D.C. United’s 2019 Season Comes to a Close with a 5-1 loss to Toronto

Sarah Kallassy - DC United/mlsfemale
MLSFemale Editor-In-Chief 
Official DC United Reporter

By Sarah Kallassy // @SarahKallassy

The Match

D.C. United’s 2019 season has come to a close with a steep loss at BMO Field in Toronto. Black-and-Red supporters will not see Wayne Rooney hoist the MLS Cup, or in fact, play another match at Audi Field. It was a bitter end to a season that started with such high hopes.

Toronto’s Marky Delgado opened the scoring of the match early in the first half, and D.C. struggled to find their own scoring opportunity, even with both Wayne Rooney and Ola Kamara on the field. There was no dirty play, and no controversial calls were made by referee Allen Chapman, tonight simply wasn’t D.C.’s night.

In the dying moments of the match, Lucas ‘Titi’ Rodríguez found the elusive equalizer. Weaving through the chaos surrounding Toronto’s goal, Rodríguez capitalized on a corner kick taken by Rooney. The Argentine’s goal tipped the match into extra time and gave everyone behind the Black-and-Red something incredible after almost 90 minutes of nail-biting – hope.

Unfortunately for D.C., Toronto quickly racked up the goals in extra time, creating a deficit that proved impossible to overcome. Bill Hamid’s clean sheet record mattered for naught as Toronto lobbed ball after ball into the back of the net.

The shot with the most sting, however, came from a spurned Nick DeLeon. DeLeon’s shot flew past Hamid into the high right corner of the net, tinged with a sense of poetic justice.

A D.C. substitution prior to the final 15 minutes of extra time saw Wayne Rooney leave the field for the last time as a D.C. player for Leonardo Jara. It was apparent the match and season were both over. There would be no final minute miracle for the Black-and-Red.

Looking Forward

2019 began with high hopes, as D.C. United beat the reigning MLS Champion, Atlanta United, in their very first match. As the freezing rain poured down at Audi Field, the Black-and-Red showed their fighting spirit and emerged tenacious, gritty, and hungry to win. While many are somber at the departure of superstar Wayne Rooney, and surely feeling the sting of loss as the season comes to a close, it’s time to reflect.

This season has been special. We’ve seen living legends, like Robert Gillespie and Tony Quinn, honored for their part in building our rich culture. We’ve been part of the magic that is a Wayne Rooney own half goal. We’ve witnessed Alejandro Bedoya of the Philadelphia Union speaking out against gun violence. We’ve had an all-female broadcast crew at Audi Field.

We’ve witnessed our players become parents, struggle with loss, and start new endeavors. We have seen them grow and succeed, both on the field and off. And soon, we will welcome back Yamil Asad to our fold.

Our supporter community has grown as well, with many faces welcomed into the Black-and-Red family this season. Throughout 2019, we have come together to battle illness, stand against intolerance, fight hunger, and make our community a better place. 

Tonight was not the ending to our 2019 season that any of us would have chosen, but there really is so much to look forward to. Together.

Vamos United!

Featured image: D.C. United

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LA Galaxy Playoff Set in Minnesota

Official LA Galaxy Reporter

By Michelle Huitink // @mchuitink

September 29, 2019 was fan appreciation day and the last home game of the season at Dignity Health Sports Park, yet fans were left disappointed as LA Galaxy lost to Vancouver Whitecaps 4-3. 

LA Galaxy then finished in 5th place on Decision Day after a 4-2 loss in Houston, Texas on October 6th. Zlatan Ibrahimovic didn’t get the golden boot and the team failed to get home advantage for their first playoff game in two seasons. 

The extreme heat and humidity in Houston were definitely a factor. Water breaks were given. The Galaxy’s backline didn’t do its job to even when the team was up 2-1. Zlatan couldn’t finish in front of net. In the stands, fans were nearly suffering from heat stroke.  It was a very familiar feeling to last season and one to be forgotten.

Fans stood in sweltering heat and humidity to cheer on LA Galaxy for 90+ minutes

The team is now headed to Minnesota and contrasting weather conditions; it had already snowed some, the forecast predicts rain, and temperatures have dipped to the 40s at Allianz Field. Kickoff is scheduled for October 20 at 5:30PM PST. 

