“A Safe Win”

Mercy Payba - Philadelphia Union/mlsfemale
Official Philadelphia Union Reporter

By Mercy Payba // @mercpay

Wednesday, June 14: 3-1 Win

As I mentioned in my getting to know me post, my first match watching the Philadelphia Union was an Open Cup match, so I get inordinately excited to watch the boys in blue in this tournament. Wednesday’s match against the Harrisburg City Islanders was an expected win with ample minutes for some fresh faces.

Andre Blake was still on duty with the Jamaican national team, so the starting goalie for the night was John McCarthy, who would be very familiar with the City Islanders through his time with the Union’s USL side: Bethlehem Steel. Haris Medunjanin continued to wear the captain’s armband through the absence of Alejandro Bedoya (recovering from a tweak during international play with the U.S.) Up top, Jay Simpson, CJ Sapong and Marcus Epps took care of the offense. It was Epps’ first start for the Union and he did an excellent job to connect with Derrick Jones up the right side of the field.

Keegan Rosenberry got a start as Ray Gaddis was resting on the bench and Josh Yaro got his first start of the season for the Union after a long injury setback. Giliano Wijnaldum took over as leftback for Fabinho and Roland Alberg was back in the midfield to help Haris Medunjanin and Derrick Jones deliver the ball.

The Union goals came early with a distance shot from Derrick Jones that was unable to be stopped by Harrisburg’s Sean Lewis. Simpson recorded his first assist with Jones’ goal and his second by cutting across the box and finding Sapong, who had no problem getting the ball into the back of the net.

Harrisburg wasn’t sitting on their hands though, as Johnny Mendoza helped the USL team get one back in the 37th minute of play. The defensive breakdown from a counter isn’t exactly a surprising move by the Union, but something tells me the switch of Jack Elliott to work with Wijnaldum on the left contributed to the mistak

While the Union’s defense still needs some experimenting, the attack prospered with the new combination of Simpson, Sapong, and rookie Marcus Epps. Epps got the third goal for Philadelphia just minutes into the second half with a cheeky toe-in past Lewis for his career first. Simpson had some good looks on goal without any luck, but I think his awareness of the space in the final third along with helping with giving the other’s team defense someone else to worry about will be key for the rest of Philadelphia’s season.

Another stand out player in this game for me was Derrick Jones working with Haris Medunjanin in the midfield. It was a different role for Jones, more fluidity in his responsibilities unlike what we’ve seen from him previously. I would argue we saw more of what Jones could bring to the table beyond defensive capabilities. With Bedoya still off the roster, Medunjanin and Jones had to juggle around the number 8 position and their usual duties. Jones had a high passing accuracy along with a couple of clearances that helped keep the game in the Union’s favor.

John McCarthy also pulled off some great saves to keep the scoreline 3-1 when Mendoza’s cross landed at Pedro Ribeiro’s feet in the box. Philadelphia also had a bit of luck when a rebounded header from Josh Grosh hit the crossbar. McCarthy had six saves in the game and most of those came in the second half as Harrisburg wasn’t willing to leave Talen without a fight.

The Union suffered a 2-1 loss in New York before the international break at the hands of NYCFC and this weekend, the New York Red Bulls come to Talen fresh off of their USOC win against NYC. This will be the second game against the NYRB in the season. Their last meet-up was in May, when CJ Sapong got a hattrick and the Union broke their winless streak. Philadelphia will also meet the Red Bulls for the next round of the Open Cup on June 28th.

My prediction: We’ll really make that rivalry label stick and get the win at home.

Featured image of Jones and Epps courtesy: @PhilaUnion

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U.S. Oh, Who Cares?

C.M. Brandon - NYCFC/mlsfemale
Official New York City FC Reporter

By C.M. Brandon // @lukacharms

Wednesday, June 14: 1-0 Loss

Honesty is my only policy, so let me start this as honestly as possible: I just don’t care about the U.S. Open Cup.

Is that a side effect of New York City FC never making it past the first game? Probably. But even if they did manage to make the third time the charm and pull through, I can all but entirely guarantee I still wouldn’t care. Cups don’t have to feel like afterthoughts to leagues — the Coppa Italia sure isn’t — but this one absolutely does. It isn’t enthralling, it isn’t interesting, and if clubs themselves don’t care, why should I?

But here we are. And to their credit, NYCFC did care this time. Patrick Vieira put out a full-force starting eleven, and the New York Red Bulls responded in kind. Looking at the lineups, you could easily mistake it for a derby in the league. (By the way, that’s in a week and a half.) So that’s nice! Great to see both teams taking the Cup seriously!

