A momentous, appropriate end to Minnesota’s sophomore season

Bridget McDowell - Minnesota United FC/mlsfemale
Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

Sunday, October 28: 3-2 Loss

Minnesota United FC‘s sophomore MLS season ended the way anyone who had followed the club this season could have expected. In fact, the 3-2 loss to Columbus Crew is a perfect sample of the season as a whole.

It was momentous. Not in the Merriam-Webster approved sense of the word. It was full of moments. Glimpses of brilliance, glimmerings of hope, pleasant surprises… all things which the Loons present to us with every match. Two of the brightest moments of the finale came from Darwin Quintero and Francisco Calvo.

Quintero’s early run:

Calvo’s first goal:

But it was also full of the same mistakes, the same subpar performances, that have plagued the team week in and week out. Case in point:

The only thing more surprising than defender Francisco Calvo notching two goals in the season finale was that Zardes was allowed to close a slow, regular season with a hat-trick. Except, Minnesota fans can’t actually be surprised anymore.

No, having a lightning delay called just minutes into the match certainly didn’t help things and an extremely slick pitch was not in their favor. But the Loons are no strangers to the proverbial wrench thrown into the game plan, a fact which coach Adrian Heath and the front office like to call attention to in every interview (injuries to key players Kevin Molino, Ethan Finlay and Sam Cronin and questionable VAR calls, for example). By week 33, adjusting to these factors should not be an issue.

When asked about his team’s performance on Sunday night, Heath responded as he has every week, his assessment of this particular match a carbon copy of that of every other loss (and even a few wins) this season:

  • “You do not win many games conceding three [goals] on the road.”
  • “We know what we have to do to get better.”
  • “We need one or two more pieces. If we get them, we have a chance at being more competitive.”

Have we grown or improved in any measurable way on the pitch? Not so much, no.

Are we still just happy to be here? That will depend on what happens in the offseason.

And on how you define happy.

Featured image: @MNUFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

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NYCFC looks ahead to face Atlanta United in MLS Eastern Conference Semifinals

Keira Smith - NYCFC/mlsfemale
Official NYCFC Reporter

By Keira Smith // @keiramunsmith

It’s deja-vu all over again as New York City Football Club tops Philadelphia Union 3-1 for the second time in a week, this time in the MLS Playoff Knockout Round.

From the beginning, NYCFC dominated the Union, sticking to their high possession strategy which was lighter and more precise with the return of midfielder Yangel Herrera. Herrera’s ability to anticipate opponents’ next moves and superb skills in transitioning between defense and offense allowed David Villa, Maxi Moralez and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi to work smoothly together.

All three goals were scored on attacks down the middle with three different types of finishing touches by Tajouri-Shradi, Villa and Moralez. Additionally, a late substitution of Valentin (Taty) Castellanos for Villa was strategically very important in maintaining the win as Castellanos drew two, sometimes three defenders which freed up Moralez to maneuver and keep NYC in possession of the ball.

This was a huge win and a morale lifter for NYCFC and its fans as we look ahead to face Atlanta United in the MLS Eastern Conference semi-finals.  New York City has been gaining momentum and confidence after a dismal two months and Atlanta is showing some cracks in its previously impenetrable foundation. Atlanta is now in a situation familiar to NYCFC with its coach Tata Martino rumored to be leaving the club for “greener” pastures, as well as, player personal conduct and team chemistry distractions.

In the past two years, the two teams have been evenly matched with each team credited one win, one loss and two draws. New York City is back to full strength with a clean bill of health and will face an Atlanta squad who will be close to full strength, especially if midfielder Miguel Almirón returns to match play.  (Almirón returned to training this week.)

I predict Atlanta will utilize a 4-4-2 formation with Brad Guzan, a returning from injury Greg Garza, Leandro González-Pirez, Michael Parkhurst and Franco Escobar as defenders, center defending midfielder Jeff Larentowicz, center attacking midfielder  Almirón, Ezequiel Barco and Darlington Nagbe on the wings and both Hector Villalba and Josef Martinez up top.