Rapper MURS collaborated with LA Galaxy to hype up fans as the journey for the sixth championship begins

LA Galaxy have set many records in the league. Final numbers on 2019 MLS attendance had more LAG supporters travel this year than any other club, with a league high of 27,118. 

The new MLS playoff format begins with single game eliminations. If LA Galaxy advance, the bracket still gives them a chance of hosting the Western Conference Final or MLS Cup. 

Efrain Alvarez had been called up to the Mexico National Team for the U-17 World Cup, so LA Galaxy need to make it to MLS Cup final on November 10th for him to be back on the field, otherwise, this ends his season.  

Boca Juniors loan, Cristian Pavon, has made quite the impact and can service the ball to feed the lion in ways that still don’t reflect statistically since he joined late in the season. His presence on the field really has made all the difference to fans and to the LA Galaxy’s attack with assists and three goals of his own. 

Romain Alessandrini is expected to be available after being out most of the 2019 season recovering from knee surgery, though another key midfielder Joe Corona is questionable since his toe was injured in Houston.

To further wrap up the regular season, 2019 LA Galaxy Team Awards include Player of the Year to Zlatan Ibrahimovic.  Diego Polenta was officially awarded LA Galaxy’s Defender of the Year. Back up Goal Keeper Matt Lampson gets Humanitarian of the Year. 

Additionally, Ibrahimovic had the most sold jersey in MLS. Teammates Alessandrini and Sebastian Lletget were also top sellers.

LA Galaxy has what it takes in the race to seis. Don’t miss history being made and support the Gs at the Dignity Health Sports Park watch party.

Other viewing parties are available. Check below for your area: 

Featured image: LA Galaxy 

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Montréal Impact End Season with More Questions than Answers

Official Montreal Impact Reporter

By Eve // @evejulia9

For the third year in a row, a disappointing Montréal Impact season has come to an end on the last day of the regular MLS season. A shiny Canadian Championship is a band-aid over the bullet wound that is a third consecutive year with no playoffs, and with a totally mysterious roster status.

As it was finally confirmed on the last day, the Montréal Impact at least chose to go out in style, beating New York Red Bulls emphatically 3-0 in front of Stade Saputo. Most notably at the end of the match, 34-year-old talisman, Ignacio Piatti, was substituted off, and his teammates gathered to embrace him, as chants of his name rang round the field. Was this because Piatti is leaving, despite a club option for 2020 existing on his contract?

Nobody knows. Those who might have expected the post-mortem press conference held two days later to shed some light on Piatti’s situation, and those of many other players in the last year of their contracts, would be disappointed. In an event that rather summed up the season, expectations were swiftly dashed. Wilmer Cabrera, who had coached a whopping 9 matches with the team, and who does not know if he will return next year, was sent out alone to face the media. Team administration was nowhere to be found.

Players answered questions in groups of three, but they didn’t seem particularly prepared for the day either, several venting their frustrations against former coach Rémi Garde and wondering aloud whether they need to start packing their bags. To cap off the bizarre conference, moments before Piatti was expected to appear, Impact PR announced he had left the building after he was told the team will exercise their option on his contract.

Image credit: Montreal Impact

It was truly a microcosm of a season, and the season was a microcosm of an era within the organization. Poor planning, reactionary decision-making, and emotional investment have led the Impact to regularly mire in mediocrity, often being so close to achieving success and punching with the heavyweights, but left just short by bad signings, hasty firings, and a total lack of structure within the organization.

It finally seems that some of these issues are being handled. Owner Joey Saputo, who adores his club — for better or worse, stepped back this year to allow now-president Kevin Gilmore to make business decisions. Walter Sabbatini was hired in Italy to oversee both Bologna FC and the Impact’s sporting structures. Finally, Belgian Olivier Renard joined as technical director in late September. The task of releasing, re-signing, and searching for new players will fall to him. As he is new to the club and MLS, one can logically afford him a little more time to get acquainted with the roster and its rules.