That’s about where the great things end.

The boys in blue found themselves victims of utterly terrible luck. Early on in the first half, David Villa delivered an inch-perfect pass that landed gracefully at the feet of an unmarked Tommy McNamara. T-Mac wound up, T-Mac kicked, T-Mac somehow managed to ping the ball off the crossbar, then the ground, then the crossbar again, then the ground again. A perfect vertical arc that kept the ball squarely out of the net.

From that point on, it was fated to be that kind of game. As the first half was dying down, Villa’s otherwise brilliant shot on goal deflected off the post and went straight into Ryan Meara‘s arms. At the other end of the pitch, the Red Bulls did their fair share of testing NYCFC as well. Sean Johnson made several stunning saves, and all told, it was a strong showing from both sides over those first forty-five minutes.

Then Maxi Moralez went down with an injury before the break, and things rapidly fell apart.

There’s not much that can be said about the second half. With John Stertzer coming in to replace Maxi (and only lasting twenty weak minutes before getting subbed off himself) the midfield couldn’t connect, and NYCFC were pinned back in their own half more often than not. It was only a matter of time before the Red Bulls beat them back, and god, did they ever.

In typical gutsy fashion, Johnson came off his line to deny Bradley Wright-Phillips, leaving an open goal that Daniel Royer capitalized on. Though we could all feel a Red Bulls goal coming, I wish it hadn’t been that kind of goal. It was embarrassing to be caught with an empty net, and what little Frédéric Brillant did to try to defend the line in Johnson’s stead was… well, too little by far.

Losing to the Red Bulls is familiar in the worst way. But, you know… It’s the Open Cup. Who cares?

Get it together for the derby, boys. Hit them where it really counts.

I can spare you a random thought or two:

  • Maxime Chanot picked up a hamstring injury during the international break, and I don’t think I’m being melodramatic when I say I want to burn down our back line without him. Too much? I don’t care. Bring back Mad Maxime!
  • Obvious observation is obvious, but Stertzer’s substitution was useless and wasted a potentially valuable slot that could have been used to bring in Jon Lewis or Ugo sooner. I want to understand Vieira’s substitution logic, but sometimes I just don’t.
  • Saturday’s game against the Seattle Sounders also happens to fall on NYCFC’s Pride Day. In general, the commercialization of Pride is something I am entirely against — but NYCFC does a good job of not turning it into a cash grab, which they so easily could. As a queer football fan, seeing a team acknowledge the LGBTQIA+ history of the city they inhabit and the very real, very passionate sector of their fanbase is so heartening. To be acknowledged and validated is invaluable. Personally, I can’t wait for NYCFC’s first ever Pride Day. I have a feeling it’s going to be something really special. (And if we win on top of it, all the better!)
  • Anyway, who here’s seen The Producers? When I think of NYCFC and the U.S. Open Cup, I think of this:grx32x04r7yxez

For the next few days I’ll be salting the earth and praying that Nicolás Lodeiro doesn’t do Nicolás Lodeiro things to us when the Sounders come to town. Please, join me.

See you then!

Featured image courtesy: @NYCFC

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Who Are Those Guys?

Sheba Rawson - Portland Timbers/mlsfemale
Official Portland Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson // @shebainpdx

Saturday, June 10: 2-0 Win

That’s what I imagine FC Dallas was asking after they were soundly defeated at Providence Park last Saturday. The Portland Timbers, already missing two players on international duty (Darlington Nagbe and David Guzmán), lost two more in the course of the match. The match finished with several players who weren’t regular starters, and two right-footed defensive midfielders at center back: and somehow the team didn’t just win, but won decisively.

The lineup was predictable. With Nagbe away with the USMNT, Dairon Asprilla once again got the start on the wing; and with Guzmán away for the Costa Rican national team journeyman Lawrence Olum filled in at defensive midfield behind Diego Chara. Alvas Powell is apparently still in the doghouse for his poor decision-making on the field, giving Zarek Valentin the start again at right back. The other eight starters were more or less the usual suspects.

