Category Archives: Eastern Conference

Eastern Conference

Is NYCFC withering on CFG’s vine?

Keira Smith - NYCFC/mlsfemale
Official NYCFC Reporter

By Keira Smith // @keiramunsmith

With the distractions of the holiday season behind us and the gloom of winter in full force, MLS soccer fans everywhere are patiently awaiting the start of the new season.

For New York City Football Club fans, things are looking a bit bleaker than usual as the club continues to ignore some of their biggest concerns.  Fan sentiment is currently at a low with team supporters feeling abandoned by owners City Football Group.  It’s bad enough to have the one elephant in the room:  Um, are we just never going to have a stadium? 

But with the second one being now zero prospects for an exciting Designated Player replacement for David Villa, there is a general feeling that NYCFC is being left to wither on the vine.  The New York front office’s last connection with fans seems to have exited with outgoing president Jon Patricof. 

As frustrating as it was in year’s past to understand the front office’s decisions, Patricof was extremely accessible to fans and their concerns.  Clearly bound by CFG’s confidentiality policy, he couldn’t give many answers but was more than happy to talk to season ticket holders and fans.  Patricof understood and cared about the connections that each of us makes with the team and to each other through the club.

Now that Brad Sims is at the helm it is clear that, at least on paper, the focus of the front office is to stop the season ticket holder bleeding and attempt to bring in new fans.  I’m at a loss for how Sims will do this when the top three things that fans want are currently beyond our reach:

1- A stadium in New York City

2- An exciting new player who will help score goals 

3- To win a trophy of some kind

CFG clearly does not know the New York real estate, political nor sports markets.   New Yorkers will only accept mediocrity on our own terms.  Don’t come from out of town and hand us a ‘meh’ bagel and expect us to eat it more than once.  

We exist in a sports market with many options locally and live in an era when we can stream almost any sports game in the world, at any time on our phones.  If CFG and MLS want to grow their profits and the sport in the US in the process, (which will feed the cycle of profitability), they will have to work harder to make NYCFC fans more excited. 

The digital media team under the direction of Mark Booth has done an excellent job at giving us fun and timely content while maintaining accessibility.  The club should be using this offseason to hold multiple STH roundtables and brainstorming sessions with Brad Sims or his senior management staff. Connect directly with all different types of fans and hear them out. Fans need more of this, particularly during this morose period when many are feeling hopeless. 

Soccer fans in the US, for the most part, are a piece of a larger group of Americans who are feeling generally hopeless and exhausted by the national discourse.  We look to soccer as our inspiration, escape and a way to connect with others.  If you want to keep NYCFC fans engaged in our own team and league, the front office needs to step it up in a big way.  

Featured image: @TishaGale

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @keiramunsmith

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

MLSFemale logo trans 100x

Investing in Greatness: Atlanta United Wins the 2018 MLS Cup

Atlanta United Wins the MLS Cup 2-0 Over the Portland Timbers, Tata Martino Leaves MLS on Top, and a Perspective on the Future of American Soccer.

Sarah Kallassy - DC United/mlsfemale
Official MLSFemale Contributor

By Sarah Kallassy // @SarahKallassy

On Saturday Atlanta’s skies were grey and a chilly rain persistently pelted the city causing anyone in the streets to look for cover. It was not a beautiful day for a soccer match, but for Atlanta United and Portland Timbers supporters, the weather couldn’t dampen their enthusiasm.

Sarah Kallassy - MLS Cup/mlsfemale
Image: Sarah Kallassy

The Timbers Army began their MLS Cup day by planting trees at the Morningside Nature Preserve before their afternoon tailgate. Atlanta United supporters’ groups, such as Resurgence, gathered in the Gulch, pushing their way under an overpass to avoid the rain while they waited to enter Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

73,019 fans. A record-breaking number, attended the 2018 MLS Cup, rocking the multi-use Mercedes-Benz Stadium with soccer fervor.

Sarah Kallassy - MLS Cup/mlsfemale
Image: Sarah Kallassy

Before the match even began, the excitement inside the stadium was palpable and very, very, loud. It was definitely Atlanta United’s house, the crowd awash with black, red, and gold, broken only by the small contingent of the Timbers Army clad in forest green.