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Ismael Tajouri-Shradi celebrates his goal. Image: Tisha Gale

For New York City, I see coach Dome Torrent sticking with a similar lineup and formation as the last two matches with the exception of perhaps starting Jesús Medina at left midfield over Ronald Matarrita as Medina’s style of play may be a better matchup against Atlanta’s tactics.  The past two matchups utilized a 4-2-3-1 with Sean Johnson, Ben Sweat, Alexander Callens, Maxime Chanot, Anton Tinnerholm, Herrera, Alex Ring, Medina, Moralez, Tajouri-Shradi and Villa.

Make no mistake about it, this will be an extremely tough match for City, especially after Atlanta’s recent embarrassing loss to Toronto FC which cost them the Supporter’s Shield.  They will be out to prove to everyone that the recent loss was a fluke.  However, I have no doubt that our Boys in Blue are in fine form and are capable of taking a big decisive win and sowing more seeds of doubt for Atlanta.

Images by Tisha Gale

Featured image: @TishaGale

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MLS Cup Playoffs: Valeri Brace Gives Portland Timbers Victory

Sheba Rawson - Portland Timbers/mlsfemale
Official Portland Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson // @shebainpdx

Wednesday, 10/31, Portland Timbers at FC Dallas

Result: Timbers 2-1 Dallas

Coming off last Sunday’s 2-1 regular season defeat against the Vancouver Whitecaps, the Portland Timbers found themselves in a do or die play-in game on Wednesday night vs. FC Dallas.

While coach Gio Savarese’s decision to bench almost all of the starters in Vancouver was painful for fans to watch (trust me, I was one of them), it looked like the right decision when fast-forwarded to Frisco Wednesday night. All of the veterans were back, rested, and ready, as opposed to Dallas’s squad, who played plenty of starters at higher altitude in their loss to the Colorado Rapids in Commerce City just a few days before.

This was a pretty stressful game (okay EXTREMELY stressful game) to watch as a supporter, aside from the obvious pressure resulting from it being either the gateway to the playoffs or the end of the team’s season. The Timbers got beat in nearly every stat (possession, time in the attacking half, time in the final third, completed crosses…) and spent about 40 minutes of the match down a man. In the end, though, the only stat that matters is the scoreline, and thankfully the Timbers came away with a massive win.

Match Recap

Sometimes when a team gets beaten in overall possession it isn’t really a big deal, because the team’s plan is to sit back, absorb pressure, force wide, keep the other team from doing anything dangerous, and bide your time for that chance at a counterattack. In those kinds of games, even when your team doesn’t have the ball as often, it doesn’t feel particularly dangerous or worrisome.

This didn’t quite feel like that sort of game. It’s true that Dallas has had recent scoring woes, and they had only six actual shots on target for the night, but they felt dangerous PLENTY of times. Maybe that’s because they had 22 shots on goal. If their finishing were a little bit better, this story might have had a completely different ending.

In the first half, it sometimes felt like Michael Barrios repeatedly punished left back Jorge Villafaña, attacking with ferocity and impunity. And at 12′ when Reto Ziegler received Santiago Mosquera’s free kick and headed the ball to Matt Hedges for a tap into the back of the net, it looked like the Timbers would have to claw their way back from behind.

Fortunately, video review showed that Hedges (and frankly Dominique Badji, if he had actually been involved in the play), were WAY ahead of anybody in a green jersey when the ball left Ziegler’s head. The goal was disallowed and we all breathed a sigh of relief.

The momentum shifted when Sebastian Blanco drew a foul in a dangerous spot, and Diego Valeri stepped up for the free kick. El Maestro did not disappoint, curling in a beauty for the score at 23′. Advantage: Timbers.

In the second half, Dallas continued to press, and they definitely had their chances. And unfortunately for Portland, Larrys Mabiala gave Dallas their biggest advantage of the night when he found himself out of position against Badji in the 57th minute. Unable to prevent Badji from continuing unimpeded to the goal, Mabiala reached in with his right arm, pulling Badji down. While it may have saved a goal, it earned Mabiala a straight red, giving Dallas a one-man advantage for the rest of the game.