Adi Bomaye

At first it appeared that Fanendo Adi’s finishing might still be jinxed. With a beautiful feed from Liam Ridgewell, Adi chested the ball and fired at 5′ but was stopped by Dallas’ Jesse Gonzalez, who sent it over the bar for a corner kick. Gonzalez stopped Adi again at 15′ after Diego Valeri sent the ball through to him for another shot. Finally, though, at 32′, Sebastian Blanco fed Adi on the left. Adi stayed on his feet and sent it to the center of the goal for a score, ending his goal drought:

When Adi DOES score in a match, he’s just as likely to score a second, and he didn’t disappoint, putting away a beautiful score at 72′ to add to his total of braces in MLS:

As beautiful as both Asprilla’s cross and Adi’s cool, calm, collected finish were, my favorite part of the goal was the guy who didn’t touch the ball: Diego Chara. Watch that play again. Chara’s dummy in front of the goal is fabulous, drawing the defender away from Adi and forcing Gonzalez to stay to his left to prevent Chara from the easy score, which leads to Gonzalez leaping desperately to his right in a vain attempt to stop Adi when he realizes that Chara doesn’t touch the ball. Gonzalez’s dive to the corner of the box leaves him on the ground and helpless as Adi calmly takes another touch and sends the ball home.

“Disallowed Goal of the Year”

It was glorious to come away with a convincing 2-0 win; but oh, what might have been. Take a look at Valeri’s beautiful work on an almost-goal that was ultimately ruled a handball:

Poetry. Sheer poetry. I agree with @totalmls’s assessment that this might very well be the disallowed goal of the year.

The Replacements

I also have to give a shout out to the guys in the lineup who haven’t been starters for most of the season. Dairon Asprilla put in a solid game. Besides the assist on the second goal, he was a scoring threat himself, nearly putting it in at 41′ and forcing Gonzalez to tip it over the bar for the save.

And Zarek Valentin–oh, my goodness, did he put in a night’s work. He had a brilliant clearance off the line at 22′ after Jake Gleeson initially had the save but the ball continued to roll toward the line:

Finally, a word for our defensive midfielders and center backs (who in this case were mostly the same people). After Ridgewell went down at about 25′, Olum slid back to the center back position and Amobi Okugo came in at defensive midfield. Then, when Roy Miller took a knock from a pileup with Maxi Urruti, he never completely recovered and had to leave the game at 61′, leaving Okugo to slide back to the other center back position and bringing in Ben Zemanski as the third player during the match to line up at defensive midfield. It was crazy: we started the game with two left-footed centerbacks in front of our goal and ended it with two right-footed defensive midfielders in their place.

And yet, amazingly, they pulled it off. With only six regular starters on the field for the last 30-plus minutes, they managed to hold down the fort, protecting the clean sheet and leaving Dallas to look at the lineup and wonder:

 

Off the Pitch

With Pride Week in full effect, the Timbers Army had a tremendous display of support for equality in the stands:

And in the community, we also had a great deal to be proud of. The Timbers Army and Rose City Riveters (the supporters group for the Portland Thorns) marshalled a crew of volunteers and together completed two visitation rooms for foster children and their families at the DHS offices in Beaverton:

And, in a beautiful example of paying it forward, among the many volunteers were immigrants and refugees from IRCO’s Africa House. You may remember reading here earlier about the Timbers Army sponsoring IRCO teens at futsal back in March and April. Many of those same teens wanted to return the favor, and when they heard about the opportunity to volunteer for the foster care room makeover project, they jumped at the chance:

Finally, our match day drive was to help stock those foster care visitation rooms with supplies for kids:

Team. Town. Timbers Army. What a wonderful week, and a wonderful win. See you again after Tuesday’s Open Cup match!

Featured image courtesy: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid youtube

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In Bruce we Trust

Abigail Gerken - USWNT/mlsfemale
US National Team Key Contributor

By Abigail Gerken // @abigailgerken22

Sunday, June 11: 1-1 Draw

Lineup:
Brad Guzan
Omar Gonzalez, Geoff Cameron, Tim Ream
Deandre Yedlin, Kellyn Acosta, Michael Bradley, DaMarcus Beasley
Paul Arriola (Darlington Nagbe, 63) , Bobby Wood (Jozy Altidore 79), Christian Pulisic (Graham Zusi, 90+2)

The USMNT faced off against Mexico at high altitude for a crucial World Cup Qualifying match. An hour before the match when the lineup was released on twitter, fans got a little nervous. There was a lot of questions surrounding this particular eleven with only 6 of the 11 who played against Mexico on November 11th, 2016. Some questions USA fans had were: Where is Clint Dempsey? Where is John Brooks? Where is Tim Howard? These ‘key’ players were replaced with the likes of Kellyn Acosta, Omar Gonzalez, and Brad Guzan.

