Scars And Stripes Episode 15: Play-Off Promises & Potential

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We’re into the play-offs yet again after a record-breaking season where we secured the most ever points (83) of a side in the MLS. It’s all very nice but I want to go all the way- particularly as we fell short at the final hurdle last season.

I’m unlikely to lose my job but from a personal perspective anything other than MLS glory would be a disappointment and would mean we’ve fallen short of our expectations for the second year in a row. NACL and Supporter’s Cup glory is all well and good but we’ve blitzed the league this season- and now it’s time to make it count.

Columbus are first up and it should be a very tight affair, as we drew 1-1 in the early stages of the season and only managed to win 1-0 later in the year. In the first-leg away from home, the only notable absentees are Filippo De Col and Benjamin Kuscevic, who are both suspended.

It seems we’ll hold out for a credible goalless draw but a late goal gives them the advantage. In the second-leg though, Josef Martinez nets a first-half brace to put us ahead in the tie but the work isn’t done yet but we completely blitz the match after the interval.

An own-goal sets us on our way before Andrew Carelton and Steven Lucimi net either side of Martinez’s hat-trick goal. We’re into the conference final and I’m confident we can retain our crown as the best side in the Eastern division for the third consecutive season.

Our opponents in the final are the New York Red Bulls, who last won the conference in 2016, ahead of our dominating spell, and who have never won the MLS outright. Sorry boys, I don’t want that to change this year.

Against the Red Bulls this season we won both games, 4-1 and 2-0 respectively, so I’m confident of our ability here over two legs. We have a massive blow ahead of the match though as De Col has broken his leg in training, putting him out of action for months. All eyes on teenager Jonathan Stokes, who has ten appearances for the club so far but they’ve mostly come off the bench. On the bright side, Carleton has just been capped for the US senior side.

We’ve never, ever lost to New York. Ever. After two minutes, Toko Ekambi puts us ahead and another own goal (we always get them in the play-offs) doubles our advantage. It finishes 5-1. There’s still another game to go but we’re pretty much already in the MLS final. Too easy. With a 3-0 win in the second-leg, making it 8-1 on aggregate, we’re once again through to the MLS Final.

Our opponents are LA Galaxy, the most successful side in MLS history. Like us, they too had a dominating spell between 2011 and 2014, winning the honour three times, but the latter of those successes was their last. Incidentally, we played them once this year and lost- the only defeat this season where our squad wasn’t decimated by international call-ups.

Redemption is therefore on the cards and the match takes place just days after our victory over New York and a week before we head to the Club World Cup. There’s no time for rotation though, this is the pinnacle of our season. As such, it’s the strongest side we could possibly field- although it is, of course, a continued absence for De Col.

After an extremely close battle, Steven Lucimi eventually gives us the lead in the added minutes at the end of the first-half. After the break it’s a lot more open and, with Galaxy trying to exploit us to equalise, we’re able to take advantage courtesy of a brace from Toko Ekambi.

So, it’s another MLS glory. Ekambi’s average match rating of 7.68 from 30 matches is a league record, Marian Sarr wins the Comeback Player of the Year (me neither) and Ekambi finishes ahead of Matheusinho and Josef Martinez in the MVP award.

For the third consecutive year, Martinez is the league’s top scorer and Robin Tsosie, who has developed spectacularly this season, is voted as the best keeper. Another clean sweep comes in the Defender of the Year award, where Alan Cardoso pips Sarr and De Col to the award.

Finally, I’m Coach of the Year once more and the MLS XI features seven of my players- although intriguingly not Martinez, which is bizarre.

Next up: The Club World Cup.