Fortunately, the Timbers were able to pull off a minor miracle, scoring a second goal while a man down. Jeremy Ebobisse made a beautiful run at 71′, and in spite of having the keeper and two defenders in close proximity Ebobisse kept his head, coolly fielded a well-placed ball, knew that somebody would be coming and where he’d be, and dished the ball to Valeri, who found an open net waiting for him:

The game was far from over, of course. Dallas was desperate to get on the board, and with seven minutes of stoppage time, they finally found their chance. At about 90+4′, Mosquera managed to put a header into a dangerous spot, and Hedges banged it in for a goal:

Dallas continued a flurry of attempts, but in the end it wasn’t enough, and the Timbers came away with the win and the advancement to the Western Conference Semifinals.

Quick Takes

Build the statue already. Diego Valeri, already recognized as the league MVP last year, continues to come through in the clutch. You thought the 32-year-old was maybe finally showing signs of being mortal? Watch that free kick again. And while you’re at it, recognize that he is the first Timbers player to score a brace in MLS Cup playoffs.

Jeff! Jeff! Jeff! Jeff! If Valeri wasn’t your MVP for this match, maybe that’s because it was Jeff Attinella. Coming back to his second game following a separated shoulder injury, Jeff had five MASSIVE saves in Frisco, four of them in the second half and one of them in stoppage time. If Diego Valeri won this game, Attinella saved it.

Halftime adjustments. I mentioned earlier that Barrios was pummeling Villafaña on his side of the field in the first half. But whatever adjustments were made at the half, they seemed to be effective. Dallas maintained possession and continued their attack, but Villafaña’s defense improved, with 5/7 of his successful recoveries and 8/11 of his successful passes taking place in the second half. Barrios, in contrast, had most of his unsuccessful passes (8/11) in the second half. Kudos to Jorge for making the adjustment. By the second half, he looked more like the 2015 season player we know and love. Welcome back, Sueño.

Defense, defense, defense. When you’re down a man for a third of the game, your defense is critical. And a couple of players stepped up in a big way to preserve the lead and the win. Between them, Diego Chara and Liam Ridgewell had 15 clearances. 14 of them in the second half and 11 of them after the team went down a man. Of those 11, all but one were inside the 18, and all but one were directly in front of the goal. Chara and Ridgewell defended the goal tenaciously in spite of Mabiala’s booking. Honorable defensive mention also goes to Zarek Valentin, who aside from putting in another smart, solid shift, literally took it on the chin for the team, catching a free kick to the face. Ouch.

Looking Ahead

As of this writing, pending the outcome of the LAFC vs. Real Salt Lake play-in, the Timbers will host either Sporting KC or the Seattle Sounders on Sunday at a time still to be determined. Either opponent would be formidable, and with both Chara and Ridgewell having obtained a yellow card in the match, another yellow would have either player on the bench for the away leg, something the team can ill afford.

Here’s hoping the soccer gods are kind, that yellow cards for our key defenders remain in the center ref’s pocket, and that the boys put in a solid performance. See you all at home on Sunday.

Featured image: @TimbersFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @shebainpdx

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With a 3-1 Loss, the Union Limp into the Playoffs After All

Cait Costello - Philadelphia Union/mlsfemale
Official Philadelphia Union Reporter

By Cait Costello // @caitcostello

Well, that’s one way to end the regular season.

The Philadelphia Union fell 3-1 to NYCFC in Yankee Stadium on Sunday night in a disappointing end to what is definitively the team’s best season in its history. From the start, the Union felt disjointed and gave up a goal to Maxime Chanot off a corner kick in the 8th minute.

Two minutes later, Auston Trusty scored his second own goal of the season while running toward the Union’s goal line, and two minutes after that, Trusty was shown the first yellow card of the match. The 20-year-old is a great addition to the team—playing every single minute of the regular season—which only makes these rookie mistakes hit harder.

It felt like the Union may be able to recover when Cory Burke scored a goal from the center of the box in the 14th minute with an assist from Borek Dockal. This was Burke’s 10th goal of the season, tying with Fafa Picault, and Dockal’s MLS-best 18th assist.

David Villa took back the momentum by scoring for NYCFC in the 34th minute. Then, Burke picked up a yellow card in the 40th minute and exchanged heated words with Dockal. Burke started the second half on the bench in tears as Ilsinho took his place on the pitch.

