10 best players remaining in 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs
10 best players remaining in 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
The 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs conference final brackets are set.
With the conference semifinals in the books, the two No. 1-seeded teams are still alive and each is searching for its first ever title.
In the Eastern Conference, No. 1 Philadelphia Union will host defending champions No. 3 NYCFC. Then in the West, No. 1 LAFC will welcome No. 2 Austin FC to California. The winners of both games will advance to the MLS Cup Final on Nov. 5.
Ahead of the win-or-go-home matches on Sunday, here are the 10 best MLS players remaining from all four teams in the postseason:
Andre Blake, Union
Defense wins championships, and Andre Blake has continued his stellar form in the postseason. He led MLS in regular-season clean sheets (15), then saved all of FC Cincinnati’s five shots on target in their postseason meeting, which was also Philadelphia’s first after earning a first-round bye. If he remains a rock between the sticks, good luck trying to beat the Union.
If NYCFC wants to get past Blake, then Héber might be that guy. The 31-year-old Brazilian forward has netted in each of the last three games, including the regular-season finale. Now is the perfect time to peak as the games wind down, and his recent touch in front of goal must be respected by Philadelphia’s backline, along with whichever team NYCFC would face if they reach the final.
Carlos Vela, LAFC
Carlos Vela is just a magnet anytime he gets the ball and is always a threat to pull off a majestic shot or pass when afforded space. He logged an assist against LA Galaxy in the Western Conference semifinals that warped into an intense “El Tráfico” derby. LAFC will need him to sustain his creativity if they want their first ever MLS Cup.
Sebastián Driussi, Austin
Though not a No. 1 seed, the second-seeded Austin is also hunting for its first title, and Sebastián Driussi is the headliner catching everyone’s attention. The 26-year-old Argentine striker currently leads all players in postseason goals (3) and will be a threat to LAFC’s low block whenever they have possession. He’s also leading all players in on-target scoring attempts (7), so his shots are still proving a threat even if not hitting the back of the net.
Dániel Gazdag, Union
Philadelphia possesses a top-quality shot blocker at the back and a prolific goal-scoring machine in the front. Hungarian 26-year-old striker Dániel Gazdag had 22 regular-season goals but didn’t make the score sheet against Cincinnati. Regardless, his quality in front of goal cannot be denied and he might need to come up big at some point if the Union are to win it all.
Santiago Rodríguez, NYCFC
New York’s link-up play in the playoffs has been nothing short of scintillating thus far. Teammates are reading each other’s movements brilliantly and are executing passes in the final third with pure class. Clever little backheels and one-touch passing will always be tough to counter if enacted to perfection, which is where Santiago Rodríguez comes in. The 22-year-old Uruguayan attacking midfielder had 13 assists in the regular season and leads all players with two thus far. His connection with Héber will be paramount.
Denis Bouanga, LAFC
In the midst of Gareth Bale missing games due to injury, Denis Bouanga has been called upon to step up on the wing. The 27-year-old has responded in a pivotal way, scoring two goals against Galaxy to propel his club to the next round. It’s unclear if Bale will play a part in LAFC’s run after joining the team over the summer for this exact reason, but he won’t be missed too much if Bouanga can supply a similar threat – so far, he’s done exactly that.
Diego Fagúndez, Austin
Speaking of Uruguayan attacking midfielders, next up is Austin’s Diego Fagúndez. The 27-year-old also logged 13 assists in the regular season and has one in the postseason. However, his seven key passes are tied for second in the playoffs and his 88.6% pass completion percentage is among the top so far for the areas he occupies on the pitch. Having an unlocker profile on the field who can deliver killer line-breaking passes is extremely imperative to creating chances and ultimately winning games, and Austin has more than just him capable of doing so.
Cristian Arango, LAFC
Two of LAFC’s main attackers made this list, so it makes sense to bring in the one leading the line: Cristian “Chicho” Arango. He pounced on a loose ball to score the late game-winner against Galaxy and will need to build on that after finding the net 17 times during the regular season. LAFC lifted the Supporters’ Shield due to their goal-scoring prowess, and when you have a front three of Vela, Bouanga and Arango who are all versatile and can interchange roles as the game progresses, you’ll be a tough team to beat – which they’ve proved all year.
Jon Gallagher, Austin
Rounding this out is Austin’s Jon Gallagher, the aforementioned player who has furnished quality passes in the postseason. His eight key passes are tied for the most so far, and the 26-year-old from Ireland can slot into various positions: left winger and left-back are his main two, but he can also play right winger, right-back or tuck into midfield. He’s right-foot dominant, but his ability to cut inside from the left flank has been a clutch weapon for Austin when dissecting defenses and they’ll need him to continue creating chances for players like Driussi.