The wild card round of the 2016 MLS playoffs delivered two Canadian sides to the Eastern Conference semifinals, matched up against both New York City MLS clubs. Toronto FC the number three seed defeated the Philadelphia Union 3-1, and Montreal Impact blew out DC United 4-2 (DCU's goals arrived at the end of the game, when Montreal's four-goal lead had effectively secured the result).
So for the very first time in the MLS Cup playoffs we will see a city face an entire country: New York vs Canada. NYCFC will face Toronto, while the Red Bulls take on Montreal.
L'Impact laid down quite a marker for these playoffs: traveling down to RFK Stadium and basically wiping the floor with DC United. Montreal wouldn't stop scoring, getting two goals from Matteo Mancosu, the opener from Laurent Ciman within the first five minutes of the match, and the capper from Ignacio Piatti to propel themselves to their second consecutive Eastern Conference semifinal.
Now it's time for this Red Bulls side to try and get a result up at Stade Saputo. RBNY has only won once in the regular season in Montreal. Incidentally, that was when Jesse Marsch was the head coach of the Impact: a 2-1 victory at the Olympic Stadium after Ismail Elfath incorrectly gave both sides a penalty and a Dane Richards blast from outside the area got the full three points.
The playoffs don't generally see teams experiment with lineups or tactics. By this stage of the year, squads are settled and coaches mostly know their preferred starters and formations. Jesse Marsch knows what he expects of Montreal: "I think Montreal is very organized, they came into a very specific game plan and executed it well [against DC]. Getting a set piece goal very early means they can stick to their game plan and stay compact," he said.
"They are very dangerous on the counter, we've known that all year. They have already hurt us playing the counter against us. But we are still going up there and getting after them. We will push the game and make it hard for them. The playoffs are about being prepared for the challenge and we will be ready for them."
Mauro Biello has to make a decision about whether or not to start Didier Drogba, or even include the player in the match-day 18. But Marsch is not distracted by the gossip flowing out of Montreal: "I think they have a few places they can go with lineup selections, I think they can try with the formation so we will be prepared for that. We know the dangers they present, there are no riddles to solve here. It's more about execution and being prepared."
Alex Muyl is getting his first taste of MLS playoff soccer in his first season as a pro opportunity. "I was talking to Tyler Adams about it and it's definitely different when you're talking about playoffs and regular season," said Muyl. "But these are teams we've known about, teams we have faced before and we just focus on playing the game and not the occasion and get the job done."
The tactical battle between the two coaches will be interesting. Felipe has played for both - Biello was an assistant with L'Impact after Jesse Marsch's exit from the club.
"I think he is a good player and was technical enough in his day. He brings that for his team and wants technical players to come to the team," said Felipe. "He's very hungry to make a difference and a statement and to do well. He's been doing very well since he took the team and they are doing very well right now."
The stage is set and the first leg of this series will be at Stade Saputo in Montreal, Quebec, Canada as the New York Red Bulls will open up the first of four matches this Sunday in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. This should be a fantastic start and let's see if the Red Bulls will get the result they need to return to Red Bull Arena next week.