A team must overcome the strongest squad that has been assembled in MLS, another team must clear a three-goal deficit against the hottest team in the league.
The New York teams of Major League Soccer are in trouble, and both enter the decisive second day of the Eastern Conference of the Western Conference facing very long odds. The Red Bull head to Canada to face a Toronto FC team that has been virtually unstoppable at BMO Field. New York City FC returns to Yankee Stadium knowing it will have to be close to perfect to erase the first-leg deficit of 4-1 against the burning Columbus Crew.
Outside of the West, the Houston Dynamo is the least favored team heading to Portland for their return showdown, but a series of key injuries have left the Timbers vulnerable. The 0-0 first leg does not give Coleb much of an advantage to work with, but the possible return of Darlington Nagbe and Sebastián Blanco to the lineup would offer a great boost.
Here's a closer look at the three games of the Sunday conference semifinal, and what each team should do to join the Seattle Sounders in the conference finals later this month:
THE RED BULLS MUST ATTACK, BUT TFC FACES TO MAKE THEM PAY
Patrick Vieira has said everything right since the New York City FC 4-1 loss to the Columbus Crew. The NYCFC coach believes his team can clear the three-goal deficit, but the question is whether they can convince their players.
"We have to build the belief that we can do it," Vieira told reporters on Friday. "The way we play the game, of course, we can also concede, but we can score a lot of goals, and when you look at our record, even last year, in games in general, we are capable of doing it."
NYCFC can score goals, and has scored goals in clusters in 2017. The club, even recently, was about to commit a penalty from Zack Steffen by scoring three goals against the Crew in the final of the regular season.
But a more important question that the NYCFC can achieve is whether Vieira's team can prevent the Crew from scoring. That's going to be very difficult without suspended center Alexander Callens. His red card changed the tide in the first leg, but also left his vulnerable team in a position that was already weakened by the long absence by injury of Maxime Chanot, who seems unlikely to play on Sunday.
While Vieira seems to think the crew will sit and seek to protect the lead, Crew coach Gregg Berhalter made it clear that he plans to make his team pursue the goal that would leave NYCFC with four goals just to force the extra time .
"It will be important to have a good start, but we must also be cautious and understand how the opponent can harm us," Berhalter said. "And I understand they're playing at home"
These teams played for a 2-2 draw at Citi Field two weeks ago, in an open event that saw teams throw numbers between them. The action was also very open in the first half of last week's first leg, in which both teams created multiple scoring opportunities before the Callens red card made the game swing in favor of the Crew. The Crew is not likely to be too defensive at Yankee Stadium, but managing the flow of the game will be key to trying to limit the pressure their defense faces.
"Part of our game plan will have to be to keep the ball as well, and not just rely on the counterattack," Berhalter said.
The Crew enters the longest unbeaten streak in the league, and it will be a good bet to find a goal on Sunday, but no matter how daunting the task, Vieira believes her team can make the comeback.
"This is a difficult task, there is no doubt about it," said Vieira. "There is no team in this league that went down (until now) and changed it, it never happened, but there's always a first time, it could be Sunday, it could be next year."
THE WOODS WILL NEED THE BANK TO RISE TO WIN THE DINAMO