A foul by NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson gave the Union their best chance to pick up another goal with a penalty kick by Fafa, but Johnson guessed right for the save. The Union’s offense couldn’t capitalize on any of the other opportunities they made, and the score stayed at 3-1.

Throughout the match, the Union’s defense felt off, with the back line consistently playing way up the pitch in a possible failure to adapt to Yankee Stadium’s smaller dimensions. Despite being left on his own and giving up two goals, Andre Blake did make some big saves to stop the bleeding. This match easily could have been a draw without the own goal and with the penalty kick, but it was not to be for the Union.

After starting #DecisionDay with the opportunity to finish in 3rd place in the Eastern Conference, the Union instead fell from 4th to 6th in a disappointing decline for a season in which the boys in blue netted more wins, more points and clinched a spot in the playoffs earlier than ever before in team history.

The loss dashed their hopes for a home match in the knockout round of the #MLSCupPlayoffs, so the Union head back up to the Bronx for a Halloween rematch at 7pm.

It’s good to see that the Union have cut their practice pitch down to the appropriate size as they prepare to face NYCFC again, but the pressure is on if the team wants to win its first playoff game ever and get payback for Sunday’s loss. We’ll have to see whether that pressure will keep them focused as a team or knock them out of the running.

Featured image:  @steph_rex408

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @caitcostello

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With missing pieces in place, NYCFC defeats Philadelphia Union 3-1 on MLS Decision Day

Keira Smith - NYCFC/mlsfemale
Official NYCFC Reporter

By Keira Smith // @keiramunsmith

Sunday, October 28: 3-1 Win

New York City Football Club was finally back home on Sunday, playing with a full, healthy squad taking on Philadelphia Union. Not only was it Fan Appreciation Day but most importantly, MLS Decision Day, which determined the draw for the knockout round.  NYCFC needed a victory to secure a number 3 seed and a first-round home game.

Amid rumors of David Villa’s looming end-of-season retirement and with the possibility of an away first-round playoff game (depending on the result of this game), fans were aching to enjoy every moment of Villa on the home pitch. Our captain did not disappoint with his deep crossing runs, elegant ball movement and, of course, a goal.  Villa played the entire 90 minutes which resulted in a 3-1 NY City victory over the Union. Other goals were scored by Maxime Chanot (NYC), Auston Trusty (Philadelphia own goal) and Cory Burke (Philadelphia).

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David Villa maneuvers past a Union player in the 2nd half. Image: Tisha Gale

The game was not just a result of excellent tactics and effort by Villa but also by the triumphant return of Yangel Herrera in midfield.  Herrera missed most of the season due to an injury.  With Herrera’s calm yet aggressive presence on the field, the team looked tight and complete.  Herrera made the transition from defense to offense look smooth.  Is this what we have been lacking for these past few months?

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Post-match Yangel Herrera. Image: Tisha Gale

One of the most exciting moments of the match was executed by goalkeeper Sean Johnson when he made a flying save on a penalty kick awarded to Philadelphia for a foul called on Johnson himself. Johnson was pumped, the crowd was pumped and the save seemed to put the final nail in the Union’s coffin.

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Goalkeeper Sean Johnson celebrates the victory with fans. Image: Tisha Gale

With the win in hand, NYCFC will next face, yup, Philadelphia Union on Halloween.

With Halloween being a big holiday in the New York and Hudson Valley region, many fans discussed the disappointment in finding out that the playoff game was taking place that night rather than November 1st.  The date was determined by the television networks who do some version of drawing straws and taking picks for game coverage.  It seems that we got tricked while the #4 seeded DC United got all the treats.

Looking forward to the rematch with Philly on Wednesday.  I think Yankee Stadium will be a House of Horrors for the Union with NYCFC getting through to meet (a suddenly beatable?) Atlanta United in the Eastern Conference Series.

Featured image: @TishaGale

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @keiramunsmith

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Columbus Crew SC Playoff Bound

Hilary - Columbus Crew/mlsfemale
Official Columbus Crew Reporter

By Hilary // @hils4crew

Sunday, October 28: 3-2 Win

The game was about as shaky and unpredictable as the Ohio weather.  Columbus Crew SC took on the Minnesota United FC in the final game of the season in Columbus. 

