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ESPN FC  By ESPN

MLS playoff predictions: New York Red Bulls are the overwhelming favorites

The postseason kicks off on Wednesday and, ahead of that, we asked our writers to predict who will reach -- and who will win -- MLS Cup.

Jeff Carlisle

MLS Cup champion: New York Red Bulls

You have to go back to the 2008 Columbus Crew to find the last time an Eastern Conference regular season champion reached the MLS Cup final, but look for the Red Bulls to buck that trend. They were the class of the east and have better balance than any of the remaining teams. Hosting MLS Cup at Red Bull Arena would make New York a formidable opponent indeed.

Key player: Sacha Kljestan

Kljestan made a triumphant return to MLS this season with eight goals and 14 assists and is the attacking spark that makes the Red Bulls' offense go.

Western Conference champion: Seattle Sounders

A devastating front-line pairing of Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins, combined with a defense that -- with 36 goals conceded -- tied for the stingiest outfit in MLS, ought to be enough to get Seattle to its first MLS Cup final. Granted, a postseason path that includes longtime nemesis LA Galaxy looks daunting, but the Sounders have the quality at both ends of the field to get it done.

Key player: Osvaldo Alonso

For all the talk about Dempsey and Martins, Alonso remains a critical piece with his ability to win tackles, distribute the ball and otherwise provide an effective shield in front of the back line.

Doug McIntyre

MLS Cup champion: New York Red Bulls

Jesse Marsch's team was the best in the league during the regular season, and these Red Bulls have playoff chops, too, having come within a goal of reaching the MLS Cup final last year. D.C., New England and Toronto can't beat them and, while Columbus or Montreal could provide trickier tests, New York is 3-1-1 against those teams this season.

Key player: Sacha Kljestan

The U.S. national team vet hasn't had the attention of higher-profile MLS newcomers like Sebastian Giovinco or Didier Drogba but his quality, vast experience and calm demeanor -- off the field and on -- made him every bit as important to his team this season.

Western Conference champion: Seattle Sounders

Things rarely go according to plan in the MLS postseason, and if any team is capable of knocking off Western Conference top seeds FC Dallas or Vancouver, it's the Sounders. Sure, Seattle finished fourth, but it is the clear favorite against the slumping Galaxy and, with a win midweek, would open the conference semis at home. That momentum could carry the Sounders all the way to the final.

Key player: Obafemi Martins

It's no coincidence that Seattle struggles mightily when the Nigerian forward is not available. The Sounders are a different team when Martins is in the lineup and, with Dempsey, the pair forms the deadliest strike partnership in MLS.

MLS Cup Playoffs 2015 - SPI Simulations

Make Conf. Finals
Make MLS Cup
Win MLS Cup
New York Red Bulls
53.6%
31.7%
22.6%
FC Dallas
52.4%
28.7%
18.8%
Vancouver Whitecaps
48.9%
22.5%
13.5%
Portland Timbers
51.1%
24.0%
12.5%
Seattle Sounders
47.6%
24.9%
13.5%
Columbus Crew
49.6%
21.1%
8.5%
D.C. United
46.4%
25.4%
6.2%
Montreal Impact
50.4%
21.9%
4.5%

Graham Parker

MLS Cup champion: New York Red Bulls

D.C. are tiring, Toronto and Montreal may peak against each other, New England are not quite where they were last year and Columbus look to be getting their balance of defensive pragmatism and attacking flair right at just the right time. But the Red Bulls have been on a steady upward trajectory all season and have swiftly filled in the cracks any time they've faltered. Beyond their now-fabled "chip on the shoulder," they have what it takes to manage any eastern side over two legs and, unlike the 2010 Eastern Conference or 2013 Supporters' Shield winners, they look like a team whose season has yet to crest as they reach the playoffs. The consistency and collective strength of the Red Bulls, for so long a group of constantly rotated individuals in search of an identity, has outlasted everyone. If they bring the final to Red Bull Arena, this is the year they finally finish the job.

Key player: Sacha Kljestan

It's hard to pick out an individual, but Kljestan's movement and brains have gradually given the Red Bulls a crucial extra dimension as the season reached a climax.

Western Conference champion: Portland Timbers

Dallas is a year off its best and learning what's needed in playoff soccer and, despite an emphatic final-day win, Vancouver is dipping a little. LA and Sporting looked mutually shot on the final day of the regular season, and Seattle is dangerous without suggesting this is the group to finally break its playoff jinx. If Portland reaches the two-legged rounds, it will find a dominant half of soccer somewhere in each tie to get through on aggregate. They might not be the best team left in the West, but it might be the most effective team for this November.

Key player: Diego Chara

Moving Chara to a deeper holding role against the Galaxy last week just seemed to slot the last piece into place for a late-season surge to gather real momentum behind Fanendo Adi's goal threat.

Jason Davis

MLS Cup champion: New York Red Bulls

From front to back, New York is the most complete team in the playoffs. Every player knows his role, and Jesse Marsch's high-press system is tuned to perfection. Barring a disastrous first leg in either round, the Red Bulls should go through.

Key player: Mike Grella

Not much was expected of Grella when the Red Bulls signed him prior to the season, but the former Duke Blue Devil amassed nine goals and seven assists. He adds a wrinkle to an already loaded New York attack that teams must account for.

Western Conference champion: Seattle Sounders

The West is going to be a dogfight, but the Sounders have the talent and experience to find a way through the madness. The crowds in Seattle will be strong and loud, desperate as they are to see their hometown team lift the Cup. The keys are Dempsey and Martins; if they're on, the Sounders will be tough to beat.

Key player: Marco Pappa

The Sounders go as Dempsey and Martins go, but Guatemalan winger Pappa is capable of popping up in big moments with a goal or a perfectly placed ball help the dynamic duo up top carry the attacking load.

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