New York City Football Club was finally back home on Sunday, playing with a full, healthy squad taking on Philadelphia Union. Not only was it Fan Appreciation Day but most importantly, MLS Decision Day, which determined the draw for the knockout round. NYCFC needed a victory to secure a number 3 seed and a first-round home game.
Amid rumors of David Villa’s looming end-of-season retirement and with the possibility of an away first-round playoff game (depending on the result of this game), fans were aching to enjoy every moment of Villa on the home pitch. Our captain did not disappoint with his deep crossing runs, elegant ball movement and, of course, a goal. Villa played the entire 90 minutes which resulted in a 3-1 NY City victory over the Union. Other goals were scored by Maxime Chanot (NYC), Auston Trusty (Philadelphia own goal) and Cory Burke (Philadelphia).
The game was not just a result of excellent tactics and effort by Villa but also by the triumphant return of Yangel Herrera in midfield. Herrera missed most of the season due to an injury. With Herrera’s calm yet aggressive presence on the field, the team looked tight and complete. Herrera made the transition from defense to offense look smooth. Is this what we have been lacking for these past few months?
One of the most exciting moments of the match was executed by goalkeeper Sean Johnson when he made a flying save on a penalty kick awarded to Philadelphia for a foul called on Johnson himself. Johnson was pumped, the crowd was pumped and the save seemed to put the final nail in the Union’s coffin.
With the win in hand, NYCFC will next face, yup, Philadelphia Union on Halloween.
With Halloween being a big holiday in the New York and Hudson Valley region, many fans discussed the disappointment in finding out that the playoff game was taking place that night rather than November 1st. The date was determined by the television networks who do some version of drawing straws and taking picks for game coverage. It seems that we got tricked while the #4 seeded DC United got all the treats.
Looking forward to the rematch with Philly on Wednesday. I think Yankee Stadium will be a House of Horrors for the Union with NYCFC getting through to meet (a suddenly beatable?) Atlanta United in the Eastern Conference Series.
The game was about as shaky and unpredictable as the Ohio weather.Columbus Crew SC took on the Minnesota United FC in the final game of the season in Columbus.
Before the game, the sun shone down and prepared the teams and fans for a game that determined the Crew’s playoff possibilities. However, nine minutes in, Ohio weather being Ohio weather, decided to change tactics.Lightning and rain caused a delay–foiling the MLS’ plan that all games end at the same time leaving every teams’ playoff fate unknown until the final minute of all those synchronized games.Well, as MLS has learned this year, Columbus rarely does it the way they want us to.
After about an hour delay, the game resumed in the blustering wind, rain, and a significant temperature drop.Crew SC jumped back into the match quickly with a short corner from Federico Higuain to Milton Valenzuela.Valenzuela sent in a cross, which Gyasi Zardes headed into the goal in the 11’ of the game.
In the 41’, a scary scene emerged, as Columbus Crew’s Gaston Sauro in an effort to stop a streaking Angelo Rodriguez, collided with keeper Zack Steffen leaving both Rodriguez and Steffen on the ground for several minutes with Rodriguez being subbed out.Steffen returned to the match with a collective sigh of relief leaving all Crew fans.
The first half ended with Crew SC up 1-0 and a playoff spot clinched as the Montreal Impact lost to the New England Revolution. Despite the guaranteed playoff spot, it was important for Crew SC to get the win as they have struggled to get results as of late and need to get into form if they want to go deep into the playoffs and make a run for the MLS Cup.
Gyasi Zardes scored quickly again in the second half slotting a ball in the 49’ after following up a free kick from Higuain that bounced off of Minnesota goalkeeper Matt Lampson, but Minnesota had no desire to make this easy for the Crew.Francisco Calvo, a Minnesota defender scored in the 68’ unmarked off a free kick, and again in the 77’, as a ball skipped between Harrison Afful’s legs right to Calvo.Minnesota had evened up the score.
However, Zardes decided that it was time to score his first career hat trick and scored the final goal of the night in the 83’ off a beautiful ball from Niko Hansen putting the Crew SC in fifth place.
I haven’t written a lot of articles this season about Crew SC.First, I can’t watch away games at home due to some bizarre blackout rule that I have yet to figure out.Second, my personal life outside of soccer has been a bit more crazy than normal.And third, this was an emotionally hard season.Due to the possibility of the Crew’s move to Austin, every game felt more emotionally draining than normal.It was difficult to want to relive that in recaps and articles.
However, it looks likely, due to a local ownership group that includes the Edwards and Haslam families, that Crew SC may remain in Columbus with Austin getting its own team.Now until the final i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed, I will not feel completely calm, but it helped me enjoy this game a lot more.
Zardes scored his first professional hat trick in this game and ended the regular season with 19 goals.I have a lot of respect for Sigi Schmid, but I’m not sure what he was thinking trying to play Gyasi at leftback last season when Zardes was with the Galaxy.Gregg Berhalter has a proven system that helps make his forwards successful goal scorers.
As this was the last regular season home game, it always makes me pause and wonder who we are possibly watching for the last time as a Crew SC player.Will Steffen and Wil Trapp head to Europe?Will Berhalter be named the new USMNT head coach?The answers to these questions, for now, remain unknown but I am very thankful that these men have played a part in Columbus Crew SC history.