Here are some quick theories on why I think Bruce Arena chose this lineup. The game takes place in Mexico City, Mexico which is 7,382 feet above sea level! It’s not an easy transition for someone who plays at for example, 581 feet above sea level (Clint Dempsey in Seattle, Washington). In this group of 23 guys, we have players who play in Mexico and who are already adapted to the altitude. So when you have two players who play the same position like Omar Gonzalez and John Brooks, and Omar Gonzalez plays at 8,000 feet altitude compared to John Brooks 300 feet, you’re going to go with Omar Gonzalez.

Also, there are several players who are on the verge of yellow card suspension. Those players are Jozy Altidore, Alejandro Bedoya, Matt Besler, Bradley, John Brooks and Cameron. So when you have players that have dependable replacements i.e John Brooks, you can save them from what we all know is a chippy rivalry match.

The doubt would quickly be set aside when Michael Bradley (Yes, Michael Bradley!) unleashed his inner Carli Lloyd and chipped the Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa from about 40 yards out in the 5th minute. I guess it is a captain America thing 😉

The lead didn’t last very long. In the 23rd minute after a missed chance for the US in the box, Mexico countered and Carlos Vela slotted a low ball into the right post.

Overall, the game was pretty chippy, but what else do you expect? It’s against Mexico and at Estadio Azteca in front of 71,537. However, there were only 2 yellow cards issued in this match, and both to the United States. DeAndre Yedlin got one in the 42nd minute for persistent infringement and Paul Arriola also got cautioned in the 56th.

After the results of this match, the United States are currently in 3rd place in the Hex with 8 points. There are 4 more games in the Hex, with the qualifiers concluding in October. The next USMNT World Cup Qualifying game is on September 1st against Costa Rica.

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Crew vs Rapids

Hilary - Columbus Crew/mlsfemale
Official Columbus Crew Reporter

By Hilary // @hils4crew

Saturday, June 3: 2-1 Loss

Another lead given away, another 3 points dropped, and the cries for a coaching change are growing louder as the Colorado Rapids defeated Columbus Crew SC 2-1 on Saturday night.  Berhalter sent out a different formation than normal, essentially a 3-4-2-1, with three centerbacks in the back—Williams, Crognale, and Naess

There wasn’t a ton to write back home about in the first half.  Crew SC had a few nice chances that they couldn’t seem to finish. 

  • In the 11’, Meram sent a pretty ball through to Kamara who just couldn’t get to it. 
  • Later in the 18’, Wil Trapp got a cleared ball from a Crew SC corner kick, sent a pass to Francis, who sent a gorgeous ball to Pipa, who got it to Kamara who just didn’t get it finished. 
  • In the 26’, Afful sent a mini-chip between two Rapid defenders to Higuain, who sent it to Meram.  However, it was intercepted by the defense before Meram could get to it. 

The Rapids were really limited in opportunities until the 30’ where they had multiple chances including one that forced Steffen to make a double save against Colorado’s Gashi in the 33’.  It’s difficult to explain, but I just didn’t sense extreme intensity radiating from anyone (outside of Pipa) during the first half until about the 33’ when the Rapids had multiple chances. 

The second half seemed to start with more intensity from both sides. 

  • In the 61’, Crew SC broke it open when Justin Meram sent a ball to Higuain who was left open slightly outside the Rapids 18. 
  • Pipa took the shot as Colorado’s Azira came in to challenge the ball. 
  • The shot deflected off of Azira into the Rapid’s net. 

I’m not going to lie.  At this point, I felt pretty good about the possibility of winning this game.  Colorado is at the bottom of the table, and while the Rapids had some good chances earlier in the game, I felt like we had limited their opportunities fairly well.  I had put the earlier leads lost by Crew SC behind me. 

Letting my guard down was a mistake as Colorado scored two goals between the 80’ and 86’.  The 80’ goal found Hairston running through the middle of the field without much of a challenge, allowing him to send the ball to Mo Saied, who crossed it to two Rapid players running unmarked to the backside of our goal where Kevin Doyle was able to finish it.  Then in the 86’, Gordon, essentially unmarked on the backside of the goal, headed the ball in giving Colorado the lead. 

Another lead that Crew SC let slip away.