That being said, it will be more than difficult for fans to swallow another “transition” year. Last season, Rémi Garde was slow to adapt to MLS, and some blamed this year’s shortcomings on a change in administrative structure, which led to Gilmore’s firing of Garde with only 7 MLS games left in the season and hasty hiring of coach Cabrera. The downward trend in performances and the accumulation of disappointment at certain sporting and business decisions have left relations between the Impact and even its most diehard fans at an all-time low, with last week’s shambolic press conference leaving many feeling insulted by their club. It goes without saying that as the Impact return to the CCL for the first time since 2015, the onus is on the organization to make a strong statement in the off-season.

Nobody knows if icons Piatti and Samuel Piette will be back, nor if the Impact will rely on a consistently out-of-form striker (Maxi Urruti in 2019, Matteo Mancosu for the two seasons prior) for a fourth year in a row. Will veteran goalkeeper Evan Bush retain his number one position, or will Clément Diop be re-signed to unseat him? The status of beloved defenders Bacary Sagna and Rod Fanni, both of whom are in their late 30’s, is a mystery. These are but a few of the many players whose situations are up in the air. However, one gets the feeling that the Bleu-Blanc-Noir who step on to the pitch for that first match in 2020 will be a far different team from what we saw this year.

Featured image: @ImpactMontreal

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Seattle Sounders claim no. 2 seed in West with 1-0 win over Minnesota

Official Seattle Sounders Reporter

By Ashley Savage // @savage_hart

After an incredibly unpredictable run of games, the Seattle Sounders grabbed 3 points at home against Western Conference rival, Minnesota United, to lock up the 2nd spot in the West and a home road in playoffs.

Photo Credit: Jill Peck

In their fan appreciation match, the Sounders honored the return of their longtime captain, Osvaldo Alonso, prior to kickoff and the fans showed Ozzie nothing but love. General Manager Adrian Hanauer presented Ozzie with a framed copy of the recently elected Sounders Best XI, which featured Ozzie in the midfield. The Honey Badger gave the entire stadium a clap and wave before heading in to the opposing team’s locker room, a feeling that must have felt odd for the man who spent nearly a decade in Rave Green.

Photo Credit: Jill Peck

In front of nearly 48,000 home fans, the Sounders pushed the attack from the opening whistle. Jordan Morris and Joevin Jones provided plenty of pressure from the wings, while Nicolas Lodeiro was a welcome return to the middle of the pitch after missing the previous two games from injury. Due to another red card suspension, Xavier Arreaga missed the match and was replaced by Roman Torres, who had only returned to eligibility in the 18 man lineup the previous weekend after serving a 10 match ban for substance violation.

The Panamanian made a thunderous return to starting form in the 29th minute. After a corner kick played in fell outside the box, Joevin Jones sent in a vicious cross that found the head of Roman Torres perfectly. This goal was Torres first in Rave Green and couldn’t have come at a more dire time for the Sounders.

Photo Credit: Jill Peck

The Sounders managed to generate a few more offensive chances and also held off the Minnesota United attack as the match ended 1-0 in favor of Seattle. While the result was probably not what Osvaldo Alonso would have hoped for his return to CenturyLink, the Sounders and their fans relished the 3 points, which secured them the second seed in the Western Conference.

Up next the Sounders will face FC Dallas, who had a disgustingly dominant 6-0 win on Decision Day vs Sporting Kansas City, at CenturyLink on Saturday October 19th with a kickoff of 12:30 PM.

Playoff Preview

The biggest concern to the Seattle Sounders over the back half of the season has been health and squad depth. The Sounders reached deep in to their reserves for many games this season and dropped more points at home than ever before. However, the Sounders were able to maintain the third longest playoff appearance streak in American professional sports (behind the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Antonio Spurs, respectively) by securing their 11th straight playoff appearance.

Photo Credit: Jill Peck

While it appears Victor Rodriquez is sidelined by yet another injury, Seattle is entering playoffs with nearly their entire squad healthy and ready for battle. Both Raul Ruidiaz and Nicolas Lodeiro are questionable to be at full health after recent injuries, but Gustav Svennson, Kelvin Leerdam and Brad Smith are all back to full health after missing long individual stretches. Cristian Roldan and Jordan Morris are as hungry as ever, the former having been named to Opta’s MLS Best XI. In this final game, Joevin Jones seemed to show flashes of his former self as well.

While the road to MLS Cup is not a simple one for the Seattle Sounders, they just might be hitting their stride at the right time.

