championship after a massive dip in form in late summer. This is the most talented team in the league and a clear frontrunner for MLS Cup.

Nashville SC and the Los Angeles Galaxy will face off for the chance to play at LAFC in the conference semifinals. Nashville is led by golden boot winner Hany Mukhtar, while the Galaxy boast an in-form Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez and arguably the best player in MLS right now in midfielder Riqui Puig.

The No. 2 seed is second-year darlings Austin FC. Austin came out swinging after a promising expansion season and vaulted to a home playoff game, led by MVP candidate Sebastian Driussi, one of the best all-around attacking players in MLS. Austin faces an endlessly gritty Real Salt Lake squad led by second-year manager Pablo Mastroeni.

RSL doesn't have the pure talent of Austin FC, but it's a team that fights incredibly hard and can be stingy defensively. If Jefferson Savarino or Sergio Cordova make a play, it could be a long night in Austin for the home fans.

The final first round matchup out west stays in the Lone Star state as USMNT feeder program FC Dallas squares up against former Orlando City head coach Adrian Heath and Minnesota United. Minnesota squeaked into the playoffs on decision day after a horrible stretch run to close the season, but attacking midfielder Emmanuel Reynoso has shown in the past his ability to dominate in big games.

FC Dallas is led by USMNT forward Jesus Ferreria, arguably the best young players in CONCACAF. He's supported by USMNT winger Paul Arriola and Argentine wunderkind Alan Velasco to form one of the more intriguing and watchable teams in the postseason.