Random thoughts:

  1. Before the game, I tweeted we should bring Mo Saied back with us.  I don’t know if he’d make a difference on the field for us or not, but I miss Mo’s positive presence.  I did find it amusing that the guy defending him for the majority of the night—Josh Williams–was one of the few Columbus defenders Mo never played with during his time with Crew SC. 
  2. Although our current Mo, Mohammed Abu, had what I thought was a solid game.  He flows much better with his teammates than he did earlier in the season.   
  3. Pipa continues a dominant 2017.  He played another good game and for that, and his game against Seattle, made MLS Team of the Week
  4. While Gregg rolled out a different formation, I wish he had also subbed a bit earlier especially in the higher elevation with a lead.
  5. I will be very disappointed if Meram and Pipa do not get chosen for the MLS All-Star team in some capacity.

Our next game is an Open Cup match against FC Cincinnati on June 14th.  I’m not sure what line up Berhalter will roll out as we have a MLS match against Atlanta United three days later.  Here’s to a win and all players staying healthy throughout that Open Cup game.  (I still miss watching you play Eddie Gaven.) 

Featured image courtesy: @ColumbusCrewSC

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Vancouver Whitecaps vs Atlanta United

Christy Casas - Vancouver Whitecaps/mlsfemale
Official Vancouver Whitecaps Reporter

By Christy Casas // @nkstar9

Saturday, June 3: 3-1 Win

Let’s just start off with a slow clap for those who thought the game was out of town and didn’t tell anyone I wasn’t going. Yea, I am looking at me. Good thing I was able to record the game and watched it with the comfort of rewind to assure my amateur reffing skills are up to par.

Vancouver Whitecaps battled it out at home with Atlanta United, both teams sat at 7th place in their respective conferences, clawing their way into a playoff spot. It’s a long season, but every game is mission critical.

Whitecaps have put in a lot of extra time on the pitch with the beginning of the season bringing the CONCACAF champions league playoffs and recently adding two games, and travel, playing in the Canadian Championship. Now with the time to focus on the MLS, it seems like chemistry and rapport are starting to come together.

Last game came with some major frustration with it being one of those games where the ball just wouldn’t fall. One of those games that was decided with a single blow of a whistle. The goal post was a foe and the force was against us. The silver lining? The ‘Caps came out and they wanted it. Though, sometimes it’s double or nothing and the Caps felt that pressure with an early Atlanta goal.

The Costa Rican captain, Kendall Waston, takes on the task of getting the boys back in the game. Waston has been disciplined, calculated, and uplifting this season, as he steps up from the back to bury one when it was needed most. Scratch that, with the momentum of the first goal, he steps up to bury a second goal in just a 14 minute span. This time off a corner from Cristian Techera.

Going into the second half ‘Caps have a 2-1 lead. But what do you know, it wouldn’t be a Whitecap game without a penalty against us. The whistle while the ball is in your box is enough to paralyze any player, let alone looking up, and seeing the man in the middle pointing to that very distinctive spot just a few feet away from your keeper. It also wouldn’t be a Whitecap game with a little bit of drama. Drama here is defined by a referee calling a penalty, having 22 sweaty angry men surround you, then talking to the linesman, then saying JK JK. It’s all good, let’s forgot about what I just did and all play together in harmony.

The third Whitecap goal was icing on the cake, but also provided a bit of confusion. Did Tim Parker score? Did Fredy Montero score? I can tell you one thing, the Whitecaps scored!

Montero got the credit and Vancouver in all it’s glory got the lift in standing and in spirit.

Until next time, #riseupraincity

Featured image courtesy: @WhitecapsFC

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Slumping into the Break

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

Sylvana Budesheim // @WhiteZinWench

Saturday, June 3rd: 1-0 Loss

MLS. It’s not the league of the road warrior. It’s ridiculously difficult to go into an opponent’s stadium and do well. Going into Stade Saputo, the New York Red Bulls (6-7-2, 20 points) had not won an away game since Opening Weekend (vs expansion team Atlanta United) and haven’t scored away since April 1st (in a 4-1 loss against Houston Dynamo).

The form that sent them to the playoffs, that won them the Supporter’s Shield twice in 3 years, and that fans saw coming back in their two most recent wins at home, is slipping away again. Facing the Montreal Impact (4-4-4, 16 points) didn’t make matters easier. This was the team that ousted RBNY from the playoffs last year, Red Bulls Midfielder Felipe’s former team, and the club that had traded to acquire Chris Duvall from RBNY.

