David Bingham; Rolf Feltscher, Daniel Steres, Dave Romney, Ashley Cole (c); Romain Alessandrini, Sebastian Lletget, Jonathan dos Santos, Emmanuel Boateng; Ola Kamara, Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Justin Vom Steeg, Sheanon Williams, Jorgen Skjelvik, Servando Carrasco, Perry Kitchen, Baggio Husidic, Giovani dos Santos.
The Los Angeles Galaxy just were not meant to make the 2018 playoffs. They had one game to win on October 28th, but the Houston Dynamo spoiled the party.
Although a bad penalty kick call and a few offside calls could also be blamed, this is MLS and this loss falls on the LA Galaxy. It should never have come down to this game and Decision Day. Sure, that’s the point of this day, but not for a club with a reputation as the winningest team. With the worst 2017 season still haunting LAG, the pressure was on, especially with a star like Zlatan Ibrahimovic on the squad.
This result is no surprise. Earlier in the season, the Galaxy failed to beat and collect more points against lower ranked teams, such as the Colorado Rapids, Minnesota United, and DC United.
Not winning at home just pours salt in the wound.
The Galaxy had many chances right down to the last minute of stoppage time. They just couldn’t finish in front of the net. As a fan, it was a tough game to watch as hope slipped away with the minutes.
The Galaxy were actually up 2 goals in the half, both scored by Ola Kamara.
Two weeks later, I’m still moving through all the stages of grief as if on repeat. As I watched the MLS playoffs from my couch this past weekend, I have to relive the loss. I have to listen as the commentators say how Real Salt Lake had made it in that last slot and were able to compete.
The fans are already looking forward to the 2019 season.
LA still don’t have an official head coach since Sigi Schmid‘s resignation and Dominic Kinnear stepped in.
Pete Vagenas, Vice President of Soccer Operations, was let go on November 6th. Fans have been calling for Front Office changes and place the Galaxy’s poor performance on them. This is little consolation to fans as he’s low on the club’s hierarchy and this is a step, but it’s not a big indicator of positive changes to come. We’ll have to continue to wait and see.
In better news, Zlatan Ibrahimovic won the MLS award for Newcomer of the Year. He earned the honor for 22 goals scored and 10 assists this season. He made 24 starts and played more than 2100 minutes. This is the first time a Galaxy player has received this award. He was the runner-up for the Golden Boot, which was given to Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez after his 31 goals set the single-season, goal-scoring record. He was also named to MLS Best XI.
Rumors circulate that Ibrahimovic plans to leave the Galaxy, but at an official press conference on November 7th, he said his primary focus is with the Since ’96 Los Angeles team. As expected, he has some demands, but that is up to the Front Office to meet in order to keep him for sure. See a portion of the interview below:
From the moment the whistle blew, this icy match didn’t disappoint when it came to drama.
Following a 1-1 draw on the road, Sporting Kansas City returns home to stamp their ticket to the Western Conference Finals in a 4-2 (5-3 on aggregate) win over Real Salt Lake at Children’s Mercy Park.
Felipe Gutierrez arguably had the best game of his career having recorded two assists – becoming the first player in Sporting KC postseason history to record two assists in the first half. As well, recording a total of three assists in the 2018 playoffs campaign, tied for a club postseason record.
Sporting KC was up 2-0 by the 20th minute after two brilliant goals by Diego Rubio and Daniel Salloi. However, things started to slow as the home side’s defense became noticeable lazy – giving RSL an opportunity to pull one back shortly after the restart.
The tide would shift again in the 67th minute after RSL defender Nedum Onuoha received a caution for a tackle on Gutierrez – Referee Jose Carlos Rivero awarded Sporting KC a penalty, which Ilie Sanchez successfully converted with a shot down the middle, putting SKC back ahead 3-1.
Moments later, RSL answered the penalty when Damir Kreilach sends a clear header off of a corner shot from Joao Plata past Tim Melia pulling one back for RSL 3-2.
The remainder of the match saw RSL putting all bodies forward continuously challenging Melia and the backline – in an attempt to level the match. Fortunately, Sporting KC was able to dismiss all opportunities the visitors created in front of a sold-out crowd.
