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MLS Playoffs: Trio to Watch in Conf. Finals

11/21/2015, 12:30pm EST

McCarty, Hedges, Finlay all set for key roles on Sunday

PDL Feature

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The 2015 Audi MLS Playoffs kick off on Sunday with the opening leg of the Eastern and Western Conference Finals. Four teams remain in the hunt for the MLS Cup, with the New York Red Bulls and Columbus Crew SC set to meet in the East, and FC Dallas and the Portland Timbers facing off out West.

Here are three former PDL players to watch this weekend as we get one step closer to the MLS Cup Final.

[Photo courtesy New York Red Bulls] 1. Dax McCarty, New York Red Bulls
McCarty was a key piece in the Red Bulls’ two Supporters Shield triumphs, McCarty will have another big role to play as New York goes on the road to Mapfre Stadium on Sunday (5 p.m. ET, ESPN). The Red Bulls’ strong pressing game has been complemented by McCarty’s ability to win possession and move the team forward quickly, as exhibited in New York’s 1-0 win against D.C. United to wrap up victory in the conference semifinals. The 2005 PDL All-Southern Conference selection made 19 recoveries, including seven in the opposition’s half, as the Red Bulls stifled D.C.’s chances of getting back into the game. Going up against a talented Columbus midfield, McCarty will be relied upon for more of the same.

2. Matt Hedges, FC Dallas
The 2010 All-League selection for Reading United AC has been a rock at the heart of Dallas’ defense, but Hedges and his teammates will get a big test from an in-form Portland Timbers attack when they visit Providence Park (7:30 p.m. ET, FS1). Hedges and Dallas’ defense conceded two second-half goals in April in their previous visit to Portland this season, and will need to clamp down on Fanendo Adi, who has a goal and an assist to lead the Timbers into the conference final. As well as Dallas has played at home this season, going 13-2-2 in the regular season, getting a draw would be a good result ahead of the second leg.

3. Ethan Finlay, Columbus Crew SC
The former Chicago Fire U23 player has been outstanding for Columbus so far this season, and will hope to act as the playmaker as Crew SC hosts New York on Sunday night. Finlay finished fifth in MLS with 13 assists, many of which went to Columbus’ leading scorer and fellow former PDL standout Kei Kamara. After adding 12 goals as well, Finlay’s ability to break down the Red Bulls’ pressing defense and find time and space to create will be critical to help his side earn a lead before heading to Red Bull Arena.

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