During most of the game, the ball stayed on the right side of the field while the Red Bulls had possession. The problem with that is it kept Kemar Lawrence and Mike Grella out of the mix for most of the match. However, a lot of the responsibility fell to Michael Amir Murillo at RB, and he handled the job well. Considering the perceived instability of the back line, defenders Murillo, Lawrence, Aaron Long, and Damien Perrinelle held up quite well throughout the match. Even when Montreal midfielder Blerim Dzemaili made a goal in the 30th minute, it was not because the back line was sleeping on the throw in. Fortunately, the deflection off Dominic Oduro caused the goal to be called back for an offside play.

Following the match, Captain Sacha Kljestan admitted that the team cannot rely on striker Bradly Wright-Phillips to score all the goals; he and the other attackers have to pull their own weight. He should have pointed that out before the match: Grella attempted some fancy footwork in the 42nd minute, as if he was going to dribble the ball right past Impact GK Evan Bush. Then in the 50th minute, Kljestan himself either whiffed the ball or went for the assist: either way, the ball went wide and was another wasted opportunity. Even Felipe, who drew several fouls and took a few free kicks, couldn’t land the ball in the net.

And then, just what the Red Bulls feared came to fruition: in the 67th minute, the Impact earned a free kick and re-started faster than the Red Bulls thought they would. This allowed Dzemaili to poke the ball straight through to the back of the net. They were caught slow, lost, and behind the run of play.

Coach Jesse Marsch called in the reinforcements (Fred Gulbrandsen in for Sean Davis and Gonzalo Veron for Grella in the 75th minute) and the attack was back on. Had the game been maybe ten minutes longer, RBNY might have had a chance to level it. But then in stoppage time Impact midfielder Patrice Bernier slid off the field and fell into the Montreal bench (they have dugout-style benches very close to the touchline—I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often). While Bernier got up and walked out on his own, the incident killed the run of play and referee Mark Geiger did not add additional time to the three minutes already in place.

The International Break is coming up, and prior USMNT call-ups Luis Robles and Sacha Kljestan are staying home (Murillo has been called for Panama, and Lawrence is expected to be called for Jamaica). This is the time they need to rest and refocus. RBNY is hovering at the red line that dictates who makes the playoffs: while they’ve been there before, it’s not where they belong. They have what it takes to climb the standings. They just need to find it in themselves again.

Featured image courtesy: @NewYorkRedBulls

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They Shaved Paradise

C.M. Brandon - NYCFC/mlsfemale
Official New York City FC Reporter

By C.M. Brandon // @lukacharms

Saturday, June 3: 2-1 win

New York City FC came up from behind to defeat Philadelphia Union with late game goals by defenders Maxime Chanot and Alexander Callens, propelling them to second place in the Eastern Conference.

This pleases me. This pleases all of us.

However, there cannot be too much jubilation. It’s important to remember that this week, NYCFC suffered a tremendous loss.

Cult favorite, club legend, West Nyack’s own Tommy McNamara cut his hair.

If you’re suffering anywhere near as much as I am, I’d like to offer you a brief respite:

(Though TMac did earn his first USMNT call-up after shearing himself, so maybe his hair isn’t the source of his power? No. I refuse to believe this.)

Stay strong, everyone. We’ll all get through this together. See you next week for the U.S. Open Cup!

Featured image courtesy: @NYCFC

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Back in the Game

Sheba Rawson - Portland Timbers/mlsfemale
Official Portland Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson // @shebainpdx

Friday, June 2: 2-0 Win

I’ll readily admit to being both testy and trepidacious (read: grumpy and fearful) going into this match. Of course I was grumpy: WHOSE bright idea was it to schedule a Friday 8pm game? Yeah, I know that a later game means that people can probably more easily make it to the match in plenty of time, but holy cow that makes for a long day for some of us. And fearful? Yeah, sure I was.

We had a string of five ties or losses in a row. Not a good look heading into a stretch where we will be missing players on international duty AND getting in a couple of games before our Open Cup match (against Seattle Sounders again, naturally). And let’s be honest, the last time we played San Jose Earthquakes, we were, let’s just say, less than stellar (read: we got our butts handed to us).

On the other hand, our players are pretty much healthy, we were playing at home, and San Jose has not yet managed a win against us at Providence Park. I had my fingers crossed that we could continue THAT streak, at least.

Match Recap

Our lineup was close to the usual starting eleven, with a couple of predictable exceptions. With Darlington Nagbe away on international duty, Dairon Asprilla started in his place on the right wing. This would surely mean a change in the flow of the game: Dairon has pace and is an attacking threat, but he lacks Darlington’s ability to control the ball and make connections. Porter appears to be as tired of the “That’s So Alvas” show as I am, benching right back Alvas Powell again in favor of Zarek Valentin.