Every heart in the stadium filled with anxiety when the crowd witnessed the ball falling to Nick Besler, the younger brother of Sporting KC captain Matt Besler, off a corner kick in the 83rd minute but his chance fizzled past the goal, landing in the side netting. Seconds later, nerves rattled again, when Jefferson Savoring won possession on a loose ball in the penalty area and sent a side-footer in close range just wide of Melia’s right-hand post.
After a brutal seven minutes of stoppage time, Salloi slammed home the silencer in the 96th minute securing the home side’s spot in the Western Conference Final. As well, handing the team their first playoff win since 2013.
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.
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.
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.
It could have been the social anxiety or that initial sense of imposter syndrome or merely my habit of observing rather than participating or any combination of the three. But my observational approach to reporting this season taught me more about this fanbase, this club, and this sport, than being in the stands or asking cerebral questions ever would. And it gave me some confidence in the club’s building process.
Minnesota soccer fandom is an obsession for me. Minnesota’s fans have been through it all. From “the team that nobody wanted” in the lower division to the team that everyone doubted in the Major League, they have been singing, chanting, screaming for their boys. The flags, the tifos, the scarves… through two dismal seasons in the MLS, they have not let up.
And they want more to cheer for.
On many occasions, I wanted to ask Adrian Heath: What steps are you taking to be competitive? How long are you going to use the same tactics that get the same crappy results? When does this ‘Three Year Plan’ kick in?
I did not ask any of these questions, or many others, in fact.
Instead, match after match, presser after presser, trade after trade, I’ve watched Heath respond and react to fan criticism and media skepticism; I’ve observed the players interact in the locker room after wins, losses and draws; heard everyone from the front office to the back plead for patience and confidence. I learned that:
Heath does have a plan which may, in fact, be leading somewhere, but which has sputtered along through the process of making fan favorites and potential standout newcomers mesh together on short notice;
the players want to be a cohesive unit and are willing to put in the work, but have limited opportunities to earn one another’s confidence while playing within the lines of the game plan; and
that the club knows full well where the inadequacies lie, where improvements need to be made to earn the confidence of the diehard supporters but have chosen to pave the way to their end goals one small piece at a time.
Yes, I would have like to have sung ‘same as it ever was, same as it ever was’ on more than one occasion, in response to Heath’s standby answer, “We know what we need to get better.” I wanted to ask, WHAT pieces?, every time he said, “We just need one or two more pieces.” But I did not.
Minnesota United FC is attempting to put together a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle with all sorts of oddly shaped pieces. The border is complete. Next, they have to fill in the picture, but the package was missing a number of pieces so there are a couple completed sections floating around unanchored.
The fans want a hint at what the completed picture will be. At the end of Year One, Heath pointed to the completed border. “We know what we need to get better.” At the end of Year Two, he pointed to his two Designated Players in the front; the oft-noted trio Molino, Finlay and Cronin; Kallman and captain Calvo in the back – all roster groupings that appear to be semi-permanent portions of the picture, bent and faded as they may be today. “We need to bring in one or two more pieces.”
I have the same sources you do; I don’t know any secrets. I am as frustrated as you are.
I have seen them acknowledge the frying pan. Or, rather, the Iron Skillet. They know that they won’t have a pretty presentation of a shiny, nearly-completed stadium with which to distract the Supporters if that ubiquitous Year Three ends with the same bitter taste as the last two.
This Club is building its MLS identity the same way the squad has earned it’s tastiest goals: A series of clean passes, a couple of long shots and, occasionally, pure dumb luck.
So. Heath out? If we see too many long shots this offseason, maybe I’d board that train. Panic? If we start leaning on dumb luck, yes.
When I started writing this piece, the Columbus Crew were heading to FC Dallas for their only away game in Texas since the news that they may be moved to Austin. Tensions were high between supporters of the Crew, Austin FC, and the Dallas fans who were being stuck in between it all. Nobody knew what potentially could happen that day as fans from all three sides descended upon Toyota Stadium in Frisco, TX.
The entire day gave me the inspiration to write about a unique beer that was brewed between Peticolas Brewing Co. in Dallas, TX and Land Grant Brewing Co. in Columbus, OH.