Typically, Crew SC is on a hot streak going into the playoffs. This season, we have not seen this streak.In fact, it’s been pretty much the opposite.If Crew SC can’t find their top-level form and make the mistakes they made against Minnesota, their playoff run will be short-lived.
Let’s hope Crew SC bring their A-game against a very tough DC United team this Thursday in the playoff knockout game.
It was a matchday like no other. Rivals Toronto FC were visiting Stade Saputo looking to put the final nail in the coffin of Montréal Impact’s playoff hopes. Elsewhere, DC United were officially claiming the fifth of six playoff spots, while Columbus Crew continued a tie game with Orlando SC, a team which boasted the most porous defense in the league.
With TFC eliminated from playoff contention several weeks ago, the match was more about pride than anything, as most had written off the Impact’s playoff hopes, even if mathematically the Bleu-Blanc-Noir still had a chance to make the cut. With Victor Vazquez and Jozy Altidore sidelined through injury, TFC still brought out a strong lineup, looking to play spoiler to their enemy.
For the home side, left back Daniel Lovitz, whose offensive spark contributed to a goal and five assists on the season, found himself injured and unavailable for selection. Jukka Raitala entered the starting lineup at left back and Rudy Camacho, whose previous performances against nimble opponents like Sebastian Giovinco or Lucho Acosta were nightmarish, returned to central defense.
Voici VOTRE XI partant pour la visite du @torontofc.
With the Impact having firmly established their identity as a counterattacking team, it comes as no surprise that TFC enjoyed the lion’s share of ball possession during long stretches of the first half. Evan Bush was called into action as once again Camacho allowed Giovinco to slip behind him, but the Italian’s one-on-one shot lacked any conviction and Bush smothered the ball. In the 35th minute, the Impact had the ball in the back of the net, but following a VAR consultation, referee Baldomero Toledo ruled the goal offside and the teams retreated to the locker rooms in a deadlock.
Following the break, it was clear that Rémi Garde’s request for more aggressivity from his team was heard loud and clear. Several times the Impact hit TFC on the counter, but both captain Ignacio Piatti and striker Quincy Amarikwa wasted their opportunities, and keeper Alex Bono made a heroic save on a header from Saphir Taïder.
Finally, in the 71st minute, VAR was called into action again. Substitute defender Eriq Zavaleta, who has long struggled when facing Piatti, was found to have pulled on the Argentinean’s jersey inside the TFC box, and this time VAR ruled in the home team’s favour. “Nacho” stepped up to the spot and calmly converted the shot.
In the 88th minute, the Impact sealed a 14th victory of the season when Piatti beat a defender and the goalkeeper to casually slot the ball into an empty net, marking his 16th goal of the season. Unbeknownst to the team, results elsewhere allowed the Impact to remain in the playoff race, with Orlando claiming their first win in over a dozen matches in the last seconds to leave Columbus only 2 points above the Impact and that vital red line.
With the last home game of the season in the books, it was only fitting that coach Garde, whose adaptation to the team and the league was painful but has now blossomed into something beautiful, rang the North Star Bell to celebrate the victory.
Since the playoffs are still in reach, the Impact must travel to New England Revolution and claim a Decision Day victory, while hoping Columbus lose or draw in their match versus Minnesota United. No matter how the 2018 campaign ends, to still be in the playoff discussion after such a dismal start speaks volumes to how the team has flourished over the course of the season and fans are waiting for that do-or-die match with baited breath.
Sporting Kansas City hosts the Los Angeles Football Club for the first time on Sunday, October 28 in the battle for the top spot in the Western Conference. The regular season finale will also welcome home former players Benny Feilhaber and Latif Blessing.
The last time these two clubs met was on August 11, when Sporting KC delivered LAFC their first and only home loss of the regular season in a 2-0 victory at the Banc of California stadium.
It is important to note that the black-and-gold were missing several key players due to coming off a two-game streak – with their last match being in Houston, for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinals, three days prior to meeting Sporting KC. Andre Horta, Danilo Silva, and Christian Ramirez filled these empty roles while also having earned their first MLS career starts.
The black-and-gold are expected to be at full strength for Sunday’s contest with Tyler Miller back in goal and Steven Beitashour, Walker Zimmerman and Adama Diomande returning to the pitch.
Bob Bradley‘s team will be coming off the momentum they gained from their final regular season match at home where they earned a 2-2 draw with the Vancouver Whitecaps and made history as the first club to reach 57 points in their inaugural season.
Sporting KC currently holds first place in the Western Conference with LAFC just two points behind – tied with FC Dallas. A win would secure the top spot for the black-and-gold, however, if the match ends in a draw or loss they could potentially remain in second place. Of course, we would need to take into account the fact FC Dallas and the Seattle Sounders would both need to lose in order for this to happen. Given their current records – that’s a tall order for any team.
The top two seeds will earn knockout round byes, while the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds will host a single-elimination knockout round match on either Oct. 31 or Nov. 1 against the No. 6 and No. 5 seeds, respectively.