All images:  @jillmpeck on Instagram

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Making History: LAFC and Carlos Vela Cap Off the Regular Season On A High Note

Official LAFC Reporter

By Araceli Villanueva // @Aracelv1

The Los Angeles Football Club closed the regular season in a 3-1 historic win over the Colorado Rapids on Sunday afternoon at Banc of California Stadium.

With the win the Black & Gold tied the all-time single-season goals record (85) and broke the all-time single-season points record (72). Plus, they finished the season with the best goal differential in league history (+48) and a 21-4-9 record.

The club controlled most of the first half with their efforts paying off as Carlos Vela scored in the 28th minute past an outstretched Tim Howard to give LAFC the lead and made history as he surpassing Josef Martinez’s record for the most goals in one season with a record-best of 34 goals.

Three minutes later, Tristian Blackmon heads in the ball to the Golden Boot winner inside the box. Vela score a stunning bicycle kick, his quick-fire brace doubling the team’s lead.

In the 40th minute, Kei Kamara’s header bounced off the post and into the back of the net putting the Rapids on the scoresheet – sending the sides into the half 2-1.

Eleven minutes after the restart, Vela capped off a historic season by scoring the hat-trick after a tapping in a goal off another cross by Blackmon.

Walker Zimmerman and Kamara clashed heads in the 70th minute. The Rapids player continued on but Walker was helped off the field after hitting the pitch face first. Steven Beitashour subbed in for the defender with twenty minutes left.

As a result, Zimmerman will not report to the United States Men’s National Team camp later this month as reported by LA Time’s Kevin Baxter:

The Black & Gold pushed forward to secure their historic win entering the playoffs on a high note.

Last week, LAFC clinched the 2019 Supporters’ Shield, securing the top spot in the Western Conference and a first-round bye in the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs. The Black & Gold will play the winner of Minnesota United and the Galaxy for the Western Conference Semifinal. Date and time will be announced at a later date.

Featured Image:  Imad Bolotok

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You Can’t Always Get What You Want: D.C. United Draw with FC Cincinnati

Sarah Kallassy - DC United/mlsfemale
MLSFemale Editor-In-Chief 
Official DC United Reporter

By Sarah Kallassy // @SarahKallassy

D.C. United XI: Bill Hamid; Joseph Mora, Steven Birnbaum, Frédéric Brillant, Russell Canouse; Júnior Moreno, Felipe Martins (Leonardo Jara, 67′); Lucas Rodríguez, Paul Arriola, Ulises Segura (Luciano Acosta, 58′); Quincy Amarikwa (Ola Kamara, 69′)

Unused Substitutes: Chris Seitz, Donovan Pines, Marquinhos Pedroso, Emmanuel Boateng

In the last match of the regular season, D.C. United faltered, unable to break a scoreless deadlock with FC Cincinnati. What should have been an easy win at home turned into a physical and frustrating game that eventually cost D.C. United a home playoff match.

Decision Day has a way of bringing surprises to the League, and today was no exception. Although their season record has been nothing short of dismal, FC Cincinnati brought everything to the pitch at Audi Field for their last match of the 2019 season.

The Stage Was Set

Black-and-Red supporters so desperately wanted a win, and optimism hung thick in the air at Buzzard Point. D.C. United broke with broadcasting partner FloSports earlier in the week, in a move lauded by fans. Today’s match was streamed for free on D.C. United’s website, with play by play announcers Dave Johnson and Devon McTavish at the helm, joined by special guest Joanna Lohman (Washington Spirit and USWNT), and D.C. United’s Claudia Pagan reporting from the sideline.

D.C. United had prepared special tifo to honor the club’s four MLS Cup Championships, which were displayed before kickoff. The club has been widely criticized for ignoring its history and culture since moving to Audi Field, and today’s gesture was welcomed by many.

What Happens on the Pitch…

D.C. United began the match on a high note, creating chances and looking dangerous from the first whistle. Head coach Ben Olsen fielded a strong XI and stacked the bench with super subs, to create an 18 more than capable of taking on Cincinnati.

While D.C. began the first half with good pace, they seemed to let off the gas too soon. Cincinnati played with the type of desperation and heart of a team with nothing left to lose, becoming physical quickly with D.C. United. The visitors from Ohio created chances of their own, and while D.C.’s keeper Bill Hamid handily saved each shot, Cincinnati should have never been allowed that close.