Tifo flags bearing Atlanta’s logo and statements such as, ‘bless your heart,’ waved amidst the ‘fireflies’ that lit the stands and conjured the image of a summer night in the heart of Georgia.

As the match began, the Portland Timbers hoped to recreate the magic of their 2015 MLS Cup victory over the Columbus Crew, while Atlanta United’s young team looked for a perfect end to their electrifying second season in MLS. The home team did not disappoint.

Early on in the match, it was clear that playing at home gave Atlanta a clear edge over the Timbers. Feeding off the energy coursing through their stadium, Atlanta continually denied Portland possession and chances on goal, keeping the pressure on during the first half.

Josef Martinez, the Venezuelan Striker who was named the 2018 MLS MVP, scored his 35th goal of the season in the 38th minute, putting Atlanta United ahead 1-0 right before halftime. Predictably, the fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium went wild. Martinez’s performance during the match would lead him to be named MLS Cup MVP by the end of the night.

Portland made several attempts on goal throughout the game; however, Atlanta United goalie Brad Guzan kept the sheet clean. In the 42nd minute, a particularly dangerous shot by Timber’s striker Jeremy Ebobisse looked like it would see the back of Atlanta United’s net and tie the match before halftime. Atlanta’s fans seemed to hold their collective breath as the ball soared toward Guzan. Not to be bested, Guzan made the difficult save, and the Timbers Army, cloistered on the 300 level of the stadium would have to continue to hope that Portland would make it on the board.

The Portland Timbers emerged from the locker room for the second half with a renewed sense of urgency. They began to place more pressure on Atlanta, but it would be for naught. In the 53rd minute, Franco Escobar made a second goal for Atlanta United, giving the team a comfortable lead, 2-0 over Portland.

Sebastian Blanco, Diego Valeri, Alvas Powell, and Dairon Asprilla all tried to fire shots at Atlanta’s Guzan in the second half but were unable to send the ball into the net. Diego Chara of the Timbers and Chris McCann of Atlanta United were both issued yellow cards toward the end of the second half, but neither Atlanta nor Portland scored again.

Sarah Kallassy - MLS Cup/mlsfemale
Image: Sarah Kallassy

As the five minutes of stoppage time that referee Alan Kelly had added to the second half came to an end, the sense of anticipation and excitement in the stadium grew. When the clock hit 95 minutes, Atlanta, the city that hadn’t claimed a sports championship in over 20 years, had won the MLS Cup.

In the post-game press conference, Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese was predictably solemn, he said that both teams had put up, “a good fight.” He expressed his frustration with the officiating of the game and stressed that “for this final, for a final so important… I expected more. And I think, sometimes the little things are very important.” Savarese stressed that he did not wish to detract from the great performance of Atlanta United with his statement.

Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino, Atlanta United head coach, was of course jubilant. Doused in champagne after the traditional toast in the locker room, he stated that, “the club never modified their plan,” that was established in 2016 when he came on board as head coach. Martino said that “the most satisfying thing was to be able to fulfill all the plans the club presented to me at the beginning. I think we’ve got the best training facilities in the league, we’ve got the best team in the league… they give the coaching staff absolutely everything they need to be successful, and that’s what makes it the most satisfying.”

Sarah Kallassy - MLS Cup/mlsfemale
Image: Sarah Kallassy

While some may say that the stars aligned this season for Atlanta’s win, it seems rather that they positioned their own stars, aligning them through careful investment in the team, the facilities, and the staff. Both the Portland Timbers and Atlanta United played terrific soccer in the MLS Cup and their supporters should be proud, but Atlanta United proved a point on Saturday night about the future of American soccer; we will get out of it what we put in.

Featured image of Resurgence SG: Grant Russell

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @SarahKallassy

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

MLSFemale logo trans 100x

Sounds for the New York Red Bulls Post-Season

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

By Sylvana Budesheim // @WhiteZinWench

I’m coming to you from the comfort of my couch once again with an overview of the Eastern Conference competition. Usually, I integrate songs or movies into my articles, but this calls for a more onomatopoeic approach.

Heh

The New York Red Bulls had secured a first-round bye even before winning the Supporter’s Shield on Decision Day. The knockout round was between the Columbus Crew and DC United. While a classic Atlantic Cup matchup would have been amazing, it was the Crew who emerged victorious following 120 minutes and a PK shootout.