We certainly had our share of chances from start to finish. As early as 4′, Vytautas Andriuškevičius had a beautiful cross to Asprilla that gave him a legitimate chance to open the scoring; but his header hit the post and bounced out. Barely two minutes later, we had our second shot at the net, with Davíd Guzmán‘s corner kick finding Roy Miller for a header that was well struck and headed for a score but for a brilliant save by Earthquakes’ keeper David Bingham. Asprilla had another shot at goal around 21′, but he sent it skyward (in Portland, we might say he “Palmered” it; ask around).

Things got interesting after the Earthquakes’ Darwin Cerén got two yellows in quick succession. His first yellow, on a late tackle/shove in the back to Guzmán at 35′, was an unnecessary move and an easy call. The second, a shoulder to Sebastian Blanco as they both went for the ball at 37′, was much less clear cut.  When I watched it live, it looked legitimate; on the replay I’d have to say that Blanco sold it well. (We talk about “professional fouls;” is there such a thing as a “professional sales job?”)

As an elementary school principal who deals with a fair amount of playground discipline, I also have to wonder if Cerén would have had that yellow called if he hadn’t just plowed into Guzmán from behind not two minutes earlier. In any case, that second yellow meant that San Jose would be down a man for the remainder of the match.

At stoppage in the first half, forward Fanendo Adi had a couple of chances to put it away when Blanco headed him the ball. Adi’s header hit the post and bounced out. Adi tried to make the rebound play, but his toe poke was unsuccessful. Bingham scooped it up and we were once again denied.

After the first half, I was pretty frustrated. We were up a man, we had MORE than our share of chances, but had nothing on the scoreboard:

Finally, in the second half, we had something to show for all of that offensive effort. At 50′ Valentin found space in the middle of the field, drove forward, and made a beautiful pass to El Maestro, Diego Valeri on the left. Valeri chested it, ran onto the ball, and drilled in a bank shot off the post and into the back of the net. WHEW.

We had another chance at 60′, when we had numbers on the counter. Asprilla and Blanco both had chances to put it away but didn’t manage the task. Adi AGAIN found the post instead of the back of the net at 94′. Fortunately for us, it was once again Valeri to the rescue, who followed up in the box (you know, like you’re SUPPOSED to do when a teammate takes a shot), cleaned up Adi’s near miss, and put the game away.

It was 2-0 at the death, and the final whistle blew. Thank goodness. Yes, my mood at the end of the second half was considerably better than it was at the end of the first half.

Hot Takes

Decent defense. Yes, I know we played a man up for over half the match; but even before that, keeper Jake Gleeson didn’t have a whole lot to do in front of our goal. Vytas continues to look sharp, protecting the left flank well and delivering crisp crosses. Miller and Liam Ridgewell handled the back well. Ridgewell was even more active than usual this game, pushing up when appropriate and still ably covering his territory.

And Valentin continued to make the case for more play time, making smart plays and contributing a key assist. While it’s clear that Powell has more pace and raw talent than Valentin, Powell’s decision making/giveaways were KILLING us on the right wing. I’m okay with Valentin in that spot, though I worry that a speed burner on his side of the field might make him pay dearly on a quick transition.

The post giveth, and the post taketh away. Yes, we know all about posts here in Portland. And Friday’s post action was nowhere near as dramatic as this. But it was still a pretty impressive collection: Asprilla with a post miss at 4′, Adi with a first half stoppage header post miss, Valeri with the post-and-in goal at 50′, Adi AGAIN hitting the post and missing in stoppage at the second half (with Valeri subsequently putting it away). Hopefully the posts are a bit kinder to us next weekend. Speaking of next weekend:

Our finishing continues to be worrisome. At the beginning of the season, looking at all of that firepower, I was pretty confident we would have a season of high-scoring games–and we did, for a time. But that certainly hasn’t been the case lately. And without Valeri’s finishing, we would still have walked away with only a point to show for our efforts, at home, against a team that was misfiring on offense even before they went a man down.

We have a lot of players who should have been able to put together a string of passes and finish. I love Valeri but he cannot be our only scoring threat. Not sure what the solution is, because Asprilla, Blanco, Adi et al seemed to be making good moves and getting plenty of chances. We just need to be able to count on lots of people being able to actually get the ball into the back of the net.

Off the Pitch

Last week was heartbreaking for the city of Portland.

Two men were killed in a stabbing on a MAX train Friday when they tried to intervene as another man yelled racial slurs at two young women who appeared to be Muslim, including one wearing a hijab, police said.