Before the game, the sun shone down and prepared the teams and fans for a game that determined the Crew’s playoff possibilities. However, nine minutes in, Ohio weather being Ohio weather, decided to change tactics.  Lightning and rain caused a delay–foiling the MLS’ plan that all games end at the same time leaving every teams’ playoff fate unknown until the final minute of all those synchronized games.  Well, as MLS has learned this year, Columbus rarely does it the way they want us to.

After about an hour delay, the game resumed in the blustering wind, rain, and a significant temperature drop.  Crew SC jumped back into the match quickly with a short corner from Federico Higuain to Milton Valenzuela.  Valenzuela sent in a cross, which Gyasi Zardes headed into the goal in the 11’ of the game

In the 41’, a scary scene emerged, as Columbus Crew’s Gaston Sauro in an effort to stop a streaking Angelo Rodriguez, collided with keeper Zack Steffen leaving both Rodriguez and Steffen on the ground for several minutes with Rodriguez being subbed out.  Steffen returned to the match with a collective sigh of relief leaving all Crew fans.

The first half ended with Crew SC up 1-0 and a playoff spot clinched as the Montreal Impact lost to the New England Revolution.   Despite the guaranteed playoff spot, it was important for Crew SC to get the win as they have struggled to get results as of late and need to get into form if they want to go deep into the playoffs and make a run for the MLS Cup.

Gyasi Zardes scored quickly again in the second half slotting a ball in the 49’ after following up a free kick from Higuain that bounced off of Minnesota goalkeeper Matt Lampson, but Minnesota had no desire to make this easy for the Crew.  Francisco Calvo, a Minnesota defender scored in the 68’ unmarked off a free kick, and again in the 77’, as a ball skipped between Harrison Afful’s legs right to Calvo.  Minnesota had evened up the score. 

However, Zardes decided that it was time to score his first career hat trick and scored the final goal of the night in the 83’ off a beautiful ball from Niko Hansen putting the Crew SC in fifth place.

Other thoughts:

I haven’t written a lot of articles this season about Crew SC.  First, I can’t watch away games at home due to some bizarre blackout rule that I have yet to figure out.  Second, my personal life outside of soccer has been a bit more crazy than normal.  And third, this was an emotionally hard season.  Due to the possibility of the Crew’s move to Austin, every game felt more emotionally draining than normal.  It was difficult to want to relive that in recaps and articles. 

However, it looks likely, due to a local ownership group that includes the Edwards and Haslam families, that Crew SC may remain in Columbus with Austin getting its own team.  Now until the final i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed, I will not feel completely calm, but it helped me enjoy this game a lot more. 

Zardes scored his first professional hat trick in this game and ended the regular season with 19 goals.  I have a lot of respect for Sigi Schmid, but I’m not sure what he was thinking trying to play Gyasi at leftback last season when Zardes was with the Galaxy.  Gregg Berhalter has a proven system that helps make his forwards successful goal scorers. 

As this was the last regular season home game, it always makes me pause and wonder who we are possibly watching for the last time as a Crew SC player.  Will Steffen and Wil Trapp head to Europe?  Will Berhalter be named the new USMNT head coach?  The answers to these questions, for now, remain unknown but I am very thankful that these men have played a part in Columbus Crew SC history.

Typically, Crew SC is on a hot streak going into the playoffs.   This season, we have not seen this streak.  In fact, it’s been pretty much the opposite.  If Crew SC can’t find their top-level form and make the mistakes they made against Minnesota, their playoff run will be short-lived.

Let’s hope Crew SC bring their A-game against a very tough DC United team this Thursday in the playoff knockout game

Featured image: @ColumbusCrewSC

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @hils4crew

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New York Red Bulls and the Decision Day Drama

Sylvana Budesheim - NY Red Bulls/mlsfemale
Official NY Red Bulls Reporter

By Sylvana Budesheim // @WhiteZinWench

Decision Day.