Hmph

Leg 1, at MAPFRE Stadium, ended with Columbus ahead by one goal. RBNY fans were bracing themselves for disappointment. Was the team going to crash out in the playoffs after the euphoric Shield win?

HAH

The Empire struck back. A deflection from Alex Muyl (17′) and a brace from Daniel Royer (73′, 76′) put the Red Bulls through to the Conference Finals (3-1 aggregate). Flames shot out from pillars on the goals with every score, and the crowd was equally fired up.

#@&%!

There was an International break that took Aaron Long and Tyler Adams to Europe for friendlies with the US Men’s National team. Kemar Lawrence, Kaku, and Derrick Etienne, Jr. were called to International duty as well. So there was a break in playoff action.

Not really worth complaining about, although I’m sure plenty of people did. The final had been settled before the break anyway. Atlanta United made quick work of NYCFC for their semifinal round. But they had never defeated RBNY before. And while the Red Bulls never took that record for granted, no one was prepared for what actually happened.

Eastern Conference Final (Leg 1) – Mercedes-Benz Stadium

First, RBNY announced Lawrence was injured and put homegrown defender Connor Lade in his spot in the lineup. Then the defense was outrun by Josef Martinez, Miguel Almiron, and Tito Villalba. But the first and the second sentences are unrelated. If anything, Lade slotted back into the defense wonderfully. It was… hard to explain, really.

To say that they didn’t look like themselves is a sort of cop-out, a cliche that gets trotted out for any loss. But this is the only way to explain it. The Red Bulls push up the field, and the ball spent way too much time near their goal to say they were doing what they do.

Did they keep Atlanta from getting particularly fancy? Sure. But ugly soccer can win, too. And that’s what happened. With a three-goal deficit, RBNY had a lot of work to do in this Eastern Conference Final.

*Sigh*

The Red Bulls scored four or more goals in thirteen matches in all competitions this year. They were able to hold opponents scoreless at home three months solid. So while it was not impossible for the team to pull off something downright magical, the fear crept in.

Eastern Conference Final (Leg 2) – Red Bull Arena

The game itself was good. There was movement. There was pressing. There was also cursing and shoving and yellow cards and a last-ditch goal at the death from Tim Parker that hasn’t gotten half the credit it deserves. Had they been able to hold Atlanta scoreless in that first leg, fans would still be partying and Parker would probably never have to pay for another beer in the NY Metro area ever again.

But instead, Atlanta will be hosting the Portland Timbers for the MLS Cup Final. I’ve watched it the past couple of years, even as I’ve seen RBNY crash out. But this year…? I don’t think I can do it. I’ve never thought the Red Bulls deserved to be there more than they did this year. For them to not be hosting is devastating.

Exit interviews are scheduled for Monday, December 3rd. The team was required to submit roster on Friday, November 30th.  But the first major announcement has already been released:

I’ve met and spoken to Adams once or twice. He is exactly who he seems to be, and the Red Bulls organization has helped to shape that. Not only that, but his career with the USMNT is a bright spot that should mean great things in Qatar and North America for the upcoming World Cup cycles. I look forward to seeing him with RB Leipzig.

As for the rest of the team? I’m not going to make predictions (never been that good at them, anyway). But I do know that I’ll be back to talk about it all next season. I hope you’ll be there to read it.

Featured image: @kakuromero17

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @WhiteZinWench

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

MLSFemale logo trans 100x

Finding a New ‘Home’ in DC

Sarah Kallassy - DC United/mlsfemale
Official DC United Reporter

By Sarah Kallassy // @SarahKallassy

Soccer has the power to transcend differences and create a vibrant community. This is just one of many reasons I am a DC United fan.

The DC Metro area is one of the most diverse in the nation, with 29% of residents speaking a language that is not English. We come from all over the country and the world to work and live here. Some of us were born and raised here.  None of that matters when DC United takes the pitch though. Our differences fall away as we enter the stadium, where we are only soccer fans.

When I first moved to the DC area, I had just finished my time on active duty in the Marine Corps. I was searching for work and adjusting to my new life outside of the military when I found DC United. I had always loved soccer and played avidly growing up. As I got older, I enjoyed connecting with friends over matches. It was refreshing to take time out of a busy day to sit together and share our thoughts, often loudly, about a game.