As the President of the Dallas Beer Guardians, two of my favorite things are soccer and craft beer. The passion that comes with both is often noted as two things that go hand in hand. I couldn’t agree more.
I decided to reach out to both breweries for more on the beer to share with our readers. I hope you enjoy this celebratory piece on craft beer, passion of soccer, and the saving of the Crew.
Saturday, October 13
Craft beer and soccer: These certainly are two things that most people are not surprised to hear together. For some reason, they seem pretty “peanut butter and jelly” if you really think about it.
Across the United States, you see teams and supporter groups embracing local beers that exude the same passion in brewingas they have for their team on the pitch. There is no better example than the collaboration series that Land Grant in Columbus, OH started.
I reached out to brewers and employees of both Land Grant Brewing Co. and Peticolas Brewing Co. for the story. The beer, Match Day, is the focus of this article and I hope that you will find time to make it to Columbus or Dallas to get your hands on this amazing American Pale Ale.
Land Grant opened right after the rebrand of the Crew and felt that they wanted to connect with the community of Columbus more. According to brewers Justin and Adam, one of Adam’s roommates was working for the Crew and they were looking to expand their work with local vendors in the stadium.
“They had mentioned they wanted to do a Crew beer... which everything we had ever seen along those lines is that a brewery takes a beer they were brewing and do a fan vote for the name. We felt that was dishonest and wanted to brew a beer that supporters could be part of its creation.”
After brewing 2 black beers and 2 gold, they came up with Glory American Wheat which became the official beer of the supporters in Columbus. In their 3rd season of partnership with supporters, Land Grant looked at collaborations with breweries in the cities of the 9 original MLS teams who partnered with teams or supporter groups.
Peticolas Brewing, Co. of Dallas, TX became one of the target breweries alongside Boulevard out of Kansas City, MO.
The story for Peticolas and their connections to FC Dallas and their supporters isn’t as harmonious. Peticolas Brewing, Co. owner Michael Peticolas and head brewer, Chris Martinez have been lifelong soccer fans and soccer has been at the core of the brewery culture since they started in 2012.
With the grassroots feel and refusal to sell out to large corporations and distributors, Peticolas couldn’t get their beer into Toyota Stadium in Dallas. Originally brewed for FC Dallas, their beer Irish Goodbye was rebranded when it was declined by the organization due to their lack of distribution and the front office ties to Budweiser and Legends Hospitality.
Determined to get their beer into the hands of supporters of the beautiful game as themselves, Peticolas formed a partnership with the independent supporters group, the Dallas Beer Guardians. Starting in 2016, Peticolas was pouring at every tailgate for the Dallas Beer Guardians and established themselves as the premier brewery of soccer supporters in Dallas, TX.
The beer, Match Day, is a 5.5% ABV American Pale Ale that shows a true collaboration through and through. Land Grant took care of the malt bill and yeast while Peticolas took responsibility of the hops profile. What you find, is a crisp and citrusy pale ale that works perfectly on any game day. While both breweries brew their own batches, you won’t find many differences outside of the water used and that Land Grant cans and Peticolas does not.
So, where can you get your hands on this beer? Land Grant’s partnership with the Columbus Crew is beautiful in that they were able to convert a storage container and serve their product in stadium. Peticolas, on the other hand, not so lucky for the in-stadium sales. However, you can find Match Day on tap at many of the Dallas Beer Guardian tailgates and in the taproom.
It’s beyond just what’s in the beer, though. There is a true feeling of connection between soccer supporters with this collaboration. Match Day dropped a year before the news of the potential move of the Columbus Crew to Austin. The connection between the beer became much more personal with the ties to the teams and the supporters.
“Soccer is tribal,” says Grayson Hall, head of distribution and sales for Peticolas Brewing. “It’s not tribal because it’s cool… it’s because that’s how things grow. Soccer fans aren’t the same as football and baseball fans. They want to feel a connection that doesn’t exist in your run of the mill professional sport.”
That connection is not just with the supporters, but this collaboration became personal with the #SaveTheCrew movement. This became a family who was being affected in a real way.
“You can’t buy passion. Passion is earned.”
This rings true through craft beer and in soccer culture in America. Just as with the passion and support that comes with local breweries being supported by their communities, soccer supporters banded together to support the Crew staying in Columbus.