The last ten minutes of the first half turned chaotic, and the wheels came off of Cincinnati’s bus. A series of nasty fouls against D.C.’s players, including a dangerous high kick to Ulises Segura and the throwing of Felipe Martins to the ground… by his neck, resulted in not one, but two red cards issued to Cincinnati. In the 41’ and 43’, Joseph-Claude Gyau and Roland Lamah were sent off respectively, leaving D.C. United up two men.

Ulises Segura quickly capitalized on the restart advantage, rocketing the ball into the back of the net for the Black-and-Red. Unfortunately, the elation coursing through Audi Field was short-lived, as referee David Gantar went to VAR for review and subsequently struck the goal as he determined Segura had been offside.

Regardless of the goal being called back, the second half began with optimism; after all, Cincinnati was down to nine men. What the Black-and-Red didn’t bank on was their opponent’s ability to park the proverbial bus, even with the wheels off. Cincinnati moved into a 5-3 formation, creating an almost impenetrable backline.

Throughout the second half, D.C. United struggled to get through Cincinnati’s defense. Assaults by Lucho Acosta, Paul Arriola, Lucas ‘Titi’ Rodríguez, and Ola Kamara were still not enough to earn D.C. another goal. The chances were thwarted by Cincinnati’s defense, and otherwise lacked accuracy. Clinical finishes have been D.C.’s Achilles heel this season, and today was no different.

Yes, FC Cincinnati wasted incredible amounts of time in the second half and were unchecked by the officials. (They used this tactic intelligently, and honestly, any team in Cincinnati’s position would have done the same.) However, D.C. didn’t capitalize on being up two men, or their abundant chances, even with six minutes of stoppage time added to the match.

Where We Go from Here

With the opportunity for a home playoff match off the table, D.C. United will be forced to hit the road and head to Toronto. This is not the scenario desired by the team or supporters; however, the Black-and-Red have been in excellent road form this season. Bill Hamid just logged a record 14th shutout, and D.C.’s defense is one of the best in the League. All that remains is tightening up D.C. United’s attack.

Speaking to media after the match, Hamid said, “When the final whistle blew, the frustration was there, it was a very chippy night. Their players were… wasting time, but we’ve got to forget about it now. We’ve got to forget about it and move on. We’ve got to focus on going there and beating them and putting in a solid performance. So, that’s the focus now. We’ve got to let this one hurt a little bit so we can build up some fire from within and beat Toronto.”

Olsen said, “it’s been one of my toughest seasons, with adjustments and injuries…” Although D.C. United may not have their home playoff match, and supporters likely won’t get to send off Wayne Rooney in style, you can’t always get what you want. The Black-and-Red have a playoff berth, and still have a shot at the MLS Cup. So maybe, we’ll get what we need.

Author’s note: On a bit of a sad note, captain Wayne Rooney made one of his final appearances at Audi Field today. Suspended due to yellow card accumulation, Rooney was on the pitch hours before today’s match, getting in his daily practice. Hopefully we will see Rooney before he departs for England at the end of the season to start as a player-coach for Derby County.

Featured image: Sarah Kallassy

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @SarahKallassy

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Decision Day: Can the Timbers clinch a playoff spot at home?

Official Sporting KC Reporter

By Araceli Villanueva // @Aracelv1

Following a chippy 2-2 draw against Sporting Kansas City this past Sunday night, the Portland Timbers are taking the point and the fight for a playoffs spot back home to Providence Park.

In a night full of trading cards and goals – Sebastian Blanco notched the opening goal in the 29th minute. However, Krisztián Nemeth cut the celebrations after finding the equalizer just moments later.

Then chaos ensued.

A brief altercation broke out in the 35th minute after Felipe Gutierrez and Brian Rodriguez collided on the sidelines that ultimately led to both Rodriguez and Roger Espinoza receiving red cards and were ejected from the match.

Head Coach Giovanni Savarese disagreed with the decision telling media during the postmatch conference:

“To be quite honest, I don’t think anybody should [have been] thrown out, from what I saw,” said Savarese. “From what I saw it got heated, but no, I think a lot of yellow card situations there. So I have to be honest that I haven’t seen it yet, I just heard that it wasn’t as much as they made it seem like.”