Watching DC United’s games, either on tv or in person, helped me to find a new sense of home in the DC area and gave me something positive to look forward to on a regular basis. Work and school took me away from the District for a few years, but since returning, the community around DC United feels as vibrant and welcoming as it ever did before I left.

I was fortunate enough to attend DC United’s final match at RFK Stadium. I remember seeing a middle-aged, hijabi, mom, who was attending the game with her teenage son, start the wave. She was met with nothing but enthusiasm as she got up on her feet to support our team. Of course, we all followed suit.

This moment stands out so clearly in my mind from that day. Off the top of my head, I couldn’t tell you who scored or who made the best plays in the game. But I remember the feeling I had when I saw the way fans were interacting with each other that day, brought together by a mutual love of the Black and Red.

In July of 2018, United moved to their new home at Audi Field, a beautiful, state-of-the-art stadium at Buzzard Point. While the venue is different, the overwhelmingly positive sense of community that was built at RFK has stayed the same. The fanbase is still incredibly diverse, inclusivity is key to events the club holds, and everyone is always welcome.

For me, whether at RFK or Audi Field, when DC United is playing, I know I’m home.

Featured image: Sarah Kallassy

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @SarahKallassy

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

MLSFemale logo trans 100x

My Christmas Wish this year: David Villa stays at NYCFC

Keira Smith - NYCFC/mlsfemale
Official NYCFC Reporter

By Keira Smith // @keiramunsmith

We’ve all seen the click-bait headline posted on MLS.com which basically is paraphrasing quotes from Spanish publication Sport.

This “news” and another article posted by NBC.com, utilizing a different publication out of Spain, again with no source, came out this week as fans wait to hear if New York City FC will negotiate a new contract with striker David Villa.

Villa was brought in as the club’s first signing in 2014 and his contract was $5.6 million per year for 3 years.   It was then extended in 2017 by one year, taking him through the 2018 season. Fans seem to fall into two camps since he missed 11 games, about one-third of the season, due to a knee injury: bring him back as a Designated Player or pay for him with TAM dollars in order to free up that DP slot.

Age seemed to, unfortunately, become a factor even to the seemingly eternally young “El Guaje”, who will be 37 in December.  To those watching his play closely towards the end of the season, there were through balls that he just didn’t get to which he would have taken in stride in years past. With each unsuccessful one-on-one duel with defenders,  the question was, “Is it age or injury?” all the while knowing he should have won the battle.

1T1A2625

And then there were the end of season appearances with fans.  According to Tisha Gale, official photographer for MLSFemale and member of Third Rail supporter group, who attended and presented at the NYCFC awards on October 22nd, said unlike almost all previous public appearances, Villa was one of the last to leave the event.  “It was as if he was consciously trying to cherish every last moment with the fans.”

Likewise, many fans treated the last home game on November 4th as the last chance to see the captain play at home. The last two losses were particularly hard for the fans as they were aware that those games might have been Villa’s final outings for NYCFC.

IMG_1553
Tisha Gale and David Villa at awards

To be clear, New York City FC striker and captain David Villa has not made any public statements as to his future with the club.  Villa is the foundation of the club and is a major component of fandom.  Not only did he start with the club from the beginning but he also embraced the core of NYCFC identity from Day 1:  Being a New Yorker.

He embraced New York and all of its cultural gifts and the city embraced him back in the way that most of us do:  We leave you alone to live your personal life with as much privacy and normalcy as possible and celebrate or criticize you when you are on-the-clock.   Villa not only cherished the city culture but wholeheartedly gave his all to help the team win games – a true competitor who expects excellence.

These are all characteristics of someone who we would want staying within our club system in some capacity going forward.

I would expect that City Football Group would go to any lengths to explore all options with Villa to keep him playing with our club, perhaps outside of a DP capacity. The truth is we don’t yet know what David Villa will decide to do.  I do know that he is revered by fans all over the world as a hero, magician and veteran.  Why would NYCFC not try their hardest to hold onto Villa’s brilliant skills, experience, poise and high standards?

IMG_0029

Dear NYCFC Front Office,

This is my Christmas wish:  Find a way to hold onto Villa before he is gone from the field, and from a future developing and building the club further. His past and future influences are not to be diminished.