This isn’t a day to just build momentum for the playoffs. Not a time to sit back and prepare for a couple of months off. No one is here to just contemplate his future with his club. The Supporter’s Shield is not absolutely decided yet.

There’s a party to be had. Or one to crash.

Orlando City SC sits in last place for the Eastern Conference. Former Red Bull New York captain Sacha Kljestan is ready to keep his former team from the prize that he once lifted for them.

Just north of the border, Toronto FC hosts Atlanta United. The reigning MLS Cup Champions and current Shield holders have been edged out of the playoffs. With a win by ATL, Atlanta could take both the Shield and the season points record at BMO Field.

Red Bulls rooting for Toronto? Atlanta rooting for Orlando?

This is one strange party.

SUPPORTER’S DAY: From the Fan-designed scarves to the supporter group bubble soccer match at halftime, today was for the fans. They are the reason the Shield is a thing. In other leagues around the world, today would be the final game of the season. They don’t “do” playoffs. And with the Shield within reach, the team was compelled to give it all they had.

NOT SO FAST: Scoreless on both sides in the first half, this wasn’t going to be easy. Toronto FC was nice enough to score two goals, which would do the job. But an actual win would be much more satisfying.

THAT’S THE STUFF: Derrick Etienne, Jr., RBNY’s “Haitian Messi,” who missed a penalty kick in the first half, made a beautiful goal in the 53rd minute. He’s had a rough season, unable to finish the chances he’s had. But he was able to sneak the ball under Orlando goalkeeper Adam Grinwis‘s arm and into the net.

Dom Dwyer found the back of the net ten minutes later, but…… (here we go again…)

ENTER VAR.

The Assistant Referee called Dwyer offside, and VAR confirmed it. So while a scoreline of 1-0 isn’t incredibly sexy, it accomplished the mission. (Oh, and did I mention Toronto ended up winning 4-1? Because yeah they did.)

WHEN IN DOUBT, IMPROVISE: Who doesn’t love a good trophy raise? Only trouble was, the trophy won tonight was out of town. But the team had a banner. They had confetti cannons. They even plasticated the locker room for the champagne showers (plasticate is a word, don’t @ me). So what do they do?

Seriously, though: Congratulations to the New York Red Bulls. The most home points, the most home wins, a league record for points earned, and the third Supporter’s Shield in 6 seasons. A hell of a way to close the season. On to the playoffs!

Featured image: Bill Twomey

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @WhiteZinWench

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Minnesota United Frustration Club

Bridget McDowell - Minnesota United FC/mlsfemale
Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell

I do not want to write this. Another loss in front of a lot of fans, another round of #HeathOut chanted instead of ‘Wonderwall,’ another night of bitterness and frustration.

But I do want to write about how real, live Minnesotans do indeed want to watch live soccer, for better or for worse; about how the Supporters could not be silenced, even after Zlatan Ibrahimovic left his mark; about the strides the club must make to erase the bitterness of these past two seasons; and about the fact that despite my frustration, when the fireworks gave way to a different kind of light show, I experienced the goosebumps usually reserved for ‘Wonderwall.’

Last weekend, Minnesota United FC set a new state record for attendance at a professional soccer game. 52,242 fans watched the Loons close out their residency at TCF Bank Stadium making the club’s #50ktoMidway promotion a huge success. The downside, however, was that there were 30,000 more fans present to witness the second consecutive home loss. L.A. Galaxy’s Ibrahimovic argued that they were all there to cheer for him and his squad and by evenings’ end a few United fans probably wished that’s why they had come.

Ibra kicked off what would become a 3-1 rout of the Loons, with a goal in the 30th minute which swung the momentum in Galaxy’s favor after a number of good opportunities for Loons came to naught. Three L.A. goals went unanswered until the 53rd minute when Angelo Rodriguez – who had scored in the first half only to be called offside – finally got his head on a long cross from fellow DP Darwin Quintero and sent it past Bingham into the net.

 But that would be all for the Loons. Adrian Heath spoke positively about Rodriguez’s prospects, but seemed to blame the rest of the squad for his ineffectiveness: “I thought the big man [Rodriguez] led the line really, really well again… We’ve got to start to work out how to use him better and once we do, when we start to play off him, I think there’s a lot of promise in the attacking half.” 

