The MLS Cup playoffs begin Saturday afternoon with a Philadelphia-New York Red Bulls, Sporting Kansas City-Vancouver doubleheader.
Here are four looming questions asked — and answered — by Minnesota United beat writer Jerry Zgoda.
Q. Can New England keep it rolling?
A. The Revolution crushed in the regular season when it set a single-season points record and won the Supporters' Shield with 73 points and a 22-5-7 record.
That won the Eastern Conference by 19 points over second-place Philadelphia – and would have won the West by 12 points over Colorado.
These now are the playoffs, not the regular season. And these playoffs, now for the third consecutive season, are a single-game knockout format rather than the "two-leg" system the league used for 15 years.
"Well, we're in Cup competition now, aren't we?" Minnesota United coach Adrian Heath said. "So it is a little different."
One bad game and any team can go home early.
The Revolution has its best players — namely Carles Gil, Adam Buksa and Gustavo Bou, "designated" players all — playing their best all season now headed into the playoffs.
It also has coach Bruce Arena, the former U.S. men's national team coach who has won five MLS Cups while coaching three different teams. An original MLS franchise back in 1996, New England also has home-field advantage as long as it keeps winning.
"Bruce Arena has had an incredible year," Heath said. "What he has done in a short period of time is huge. So they will be the favorite because they will be home all the way through. As long as they keep getting through, you would think they'd be the favorites."
Q. Is Colorado for real?
A. Coach Robin Fraser has turned the Rapids into contenders the past two years by building with depth, defense and more talent — much of it American grown — than you might think.
They won the West, a first-round bye and home-field advantage through their conference finals by beating out Seattle and Sporting Kansas City.
"They've had a great year," Heath said. "They have their own little formula now. It has worked well for them. They've got a little bit of everyone on that team."
Q. Who's bringing the turkey?
A. Colorado will open its playoff at home with a Thanksgiving afternoon game against the winner of Sunday's Loons-Portland game.
That's something new for MLS. The game will played at the same time as the NFL's Dallas-Las Vegas game.
"Obviously because I wasn't born here or am from here, Thanksgiving doesn't have the same sort of resonance for me like it does for people in America," Heath said. "It'll be interesting to see what the crowd is. It will be interesting. Let's hope we have to cope with that."
Q. Who's the long shot?
A. Medina's own and Red Bulls 18-year-old Caden Clark calls his team one to watch after it clinched the East's final playoff spot with a draw on Decision Day. Sidetracked temporarily by a June appendectomy, Clark has seven career goals already, two of them in his first two MLS games late last season after the Loons traded his rights.
He's likely headed to play in Germany's Bundesliga when the Red Bulls' season ends.
The Red Bulls tied Nashville and Seattle for fewest goals allowed (33) this season. But Clark counts himself just one on his team who can create goals "out of nowhere." The Red Bulls begin Saturday afternoon at second-seeded Philadelphia.
"We're a dark horse team in these playoffs that can go far," Clark told MLSsoccer.com.