Love,

Keira

Images by Tisha Gale

2018-04-30 19.10.35 1769237150284159279_6788401467
David Villa’s 400th Goal Celebration

Featured image: @TishaGale

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @keiramunsmith

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

MLSFemale logo trans 100x

“For Honor. For Glory. For the City.” A photo essay recap of my 2018 Season as an NYCFC fan.

Tisha Gale - NYCFC photographer/mlsfemale
Official NYCFC Photographer

By Tisha Gale // @TishaGale

The 2018 season has officially ended for our boys in blue, and though we are all sad and somewhat disappointed that the season has ended, I think we have a lot to look back on and a bright future ahead. Please journey with me as I highlight some of my favorite moments of the 2018 season.

Best of 2018

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For me, the season begins on a cold, rainy day in February. The anticipation of NYCFC’s first home game has been building; I’m bursting at the seams, literally. The new kit has arrived in style, from the Adidas HQ in Germany to the Etihad HQ in Abu Dhabi, and finally to NYCFC’s home in the Bronx, NY.

The jersey has traveled a long way to get to the players who will put their blood, sweat, and tears into every fiber, and the fans who will proudly rock it every chance they get. We’re not all sure how we feel about the new design. Some fans argue that it’s a carbon copy of a couple of popular international kits, but one thing is for sure, we all want it!

However, amid the buzzing chatter comes a different conversation—a murmur that quickly gets my attention. Why are there no women supporters in the “Kit Release Video?” 

This simple, yet important question leads to the creation of the “We Are NYCFC: Women Supporter’s Photo Project.” The project highlights the women behind the crest; the women who help make up the heart and soul of NYCFC’s fan base. A group of 20 women, many of them strangers, meets with me at Grand Central Terminal. The main topic of conversation, representation matters. The video and corresponding images are shared on multiple social media platforms with the hashtag #WeAreNYCFC.

February 24, my phone chimes. It’s an Instagram notification from Jon Patricof, President of NYCFC: “Thought your project was terrific and important…hope to connect soon.” A few days later, I get a call from Sam Cooke. He’d like to discuss the project.

March, 9. NYCFC host its first ever 24 Hour Game at Rockefeller Center. I proudly represent Team Vieira. #SoccerNeverSleeps

soccer never sleeps

March 15, Keira Smith (Official Reporter for NYCFC at MLSFemale) and I meet with Patricof at NYCFC HQ, it’s my first trip to the 30th floor of 600 Third Ave. I feel like I’ve been called to the principal’s office. However, the meeting is everything but intimidating. We discuss the project and my motivations. Patricof thanks us for the constructive criticism and apologizes for the lack of proper women supporter representation in the video.

NYCFC’s season officially starts on March 4, with an on-the-road win versus Sporting Kansas City. The boys in blue go on to win four of their first five games. The season is off to a great start. Regular trips to Yankee Stadium means my seasonal depression has faded away like the mosaic of colors after a fireworks show.

NYCFC supporter, Deyanira Perez, enjoying a game at Yankee Stadium on March 17

March 31, Keira Smith publishes an article about the We Are NYCFC project and me on MLSFemale.com

#WeAreNYCFC. I’ve Got All My Sisters With Me 

April 29, my photo press credentials application is approved and I shoot my first game from the endlines. David Villa bags his 400th and 401st career goals. NYCFC defeats F.C. Dallas 3-1.

May 16, MLSFemale brings me on board as their official photographer covering NYCFC.

Image: Juan Carlos Rubiano

May 19, NYCFC celebrates David Villa Day on a rainy day in the Bronx with a 4-0 win over the Colorado Rapids. Villa Scores in the 22′ and 74′ min of play. Other goals scored by R. Matarrita 49′ and M. Moralez 56′.

June 13, Keira and I encourage fans to vote Sean Johnson onto the MLS All-Star team. Our blurb is published on nycfc.com.

All-Star: Vote for Sean Johnson

July 5, NYCFC hosts a Q&A with new head coach, Domenec Torrent.

June 30-July 15, NYCFC partners with Telemundo. Together they host a World Cup viewing party at Rockefeller Center.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

August 1, my photo press credentials are approved and I attend the MLS All-Star game in Atlanta. Read all about my experience here.

MLS Digital HQ. L-R: Lalo Ortega, me, Alexis Guerreros, Robyn Saghini, Christian Polanco Jess Houwen, and Eve Powell.