Over the past year, American sports fans saw one of the most unique movements that showed the support that can come from a community for a cause. Fueled by the supporters in Columbus, the #SaveTheCrew movement was established to not only bring awareness to the situation in Columbus and put social pressure on Precourt Sports Ventures to leave one of the foundational teams in Major League Soccer in their home city, but to show that soccer culture cannot and will not be bought out.
This parallels the craft beer scene in that people want to ask about what’s truly local and want to support the community that they come from. Hall says, “Once that money comes in and the big company comes in and wants to move and change what was an established part of the community, people don’t want to be a part of that anymore.”
This is not only seen when visiting your local breweries around the United States, but this was seen with the idea of the Crew moving to Austin. Almost instantaneously, supporters across the United States stood up to say, “Big money will not beat passion.”
In speaking with members of both Land Grant and Peticolas, there is a real sense that this community that came together in the beer scene was also seen in coming together the entire past year for this movement. Adam Benner said, “it showed the communal aspect of soccer can bring separate fans together separated by hundreds of miles but connected on the same thing with soccer.”
This is what makes this beer, Match Day, so special. What started as a collaborative brew between MLS original communities became a show of strength and unity against large corporations and the greed that fueled decisions.
I received information from Adam and Justin on Friday, October 12 for this story which became a more special day. We were exchanging text messages throughout the day and it almost seemed fitting of the potential news that was to come later that day. “As of 1:47pm EDT there has been no official announcement, but if all the rumors are true our friends at Save the Crew accomplished their goal, and we are honored to be a part of it.” said Benner.
We are all honored to be a part of this; not just the collaboration and what it stands for, but for the support given day in and out to the community of Columbus, OH in saving the Columbus Crew.
Want to visit Land Grant and Peticolas? Check out their info below:
Sporting Kansas City will kick off their playoffs run Sunday when the club visits Real Salt Lake in the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinals of the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.
Sporting KC is currently on a three-game winning streak after earning a first-round bye in a dramatic win over the Los Angeles Football Club this past Sunday at Children’s Mercy Park.
Without an opponent in mind, Sporting KC approached training this past week with similar compounds as they have during the season:
“We’ve played every opponent, so we know the general sense. There won’t be many surprises when we see them again. Same preparations. Same week. Same attitudes. Just a little bit harder now because its the playoffs,” said Goalkeeper Eric Dick.
Forward Khiry Shelton added, “It’s been the same. The same approach we’ve taken every week. We can’t focus too much on our opponent – whoever it may be. We need to focus on ourselves and the task at hand. [Then] come out and play our game and get a result.”
On Thursday evening, it looked as if Sporting KC was set to travel to Portland following the Timber’s 2-1 victory over FC Dallas. But in a weird turn of events, the first team will be visiting Salt Lake City instead – after RSL stunned the league with a 3-2 victory over LAFC at Banc of California Stadium.
Sporting KC has a long history with Real Salt Lake dating back to 2013 when the two sides met for the 2013 MLS Cup – in which Sporting KC hosted and won in a 10-round penalty shootout. This weekend will mark the fourth and fifth times this season the clubs will meet.
The club’s current record with RSL for the 2018 season is 1-1-1 with Children’s Mercy Park seeing the win and the tie. Including, a 1-6-5 record against RSL in the regular season since 2014, as well a 0-5-2 mark at Rio Tinto Stadium. So it’s not surprising that RSL would not be a favorable team for Sporting KC to face. But not all hope is lost. Sporting KC eliminated RSL from the 2018 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup with a 2-0 fourth-round win on June 6.
Aside from Jimmy Medranda and Cristian Lobato season-ending knee injuries, the team is expected to be at full strength – with the exception of Seth Sinovic who will serve his one-game suspension for the first leg but will be available for selection for the second leg. With their left back in Kansas City, Manager Peter Vermes has recalled Jaylin Lindsey from the U-20 US National Team and their CONCACAF Championship campaign.
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.
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.
… and so the 2018 MLS regular season draws to a close exactly as everyone expected, with Gyasi Zardes and Francisco Calvo trading goals. #CLBvMIN
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.
It’s deja-vu all over again as New York City Football Clubtops 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.