Michelle Kaufman

Michelle Kaufman: Now is the time to tune in to MLS

Even if you are one of those fans who just paid casual attention to Major League Soccer during the regular season, this is the week to tune in. The playoffs are under way, and if the first round was any indication, there could be some thrilling games ahead.

New England’s Juan Agudelo made TV highlights with his bicycle-kick goal, but D.C. United wound up advancing to the Eastern Conference semifinals with a 2-1 victory over the Revolution. Star-studded Toronto, with Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco, were knocked out by Didier Drogba’s less-glamorous Montreal Impact.

Out West, Seattle eliminated its nemesis Los Angeles Galaxy, and Portland sneaked in to the final eight with a 7-6 penalty shootout over Sporting KC after 90 minutes of regulation, 20 minutes of extra time and 22 penalty kicks. Timbers goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey made two saves and scored the winner in a shootout he said felt “like a movie.”

It was surely the most exciting 30 minutes of this MLS season.

And so, there are eight teams left standing. They play each other Sunday in a quadruple-header, the first half of a home-and-home series:

D.C. United vs. New York Red Bulls at 3 p.m.; Portland Timbers vs. Vancouver Whitecaps at 5 p.m.; Montreal Impact vs. Columbus Crew at 7 p.m.; and Seattle Sounders vs. FC Dallas at 9:30 p.m.

The question now is which four teams will survive and reach the conference finals?

My bet is New York, Montreal, Portland and Seattle, with Seattle winning it all.

New York has been the most consistent team all season, largely because of Sacha Kljestan’s smarts and calm demeanor. Seattle has the league’s most lethal forward duo in Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins. The Sounders also allowed just 36 goals, tied for best in MLS. As if that weren’t enough to give them an edge, they open the series at home, where passionate crowds of 44,000 make it the best atmosphere in the league.

▪ Strikers finale: The Fort Lauderdale Strikers entered the final weekend of the regular season on the brink of a playoff spot, but their fate was tangled with the Tampa Bay Rowdies, who played Saturday night. The Strikers play the Jacksonville Armada at 4 p.m. Sunday.

▪ Miami FC tryouts: Miami FC owner Riccardo Silva said Wednesday that “by Christmastime we will announce some players, some names, good players in the best of their career now playing in top European leagues.”

But coach Alessandro Nesta was more cautious in his promises.

“We are trying to have a good player from Europe, but it’s not easy,” Nesta said. “We are finding in South America and USA eight or nine players, but in Europe it’s very difficult. Salaries in Europe are very high. The owner here is a rich guy, but sometimes we can’t compare with the level in Europe.”

The club will host open tryouts Nov. 21–22 at Barry University (11300 NE 2nd Avenue, Miami Shores, 33161). Registration forms are available at www.miamifc.com.

▪ Pelé camp: The one and only Pelé, who turned 75 last week, will be hosting a two-day camp Nov. 21-22 in Miami. The camp, to be held at FIU, is a parent/son-daughter camp and costs $499. For more information, call 888-547-9072 or go to CBFcamps.com.

Who’s leading

NASL: Ottawa (44), Minnesota (38), New York (33), Fort Lauderdale (27), Edmonton (26).

EPL: Manchester City and Arsenal (22), West Ham and Manchester United (20), Leicester City (19).

La Liga: Real Madrid, Barcelona (21), Atletico Madrid (19), Celta Vigo (18), Villarreal (17).

Serie A: Roma (23), Naploli, Fiorentina and Inter (21), Sassuolo (18).

Ligue 1: PSG (29), Angers (22), Caen (21), ASSE and Lyon (19).

Bundesliga: Bayern Munich (30), Dortmund (23), Schalke 04 (19), Wolfsburg (18), Hertha (17).

On the tube

Sunday: Everton vs. Sunderland (8:25 a.m., NBCSN), D.C. vs. N.Y. (3 p.m., ESPN), Portland vs. Vancouver (5 p.m., ESPN); Columbus vs. Montreal (7 p.m., FS1), Dallas vs. Seattle (9:30 p.m., FS1).

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