August 21, September 4 & 21 respectively, my #NYCFCInk mini-series is published on MLSFemale.com

#NYCFCInk Featuring Lalo Ortega

Lalo Ortega, Tisha Gale - NYCFC/mlsfemale

#NYCFCInk Featuring Colin Harte

Tisha Gale - NYCFC Ink/mlsfemale

#NYCFCInk Featuring Jay Jimenez

Tisha Gale - NYCFC/mlsfemale

September 24, I attend my first away game in Canada.

2018-09-24 17.09.55 1875721048566009062_6788401467

October 11, Nat Bekeo gives me a tour of NYCFC’s training facility in Orangeburg, NY.

Every second counts🤙🏾 💙 #nycfc

October 15, NYCFC opens 10 new mini pitches across the five boroughs. I’m hired to cover all the action on Staten Island at IS72.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

October 23, NYCFC host its first ever Awards Night. I present the first award to James Sands, who won Academy Moment of the Year. 

Kwame Ibeagha

October 31, NYCFC advances to the MLS Cup Semifinals after a 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Union.

November 4, our last game at Yankee Stadium, until next year.

2018-11-05 00.31.47 1905689454222244475_6788401467

My 2018 season as an NYCFC fan was absolutely amazing! I’d like to thank MLSFemale, NYCFC players and FO staff, and all my friends who supported me on this incredible journey. You are all so deeply appreciated.

Of note: I picked up my first DSLR camera on December 15, 2017. Photography has always been something I wanted to explore, and I’m so glad I finally took the plunge. I could not have asked for a better way to harness my skills.

All images, unless specified: @TishaGale

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @TishaGale

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

MLSFemale logo trans 100x

 

 

Save the Empire

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

By Sylvana Budesheim // @WhiteZinWench

Sunday, November 4th: 1-0 Loss 

Eastern Conference Semifinals, Leg 1

Fresh off a first-round bye, the New York Red Bulls traveled to MAPFRE Stadium to face the Columbus Crew. The Crew had to battle through 120 minutes and a penalty shootout to eliminate DC United from the 2018 MLS Playoffs.

So, I have been a part of the #SaveTheCrew movement. And it seems to have worked. But now… it’s time to Save the Empire. (The initial name for the NY/NJ MLS team was Empire Soccer Club.)

DISCLAIMER: One of my favorite players (my 10-year-old) had a game about the same time as the playoff game. I had to listen to the Crew radio play-by-play to get any sense of what was happening in Columbus.

It wasn’t pretty.

WHAT’S WITH TODAY, TODAY?: The only goal of the game was scored for the Crew by striker Gyasi Zardes. While RBNY had a handle on the possession and attack throughout the match, they couldn’t finish their chances. Their set pieces didn’t yield any useful results, and a momentary lapse was all it took for the Crew to get behind the defense. 

I feel as if I have said this before. 

WE MUSTN’T DWELL: There are plenty of serviceable cliches that can be used now. “It’s only halftime.” “Down but not out.” The team has to focus on the things that have brought them this far. Supporter’s Shield winners. CONCACAF Champions League Semifinals. Open Cup runs. They’ve fallen short. There is no shortage of articles from any soccer outlet quick to point this out. This is the moment to flip the script. And if they can do it, nothing will stand in their way. 

DAMN THE MAN, SAVE THE EMPIRE: The second leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals will be back at Red Bull Arena, a fortress for the team. With the fans behind them, the team is ready to give it all they’ve got. They will have their Rex Manning Day.  

Featured image: Bill Twomey

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @WhiteZinWench

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

MLSFemale logo trans 100x

The Crew: Pushing through the Playoffs

Hilary - Columbus Crew/mlsfemale
Official Columbus Crew Reporter

By Hilary // @hils4crew

Knockout Game

Thursday, November 1: 2(2) – 2(3) Win

Columbus Crew SC started their playoffs on a Thursday just four days after their final game of the regular season.  Due to a lackluster end to the season, Crew SC played the team currently ending their season on a hot streak and one of the Crew’s original rivals, DC United, in a knockout game away from home. 

If I had to pick a word to describe this game it was reminiscent.  It was reminiscent of the Crew’s knockout game in Atlanta last year.  It was a physical game.  It was a tough game, and it went to penalty kicks.