That response is too little, too late for me. He echoed what supporters said of the DP’s first appearances. That was quite some time ago and Rodriguez himself seems to know it. When asked about the fan support that night, he said, “That’s why I tell you that personally, I feel ashamed. We always try to do well during the week to give [the fans] joy on the weekend. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but truthfully I’m amazed [by their support].”

The squad’s poor performance was overshadowed by the MNUFC digital team’s response to Ibra’s talk in the lead-up about how the ticket sales reflected Minnesota’s love for him rather than support for the Loons. The Bank erupted in cheers and laughter when an error message appeared on the video board in place of Ibra’s head shot as lineups were announced:

The forward nearly had the last laugh though when he sailed a free kick in the 65th minute over the crossbar and into the capo stand, connecting with a Dark Clouds capo.

But, true to form, Nach Karnik and the Dark Clouds turned that moment into a badge of honor:

Bridget McDowell - MNUFC/mlsfemale

Minnesota’s Supporters have learned to find joy in every moment. It’s a necessary coping technique in a season full of bitter losses, questionable decisions and poor performances. If MNUFC wants to fill Allianz Field, they need to do more than talk about improvements and tout the ubiquitous ‘Three Year Plan.’ According to Heath, playing at Allianz “will be nice. I think most people think it’s going to be good. I don’t think they realize how good it’s going to be. This is going to be a game changer for this club moving forward… but we’ve got a lot of work to do before we open up the stadium.”

That’s for sure. Heath and his staff will need to put those words into action, and quickly, to ensure that the emotions evoked by Allianz are matched by the club’s performance.

My anger and high blood pressure quickly dissolved into goosebumps and tears of joy as I watched a live stream on my phone of the Fan Appreciation Night fireworks. The Supporters present at TCF were able to watch a special presentation on the video board while the fireworks burst above them, but my stream showed only the pyrotechnic display, then faded to black. Then another light show began.

https://youtu.be/xNBIx5vAm2o?t=1788

That stadium is ours. Our colors. Our club. Our home. But before we can enjoy our home, our boys must face another team celebrating a triumphant return. If Columbus Crew‘s Decision Day opponent was not MNUFC, I would be cheering for the black and yellow as they celebrate the success of #SaveTheCrew and vie for a playoff berth. But they will play the Loons, a club with no chance at the postseason, but with every opportunity to make a statement.

If the Loons lose, they must do so while gutting it out to the final whistle. Sunday is their last chance to prove to both their supporters and their detractors that they want to be here, that they are worthy of support and of their place in the league.

The Loons must win.

COYL

Featured image: @MLS

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

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Montréal Impact keep the Playoff dream alive with win over TFC

Eve Powell - Montreal Impact/mlsfemale
Official Montreal Impact Reporter

By Eve // @evejulia9

Result: 2-0 Victory vs TFC

It was a matchday like no other. Rivals Toronto FC were visiting Stade Saputo looking to put the final nail in the coffin of Montréal Impact’s playoff hopes. Elsewhere, DC United were officially claiming the fifth of six playoff spots, while Columbus Crew continued a tie game with Orlando SC, a team which boasted the most porous defense in the league.

With TFC eliminated from playoff contention several weeks ago, the match was more about pride than anything, as most had written off the Impact’s playoff hopes, even if mathematically the Bleu-Blanc-Noir still had a chance to make the cut. With Victor Vazquez and Jozy Altidore sidelined through injury, TFC still brought out a strong lineup, looking to play spoiler to their enemy.

For the home side, left back Daniel Lovitz, whose offensive spark contributed to a goal and five assists on the season, found himself injured and unavailable for selection. Jukka Raitala entered the starting lineup at left back and Rudy Camacho, whose previous performances against nimble opponents like Sebastian Giovinco or Lucho Acosta were nightmarish, returned to central defense.

Regardless of what would happen in the match, the supporter groups 1642 Montréal and Ultras de Montréal were ready to stand behind their team with season finale tifo displays.

