The neutral’s guide to the MLS playoffs: Eastern Conference edition

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Seven months ago, Major League Soccer kicked off its 20th season with 20 teams, an all-time league high. Now, one day before the league’s postseason begin, the field has been trimmed to 12, but if you’ve focused your soccer attention on other leagues, you may have missed how and why the final dozen have survived into late October.

Take heart, MLS-adjacent friend: We’re here to help.  You’re neutral, you’re curious, and we’re committed to bridging taht gap. With our Western Conference view set for Wednesday, here’s Ryan Rosenblatt with who to watch and who will win – our neutral’s guide to the Eastern Conference playoffs:

Who to watch

So here’s the thing about the Eastern Conference: it’s not very good. But now that we’re in the playoffs, that doesn’t really matter. One of these teams is going to MLS Cup, every match is of huge importance and, more than anything else, the lack of quality can turn into hilarious stupidity. That is vital to premium entertainment.

Toronto FC’s Sebastian Giovinco is a little bit of all of those, although the stupidity is usually reserved for those wearing a different colored shirt than him. The Italian is MLS’s MVP (if anyone else wins it, cancel the league) in part because of his 22 goals, in part because of his 16 assists, and in part because he made opposing defenses question his humanity by disrobing them in front of tens of thousands of people. He is wonderful, and he comes with the bonus point of making other teams cry. It’s fun to watch adults cry over sports.

SEE MORE: Giovinco, Larin lead our 2015 MLS awards.

Watching D.C. United do anything would make anyone cry, but goalkeeper Bill Hamid single-handedly keeps them from giving up double-digit goals on a regular basis. That alone is potentially the most amazing feat in MLS and still doesn’t make them watchable … The Columbus Crew have joint-leading scorer Kei Kamara, magician Federico Higuain and human metronome Wil Trapp. Plus, there’s Ethan Finlay, who is doing all he can to make Jurgen Klinsmann call him up to the national team, save hold the manager up at gunpoint … Didier Drogba is all you need to justify watching the Montreal Impact, and the same is true of Lee Nguyen and the New England Revolution … The New York Red Bulls come with either history, bringing MLS Cup to the Big Apple for the first time ever, or hilarity, watching their fans try to explain how the Supporters’ Shield is all that matters anyway.

Entertainment rankings, teams

  1. Toronto FC – Giovinco will try to save the cursed team in MLS.
  2. Columbus Crew – no team has more players that could embarrass you except the Galaxy, but the Crew players can all still run.
  3. New York Red Bulls – goals are entertaining enough.
  4. Montreal Impact – disrespect Drogba and get outed as the child of Satan.
  5. New England Revolution – Jay Heaps really likes to wear sweaters with his suits.
  6. D.C. United – their best player is their goalkeeper.

SEE MORE: Beckerman, Jones, Borchers highlight our 2015 MLS All-Hair team.

Entertainment rankings, players

  1. Sebastian Giovinco – he is what happens when you mix magic and peak aerodynamics.
  2. Didier Drogba – even his dramatic falls and faking of injuries are hilarious.
  3. Ethan Finlay – watch opposing defenders’ knees tremble.
  4. Lee Nguyen – his hair isn’t even the best thing about him.
  5. Bill Hamid – watching one player keep an entire team at bay is magnificent.
  6. Kei Kamara – he’s the best goal celebrator in MLS, and he scores a lot of them.

But what’s going to win?

If momentum is a thing, the Crew will make it to MLS Cup. They put a hellacious beatdown on D.C. in the final match of the regular season despite playing without Kamara and Higuain. But MLS history tells us that momentum matters about as much as the Colorado Rapids.

SEE MORE: Capsules for all four MLS knockout round matchups.

The Revolution should be good — after all, they’re not too different from the team that made the final a year ago — but they have neither a dynamic attack nor a steadfast defense, so it might take a bit of magic. Then there’s the Canadian party of two, both led by European superstars. Montreal’s best chance is that Drogba earns them an extra goal each match on swag alone, while Toronto hope that Giovinco can make up for a defense as ironclad as an MLS roster rule.

That leaves the Red Bulls and United.

One was the best team in the regular season, have a bonafide goalscorer (Bradley Wright-Phillips), a budding young star in defense (Matt Miazga) and are the epitome of how to build a really good team on a modest budget. If your uncle won’t shut up about how sports were “back in the day,” give him a beer, turn on the Red Bulls and enjoy two hours of freedom while he mutters offensive things to himself.

The other’s best player is their goalkeeper and they haven’t gotten a point against a playoff team since Aug. 8.

SEE MORE: MLS sees ratings increase on FOX, ESPN for 2015 season.

Most likely to actually win

  1. New York Red Bulls
  2. Columbus Crew
  3. New England Revolution
  4. Toronto FC
  5. Montreal Impact
  6. D.C. United
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