After 90’, the game was tied 1-1 on a DC goal from Brillant in the 21’ and a goal from Federico Higuain in the 30’.  In extra time, Higuain, typically a master with the ball at his feet, headed home a goal in the 96’.  Then, DC’s Nick DeLeon scored the tying goal off a poor clearance from the Crew in the 116’.  The game’s extra time ended in a 2-2 tie and proceeded to penalty kicks. 

Zack Steffen repeated his masterful performance during PKs last year in Atlanta, by blocking both Wayne Rooney’s and Luciano Acosta’s shots.  Gyasi Zardes’s shot was blocked by the DC keeper, and Patrick Mullins knocked his off the post.  The PKs ended, not by a Crew player shushing the crowd as Adam Jahn did last year in Atlanta, but as DeLeon, the hero of the extra time shot his PK over the net. 

Thoughts on this Game:

Pipa, who is fantastic much of the time anyway, has turned it up a notch in the playoffs scoring 3 goals (one a PK) in this match.  He definitely is showing his hunger for an MLS Cup. 

DC was a tough opponent, but we gifted them the two goals.  The first when Steffen allowed a cross to go through his fingertips and drop to Brillant and a poor clearance by Crew led to DC’s second goal.  We need to minimize these errors to keep moving forward in the playoffs.

My heart can’t handle these overtime, go to PKs, knockout away games against strong teams.  However, the Crew continues to win them. However, during this game what shocked me the most was when Gregg Berhalter was stopping a ball that had gone out of bounds and Acosta shoved and then tripped him.  Now, I’ve seen Berhalter do this in many games, but I’ve never seen a player respond in that way.  I don’t know if it resulted in any discipline for Acosta, but it should have.

Conference Semifinals—Leg 1

Sunday, November 4: 1-0 Win

Gregg Berhalter showed why he is being considered for the USMNT coaching position after the Crew’s 1-0 result against the Supporter’s Shield winners the New York Red Bulls.  

Again, the Crew were playing on shorter rest than their opponents—playing only 3 days after their lengthy game against DC.  Berhalter shifted his line-up from the DC game into a free-flowing 4-4-2.  Pipa started the game on the bench.  Patrick Mullins and Gyasi Zardes started up top, and rookie Luis Argudo started out right. 

While there were a few chances for both teams, the more memorable one in the first half was by the New York Red Bulls in the 27’.  The ball was headed off a corner, bounced off the post toward the goal line, went off the head of a diving Zack Steffen, and then traveled out of the goal area.  Despite the close chance for New York, the first half ended, 0-0.

In the second half, Pipa came off the bench, and the tempo of the game for Crew SC changed.  In the 59’, New York’s Daniel Royer had a breakaway that ended as Steffen ran 35 feet up the field to tackle Royer.   Then the Crew scored their goal in the 61’, and it was a thing of beauty.  Milton Valenzuela sent a ball across to Higuain who flicked the ball across to Zardes who finished off the shot.

Both keepers made important saves in the waning minutes of the game.  Luis Robles saved a hard shot from distance from Pedro Santos in the 89’, and Steffen made a fingertip save of a Bradley Wright-Phillips header in the 93’.  This final save sealed the 1-0 win for the Crew.

Thoughts on this Game:

In the playoff games played thus far, the Crew have shown why they should not be underestimated.  While they did not go into the playoffs on a winning streak as in years past, they have apparently found their playoff mojo.  They did a nice job minimizing the Red Bulls scoring threats.  If our defense can keep up the defense they showed in this game, the Crew can go deep into the playoffs. 

Today, it was announced that Zack Steffen was MLS Goalkeeper of the Year.  While some other fans don’t seem happy with the result, I think he has definitely earned the accolades this year.  I’m not saying the other keepers didn’t deserve it—being a professional goalkeeper takes skills—I am proudly a fan of Steffen. 

Finally, it is clear that Gregg Berhalter’s meticulous strategizing brings positive results.  Let’s see those results continue this Sunday when the Crew take on the Red Bulls in the second leg of the Conference Semi-Finals.   

Featured image: @ColumbusCrewSC

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @hils4crew

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

MLSFemale logo trans 100x

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.

image00019
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

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @keiramunsmith

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

MLSFemale logo trans 100x

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

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

MLSFemale logo trans 100x