Steve Clark who rose to the occasion during the midseason after starter Jeff Attinella suffered a season-ending injury, made three saves to keep the match level.

Savarese said of Clark’s performance: “He’s done fairly well. We said from the beginning he is an important player. [And] that’s why we put him in. We felt very content to have two goalkeepers like Jeff [Attinella] and [Steve] Clark – that we knew what they’re going to give us. And we’re very content [he would] step up to help us out. I think he made some good saves.”

Sporting KC immediately regained the lead in the 46th minute after Daniel Salloi hit home the rebound scoring his first goal of the season.

In the 85th minute, a penalty was awarded to the Timbers after Ilie Sanchez tackles Jeremy Ebobisse in the penalty area. Darien Asprilla converts the goal leveling the match and giving the Timbers a hard-fought point on the road.

Although everything went their way score-wise across the league with a loss from both FC Dallas and San Jose Earthquakes, it all comes down to Decision Day.

But it comes with an added challenge.

After Savarese stated the club would be appealing Fernandez’s suspension; the club has since rescinded the appeal Wednesday based on new evidence – leaving them without their star forward for the big matchup. In addition to Diego Valeri still questionable due to tightness in his calf he acquired in Kansas City.

But maybe luck will be on Portland’s side as the Earthquakes are currently on a five-game losing streak and are a point below the line. As well, losing defender Tommy Thompson to a red card during their previous match against the Seattle Sounders.

The Timbers will look to clinch a playoffs spot at home when they face the Earthquakes on Sunday, October 6.

“It’s a must win. That’s all it is,” said Zarek Valentin.

Featured image: @TimbersFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @Aracelv1

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Carlos Vela: Beware of the Left Foot

Official LAFC Reporter

By Araceli Villanueva // @Aracelv1

Carlos Vela continues to stun teams on a historic week with his signature left-foot curler following this past Sunday’s draw in Minnesota.

Last weekend, Vela gave the Black & Gold another opening goal for the second straight match. The goal was Vela’s 31st of the season, tying him with Josef Martinez for most in a season in MLS history.

Although the captain came dangerously close to breaking the record on the same night – he left the big moment for Decision Day.

The star striker has only missed three games this entire season. And his dedication to the team is upstanding. For example, he was seen on the sideline coaching his teammates after being taken out due to an injury. In the postmatch interview after their clash with Minnesota United – Vela continued to credit his team in aiding his success:

For the fifth time in 2019, Vela appeared on Team of the Week, and is currently leading the league in three categories: (31) goals, (154) shots, and, (67) shots on goal and ranks second in the Audi Player Index Ratings. In addition to being voted the MLS Player of the Month for March of the 2019 MLS season.

Aside from breaking league and personal records, the former Real Sociedad player is having a great year. He was named to the 2019 MLS All-Star roster and given the captain’s armband for the second year in a row this summer.

LAFC has been on yet another historic run this season – winning the 2019 Supporters’ Shield to secure the Western Conference; giving the Black & Gold home-field advantage throughout playoffs and are a win away from setting the new record for most points in a single season.

The 30-year-old has been part of the “DP Trio” with Diego Valeri and Brian Rodriguez. Sunday marked their third-straight match together. And the results looked promising – even though Rodriguez seemed to have trouble falling into place with the dynamic duo.

Earlier this season, I asked: Is he the next rising King of MLS?

Of course, it is still early to declare Vela the new MVP. But he and his left-foot have been consistently dominating the league for the past eight months.

LAFC will wrap up the regular season at home as they host the Colorado Rapids on Sunday, October 6.

Featured Image:  LAFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @Aracelv1

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Match Preview: NYCFC at Philadelphia Union

Official NYCFC Reporter

By Keira Smith // @keiramunsmith

For the last regular season game of the season, New York City Football Club will  face Philadelphia Union at Talen Energy Stadium on Sunday.  The Union has been a constant threat in the Eastern Conference all season and are currently locked in a tight battle with Atlanta United for second place in the conference.  Both teams have 55 points, with 33 games played but Atlanta currently hold one more win than Philly.  Both Atlanta and Philadelphia also have 1.67 points per game.  Needless to say, Philadelphia will be throwing all their efforts behind an all out 3 point victory to climb over Atlanta.