With the Impact having firmly established their identity as a counterattacking team, it comes as no surprise that TFC enjoyed the lion’s share of ball possession during long stretches of the first half. Evan Bush was called into action as once again Camacho allowed Giovinco to slip behind him, but the Italian’s one-on-one shot lacked any conviction and Bush smothered the ball. In the 35th minute, the Impact had the ball in the back of the net, but following a VAR consultation, referee Baldomero Toledo ruled the goal offside and the teams retreated to the locker rooms in a deadlock.

Following the break, it was clear that Rémi Garde’s request for more aggressivity from his team was heard loud and clear. Several times the Impact hit TFC on the counter, but both captain Ignacio Piatti and striker Quincy Amarikwa wasted their opportunities, and keeper Alex Bono made a heroic save on a header from Saphir Taïder.

Finally, in the 71st minute, VAR was called into action again. Substitute defender Eriq Zavaleta, who has long struggled when facing Piatti, was found to have pulled on the Argentinean’s jersey inside the TFC box, and this time VAR ruled in the home team’s favour. “Nacho” stepped up to the spot and calmly converted the shot.

In the 88th minute, the Impact sealed a 14th victory of the season when Piatti beat a defender and the goalkeeper to casually slot the ball into an empty net, marking his 16th goal of the season. Unbeknownst to the team, results elsewhere allowed the Impact to remain in the playoff race, with Orlando claiming their first win in over a dozen matches in the last seconds to leave Columbus only 2 points above the Impact and that vital red line.

With the last home game of the season in the books, it was only fitting that coach Garde, whose adaptation to the team and the league was painful but has now blossomed into something beautiful, rang the North Star Bell to celebrate the victory.

Since the playoffs are still in reach, the Impact must travel to New England Revolution and claim a Decision Day victory, while hoping Columbus lose or draw in their match versus Minnesota United. No matter how the 2018 campaign ends, to still be in the playoff discussion after such a dismal start speaks volumes to how the team has flourished over the course of the season and fans are waiting for that do-or-die match with baited breath.

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Sporting KC and LAFC battle for top spot in the West

Araceli Villanueva - LAFC/mlsfemale
Official Reporter: LAFC & SKC

By Araceli Villanueva // @Aracelv1

Decision Day is almost upon us.

Sporting Kansas City hosts the Los Angeles Football Club for the first time on Sunday, October 28 in the battle for the top spot in the Western Conference. The regular season finale will also welcome home former players Benny Feilhaber and Latif Blessing.

The last time these two clubs met was on August 11, when Sporting KC delivered LAFC their first and only home loss of the regular season in a 2-0 victory at the Banc of California stadium.

It is important to note that the black-and-gold were missing several key players due to coming off a two-game streak – with their last match being in Houston, for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinals, three days prior to meeting Sporting KC. Andre Horta, Danilo Silva, and Christian Ramirez filled these empty roles while also having earned their first MLS career starts.

The black-and-gold are expected to be at full strength for Sunday’s contest with Tyler Miller back in goal and Steven Beitashour, Walker Zimmerman and Adama Diomande returning to the pitch.

Bob Bradley‘s team will be coming off the momentum they gained from their final regular season match at home where they earned a 2-2 draw with the Vancouver Whitecaps and made history as the first club to reach 57 points in their inaugural season.

Sporting KC currently holds first place in the Western Conference with LAFC just two points behind – tied with FC Dallas. A win would secure the top spot for the black-and-gold, however, if the match ends in a draw or loss they could potentially remain in second place. Of course, we would need to take into account the fact FC Dallas and the Seattle Sounders would both need to lose in order for this to happen. Given their current records – that’s a tall order for any team.

The top two seeds will earn knockout round byes, while the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds will host a single-elimination knockout round match on either Oct. 31 or Nov. 1 against the No. 6 and No. 5 seeds, respectively.

LAFC’s Digital Manager Vince La Rosa lists out all the possible scenarios for the black-and-gold. But it’s simple. A win and we’re in.

On the other side, similar to their visitors, Sporting KC will look to stay atop the standings and a first-round bye. The home side could still finish anywhere from first to fourth, having clinched their first home playoff game since the 2013 MLS Cup.

Only one question remains. Who will come out on top?

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