On the other side, similar to their visitors, Sporting KC will look to stay atop the standings and a first-round bye. The home side could still finish anywhere from first to fourth, having clinched their first home playoff game since the 2013 MLS Cup.
Only one question remains. Who will come out on top?
If you’ve ever been to a match when the Cascadia Cup is on the line, you never forget it.
Long-time Timbers Army members tell stories of the first Cascadia Cup matches early in the A-League/USL era, when supporters of the Vancouver Whitecaps, Seattle Sounders, and Portland Timbers all agreed to pitch in to buy a trophy to honor whichever Cascadia team had the best regular season record among the three. They can tell you why you should never pick the Cup up by the handles, and about how league and schedule changes have forced supporters from all three clubs to come to agreement on how to handle unbalanced schedules and other hiccups in the past.
In the MLS era, I remember when something like 1500 of us went to Seattle in October 2012 with the chance to win the Cup–and instead got spanked 3-0. I remember when hundreds of us then trekked to Vancouver two weeks later to christen the newly renovated BC Place, and Jack Jewsbury blasted a ball from distance to give us a 1-0 victory and our first Cascadia Cup in the MLS era.
As in years past, if there is ever a Cascadia Cup match where the trophy is on the line, representatives from supporters of the potential winner of the Cup must be in attendance, even if their team isn’t playing. And representatives of those in possession of the Cup must also be in attendance when the Cup is on the line, even if their team isn’t playing. When we had to surrender the Cup in 2011, representatives of the Timbers Army had to drive to Canada to hand it over to either Seattle or Vancouver, depending on the outcome of their match. In 2012, turnabout was fair play, and Seattle had to drive to Canada to hand the trophy over to us.
This year, Portland has had several chances to seal the deal. Vancouver brought the trophy down to a Portland-Seattle game in case we won the game and the Cup (we didn’t); Portland supporters had to go to a Vancouver-Seattle game in case they drew and we won the Cup (we didn’t); and Seattle had to come to Portland for our final match against Vancouver in case we drew or lost, which would have meant Seattle winning the Cup (they didn’t). In the end, all three supporter groups traveled to matches played by two teams they didn’t support, all for naught and all because of the Cascadia Cup. It was standard Cascadia Cup drama.
And it was glorious.
Of course, since it was a Cascadia Cup match, I was already a wreck well before the game. And not only was the Cup on the line: a win would put us into first place in the West and give us a first round bye. With the Sounders playing hapless Colorado, a tie or a loss would almost certainly put us into third or fourth place, with the insult-to-injury of losing the Cup to hated rivals in Seattle, followed by a midweek play-in game on little rest.
Superstitious to the last, I baked the same fanladen treats I’ve been baking since our home game winning streak began in August. I wore the same USL Timbers earrings I wear to every home game. And I was still sure how this script would go. I figured that, as a former Whitecaps player, Darren Mattocks would score the early goal to punish Vancouver and get our hopes up; and that Fredy Montero, recently acquired by the Whitecaps, a long-time former Sounders player and hated rival, would crush our spirits with a late equalizer. I hoped for the best and prepared myself for the worst.
As I expected, we went with the same lineup we’d used against DC United. Both teams looked to be pretty stingy early on, so it wasn’t surprising that the first score came off a set piece. Kendall Waston punished Larrys Mabiala in the 29′ with a beautiful header off a free kick. I groaned, expecting Vancouver to be sensible and pack in the defense.
But then a funny thing happened. The Timbers started flying into the box, and the Whitecaps were unable to respond. Just three minutes after the Waston header, David Guzman took a deep free kick from just past the center circle and Aly Ghazal headed it out the back unnecessarily. This set up a corner kick for Guzman, who sent it to the top left corner of the box to Darlington Nagbe. Whitecaps keeper Stefan Marinovic was barely able to bat away Nagbe’s curling shot; unfortunately for Marinovic, he batted it to the waiting feet of Liam Ridgewell, who stretched out just enough to tap it across the goal and into the net to tie the game:
The rest of the half, the Timbers were on the front foot, as they say, continuing to press. I kept waiting for the boys to falter and suffer from a counterattack but it never really materialized. And then three minutes into the half a beautiful team goal involving Nagbe, Sebastian Blanco, Vytautas Andriuškevičius, and Mattocks put us ahead 2-1 to stay:
Vancouver battled hard in the last few minutes but to no avail, and when the final whistle sounded the unbelievable had become reality: we had won the West and the Cup.
Sebastian Blanco had an excellent game. I know some people grumbled that he took shots that were off the mark, but the truth is that his work rate is incredible, he is starting to team well with others, and those shots he took wouldn’t have been possible if he hadn’t worked so hard to get the opportunities in the first place.
Darren Mattocks is playing well(!). At the start of the season, I would not have guessed that I’d consider preferring to start Mattocks up top over Fanendo Adi going into the playoffs; but here we are.
Alvas Powell didn’t make any fatal errors. ‘Nuf said.
Off the Pitch
Surprising absolutely nobody, Diego Valeri was the hands down winner of the Supporters Player of the Year award. We are ready to build the statue any time, folks.