Not surprisingly, the Union has a very similar record to NYCFC with a large number of draws this season, particularly when away, and have only lost two matches at home, compared to NYCFC’s one home 2019 defeat. NYCFC’s sole home loss was to Portland Timbers while Philadelphia lost to Toronto FC and (shocker!) Portland Timbers.  Historically head-to-head at Philadelphia, the Union have three wins while NYC have two.  Earlier in the  season when these two teams met in the Bronx, City defeated Philly 4-2.

Philadelphia is expected to rely on striker Kacper Przybylko, who carries the bulk of the team’s goals scored with a tally of 15. And it’s a deep bench:  Marco Fabian and Ilsinho, who commonly come on as subs, are the next top scorers with 6 and 5 goals respectively.

Again with the similarities on paper, NYCFC’s leading goal scorer Héber, also has 15 goals scored.  Héber is expected to return to his role both setting up his partner-in-attacking-crime, Taty Castellanos, and finishing balls anywhere near the net.  I anticipate that the team will be playing to win but will need to be cautious to prevent any further injuries going into the playoffs.  In the last match, a loss at New England (0-2), Héber was just returning from an injury and played more than was optimal, likely due to the lack of Castellanos in that game.  

Castellanos was ineligible to play due to yellow card accumulation.  For the New England match the team also played without Alex Ring and Maxime Chanot – both due to card accumulation – and also without Anton Tinnerholm, out with a concussion.  Chanot and Ring will be back in the lineup for this match.

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NYCFC’s starting formation will depend a lot on the status of Tinnerholm.  His abilities and attacking mindset at right back allow the team to successfully utilize a 3-4-3 with him in a forward-moving wingback role. The team has found a rhythm and balance when Ronald Matarrita fills this role on the left and Tinnerholm is on the right.  Without Tinnerholm, there is a lot less momentum on the right side and the team needs to rely heavily on the center and left side, making the attacks more predictable and easier to defend by the opposition.  

Erik Miller was brought in to be a back up for Tinnerholm in this role and time will tell whether he can slot in fluidly but, for now, Sebastien Ibeagha has done an excellent job defending and destroying plays in the position of right back, particularly in the match against Atlanta United.  He’s indicated that he is working on his transitions to attacking with overlapping runs down the right flank.  City is going to defend hard and rely heavily on its midfield, especially Maxi Moralez, to get balls to the two headed attacking dragon of Castellanos and Héber.

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The season will certainly end on an exciting note with NYCFC still in first place in the eastern conference.

All images: Tisha Gale

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @keiramunsmith

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MNUFC Shares the Points and the Fun with LAFC

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

Plenty of results that have gone in favor of Minnesota United FC would have asterisks next to them if OptaJack tracked all the caveats. United’s win against LAFC at Banc of California Stadium on September 1 was such a result — Mason Toye scored two early goals while a Vela-less L.A. could not finish a single opportunity. Sunday’s rematch at Allianz Field held no such caveats.

While Adrian Heath chose to rest midfielders Kevin Molino and Ozzie Alonso ahead of the season finale in Seattle and was forced to make do without rookie defender Chase Gasper (red card), the rest of his favored Starting XI returned to the pitch for the home finale. And they did so against Carlos Vela and two other DPs: Diego Rossi and Brian Rodriguez. (You can read Araceli Villanueva’s story about Rodriguez’s club debut in the Supporters Shield match here.) In that light, a draw was just what the doctor ordered.

One Goal Apiece

“[In the] second half, [we] played to the game plan, stuck to the plan that we spoke about all week and it actually looked like we might get something out of the game,” Heath said. “[We] kept playing into their own hands in the first half, trying to play short, play intricate passes out and that’s what they want. Anything that goes square, goes back, they press it and they’re very good at it.”

Heath pulled Toye at the half and replaced him with Angelo Rodriguez, his first appearance in weeks: “In the second half, Angelo was in really good spots. We got it into him and we had what? Three of the best chances of the night? That was the plan in the first half.”

Rodriguez did not score, though he had chances. Instead, an unsurprising Vela goal in minute 70 was followed by a beautiful set piece (!) header from Michael Boxall. “It’s something that we work on in training,” said the defender. “And, just, we know the timing off Jan [Gregus] with his run up, and when he puts his hand up and down. I mean, I’m not sure if they [the LA defenders] even moved. So I think that’s the most open I’ve ever been and might ever be in the box.”