A third passenger who tried to help was also stabbed, but is expected to survive, said Portland police spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson.

We ache for the slain and injured and for their familes; and team, town, Timbers Army alike were compelled to honor their memory and their bravery. Players wore black armbands for the game. The stadium held a moment of silence before the anthem. And the Timbers Army raised a special tifo remembering the names of the fallen: Rick Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche; and survivor Micah Fletcher. The front banner is a line from a poem that Micah wrote while in the hospital recovering from his wounds:

We have seen both the worst and the best of humanity in stark relief. If I have learned anything from the Timbers Army, it is that even in the worst of times, the best of humanity can also break through. Here’s hoping we continue to find and build on what is best in each of us, on and off the pitch.

Featured image courtesy: Nicole Barker/Timbers Army

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The Tale of Two Teams

Hilary - Columbus Crew/mlsfemale
Official Columbus Crew Reporter

By Hilary // @hils4crew

Yes, it is the tale of two teams–one who gets outscored 5-0 against a team missing two of its starters, and then another team who wins 3-0 giving their opposition few opportunities.   “Who are these two teams?” one might ask.  And the answer will only surprise those who haven’t watched the team struggle for consistency over the past few seasons, Columbus Crew SC.

On Friday, Columbus Crew SC lost 5-0 to Toronto FC who was missing Giovinco and Altidore.  To be honest, I wasn’t watching.  I was playing a soccer game at the time, so I was following the game’s score on my phone.

As I watched a replay of the game, I didn’t find the first 30 minutes as bad as I thought they would be.  Maybe I was prepared for the worst knowing the final score line already.  Mensah’s foul in the 4’ that led to Vazquez’s putting away a PK was bad–it should have been a red card–and Toronto definitely had a lot of dangerous chances.  However, Crew SC had some chances that they should have finished, which would have resulted in a very different match.

Instead, Toronto’s Justin Morrow streaked down the left side of the field and lasered a ball into the net, and Gregg Berhalter subbed off one of our strongest players, Justin Meram, in the 40’.  Toronto followed this with a goal in the 59’ from Vazquez and two more goals when they were down a man after Marco Delgado was sent off in the 81’. 

Counter this match with the match on Wednesday night against Seattle Sounders where we saw a very different Crew SC team.  Justin Meram and Frederico Higuain continued their fantastic seasons starting in the 10’ when Hector Jimenez slid to get a ball, sent it to Higuain who settled and sent it to the bottom left corner of the net.  Later in the 21’, Justin Meram decided to increase the lead as several Seattle defenders backpedaled as he slotted the ball into the same corner as Higuain.  In the 59’, Meram sent a beautiful pass to Kamara who sent a low shot to the bottom right corner bouncing off the inside of the post careening into the back of the net. 

Zack Steffen made two fantastic saves to keep Crew SC solidly in the lead.  One was a diving save stopping a well-hit shot from Lodeiro in the 57’.  Later, he snagged a charging Fernandez’s shot with his left hand.

Random Thoughts:

  • Crew SC need to get Artur signed and off this loan.  He got sick at halftime during the Seattle game and continued to play.  He is a difference maker and is all over the field.  He needs to be in the black and gold next season too and a few more seasons after that if he continues to play as he has.
  • This team plays better with Ethan Finlay.  He may not be assisting or scoring goals, but he draws defenders and makes dangerous runs. 
  • There were many, many times during this game that I yelled look at Raitala or Finlay.  This team needs to switch the field quicker at times especially when their left back is standing there alone.  Also, Finlay makes these great runs, but they either don’t send him the ball when they should or make the pass too late.
  • Lots of people wanted Gregg fired after the Toronto loss.  I just don’t think that will fix the problems we have.  Gregg is a young coach.  This season, he’s starting to make tactical changes, and he is reflective on his decisions.  I continue to have faith, for now, in his direction for the team.
  • The Seattle game had tons more goals in it.  Kamara had a few more he could have put away. 
  • Having pups on the pitch night at Crew SC may have just brought the team luck.  Should it be a reoccurring event?  I guess it just might depend on our next home match’s result.

So, in the last week, we have seem two very different Crew SC teams.  Maybe, they had to hit the low in Toronto to figure out who they are.  Maybe they thought they were the only ones to defeat Toronto so far this season, so it would be easy to do it again.  But, I like the team that showed up against Seattle.  Let’s hope we see this team again on Saturday against Colorado Rapids.

Featured image courtesy: @ColumbusCrewSC

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