Welcome to our home

Around 100 LAFC supporters made the trip to Minnesota. A weekend of sightseeing, brewery-hopping and meet-ups with Minnesota’s SGs (the Dark Clouds and True North Elite) preceded Sunday night’s match.

Expos capo Valeria Tapia said, “We met up with some True North people and they joined us in the chants and shared some drinks with us. Sunday morning we met up at Surly [Brewing] to eat and drink before our march to the stadium. It was a blast singing on the way to the stadium on the rail.”

The party continued after the final whistle, with a couple dozen LA fans joining the Dark Clouds at Black Hart of St Paul, just two blocks from Allianz. Post-match karaoke is better with new friends and the pastime gets a special post-Loons slot at Black Hart, but went later than usual thanks to the visitors’ energy. They led the bar in singing the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under the Bridge,” Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me,” and the ubiquitous “Sweet Caroline,” to name just a few.

“Everybody that I knew that was there enjoyed their time there,” Tapia said. “Overall the experience was amazing and I can’t wait to go back. Everybody was so nice and welcoming.”

From welcoming to #SayShh

With a playoff berth clinched on Wednesday night, Sunday evening’s home finale acted as a pep rally of sorts. MN United CEO Chris Wright took to the pitch during halftime to thank fans for their support before messages from the players appeared on the video board — standard Fan Appreciate Night fare. But a video that played pregame somewhat overshadowed that message:

If you’re wondering, “Who is this guy telling me to shush?”: That’s Sean “Slug” Daley, half of the Minneapolis-based rap duo called Atmosphere. The rapper, and co-founder of Rhymesayers Entertainment, is a soccer fan and has been spotted at a number of United games this season. His song ‘Say Shh’ is a celebration of Minnesota/Midwest pride so Daley, and this song in particular, are logical choices to front the campaign. Yet Minnesota Soccer Twitter blew up when it launched. Why?

A poll of MNUFC supporters, garnering 125 votes, found a mix of people who were either enjoyed the song and were indifferent to the message or were indifferent to the song and unsure of the message.

The poll ended fairly level — compared to initial votes. ‘Petty, grudge match’ held a 50% share of the first 50 responses. The grudge goes back to Heath’s repeated references to the pundits at what he likes to call “MLS dot com” — That would be the folks at MLS Soccer dot com, whose weekly power rankings and early season predictions often criticize Heath’s tactics and squad selection. The club’s insistence on continuing to call out the critics (for — criticizing?) is what irks some supporters:

It’s fine. Slug is great. But, we are not the team that nobody wanted. We haven’t been that team for 7 years. It seems manufactured. The team, supporters, press and league are all in love with each other. The only ones who feel unwanted are the front office and coach. Thin skin?

@bill_mcguire (the fan, not the owner)

It leans to heavily on Slug, and not the absolute accomplishment of the players battling to get into The Playoffs. Love the song, but the campaign falls on its face.

@ecdcmnufc

Now, tossing the criticism back to the pundits is nothing new. When Grant Wahl predicted that MNUFC wouldn’t surpass five wins in its first MLS season, he was proven wrong. And the fans let him know it:

While a scarf held up by fans is a level or two below an organized marketing campaign by a franchise, one can’t expect that a seemingly negative statement won’t be used in the same way positive statements are. United made a hype video for the first match at Allianz Field that followed a similar format (albeit without a local celebrity lending voice to the cause):

But the issue cited most by fans is that #SayShh puts too much focus on the pundits and Slug, rather than on the players who did the work and the supporters who were cheering for them all along.

Oddly enough, CEO Chris Wright’s former employer produced such a video, spotlighting the fans, community and players. For a different league, in a different sport — one which is not known for such a close connection to its community.

MN United FC did not take that track. The supporters are taking on that role, to keep that dialogue open with the pundits and commentators, to stand up for their club without standing off. They were there all along while the players proved themselves.***

The Loons close the season in Seattle on Sunday. Decision Day results will determine if Allianz Field gets to host a first round playoff match.

COYL

*** Always with the asterisks.

Featured image: Bridget McDowell

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

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