Tag Archives: MLS Cup Playoffs

Sporting Kansas City advances to Western Conference Finals in Icy Battle

Araceli Villanueva - LAFC/mlsfemale
Sporting KC Contributor

By Araceli Villanueva // @Aracelv1

From the moment the whistle blew, this icy match didn’t disappoint when it came to drama.

Following a 1-1 draw on the road, Sporting Kansas City returns home to stamp their ticket to the Western Conference Finals in a 4-2 (5-3 on aggregate) win over Real Salt Lake at Children’s Mercy Park.

Felipe Gutierrez arguably had the best game of his career having recorded two assists – becoming the first player in Sporting KC postseason history to record two assists in the first half. As well, recording a total of three assists in the 2018 playoffs campaign, tied for a club postseason record.

Sporting KC was up 2-0 by the 20th minute after two brilliant goals by Diego Rubio and Daniel Salloi. However, things started to slow as the home side’s defense became noticeable lazy – giving RSL an opportunity to pull one back shortly after the restart.

The tide would shift again in the 67th minute after RSL defender Nedum Onuoha received a caution for a tackle on Gutierrez – Referee Jose Carlos Rivero awarded Sporting KC a penalty, which Ilie Sanchez successfully converted with a shot down the middle, putting SKC back ahead 3-1.

Moments later, RSL answered the penalty when Damir Kreilach sends a clear header off of a corner shot from Joao Plata past Tim Melia pulling one back for RSL 3-2.

The remainder of the match saw RSL putting all bodies forward continuously challenging Melia and the backline – in an attempt to level the match. Fortunately, Sporting KC was able to dismiss all opportunities the visitors created in front of a sold-out crowd.

Every heart in the stadium filled with anxiety when the crowd witnessed the ball falling to Nick Besler, the younger brother of Sporting KC captain Matt Besler, off a corner kick in the 83rd minute but his chance fizzled past the goal, landing in the side netting. Seconds later, nerves rattled again, when Jefferson Savoring won possession on a loose ball in the penalty area and sent a side-footer in close range just wide of Melia’s right-hand post.

After a brutal seven minutes of stoppage time, Salloi slammed home the silencer in the 96th minute securing the home side’s spot in the Western Conference Final. As well, handing the team their first playoff win since 2013.

Sporting KC will have a two-week break period to regroup before traveling to Portland for leg 1 of the Western Conference Final on Sunday, November 25.

Featured image: @SportingKC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @Aracelv1

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Save the Empire

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

By Sylvana Budesheim // @WhiteZinWench

Sunday, November 4th: 1-0 Loss 

Eastern Conference Semifinals, Leg 1

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

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

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

It wasn’t pretty.

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

I feel as if I have said this before. 

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

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

Featured image: Bill Twomey

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @WhiteZinWench

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The Crew: Pushing through the Playoffs

Hilary - Columbus Crew/mlsfemale
Official Columbus Crew Reporter

By Hilary // @hils4crew

Knockout Game

Thursday, November 1: 2(2) – 2(3) Win

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

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

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

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

Thoughts on this Game:

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

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

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

Conference Semifinals—Leg 1

Sunday, November 4: 1-0 Win

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts on this Game:

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

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

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

Featured image: @ColumbusCrewSC

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @hils4crew

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NYCFC looks ahead to face Atlanta United in MLS Eastern Conference Semifinals

Keira Smith - NYCFC/mlsfemale
Official NYCFC Reporter

By Keira Smith // @keiramunsmith

It’s deja-vu all over again as New York City Football Club tops Philadelphia Union 3-1 for the second time in a week, this time in the MLS Playoff Knockout Round.

From the beginning, NYCFC dominated the Union, sticking to their high possession strategy which was lighter and more precise with the return of midfielder Yangel Herrera. Herrera’s ability to anticipate opponents’ next moves and superb skills in transitioning between defense and offense allowed David Villa, Maxi Moralez and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi to work smoothly together.

All three goals were scored on attacks down the middle with three different types of finishing touches by Tajouri-Shradi, Villa and Moralez. Additionally, a late substitution of Valentin (Taty) Castellanos for Villa was strategically very important in maintaining the win as Castellanos drew two, sometimes three defenders which freed up Moralez to maneuver and keep NYC in possession of the ball.

This was a huge win and a morale lifter for NYCFC and its fans as we look ahead to face Atlanta United in the MLS Eastern Conference semi-finals.  New York City has been gaining momentum and confidence after a dismal two months and Atlanta is showing some cracks in its previously impenetrable foundation. Atlanta is now in a situation familiar to NYCFC with its coach Tata Martino rumored to be leaving the club for “greener” pastures, as well as, player personal conduct and team chemistry distractions.

In the past two years, the two teams have been evenly matched with each team credited one win, one loss and two draws. New York City is back to full strength with a clean bill of health and will face an Atlanta squad who will be close to full strength, especially if midfielder Miguel Almirón returns to match play.  (Almirón returned to training this week.)

I predict Atlanta will utilize a 4-4-2 formation with Brad Guzan, a returning from injury Greg Garza, Leandro González-Pirez, Michael Parkhurst and Franco Escobar as defenders, center defending midfielder Jeff Larentowicz, center attacking midfielder  Almirón, Ezequiel Barco and Darlington Nagbe on the wings and both Hector Villalba and Josef Martinez up top.

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Ismael Tajouri-Shradi celebrates his goal. Image: Tisha Gale

For New York City, I see coach Dome Torrent sticking with a similar lineup and formation as the last two matches with the exception of perhaps starting Jesús Medina at left midfield over Ronald Matarrita as Medina’s style of play may be a better matchup against Atlanta’s tactics.  The past two matchups utilized a 4-2-3-1 with Sean Johnson, Ben Sweat, Alexander Callens, Maxime Chanot, Anton Tinnerholm, Herrera, Alex Ring, Medina, Moralez, Tajouri-Shradi and Villa.

Make no mistake about it, this will be an extremely tough match for City, especially after Atlanta’s recent embarrassing loss to Toronto FC which cost them the Supporter’s Shield.  They will be out to prove to everyone that the recent loss was a fluke.  However, I have no doubt that our Boys in Blue are in fine form and are capable of taking a big decisive win and sowing more seeds of doubt for Atlanta.

Images by Tisha Gale

Featured image: @TishaGale

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @keiramunsmith

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MLS Cup Playoffs: Valeri Brace Gives Portland Timbers Victory

Sheba Rawson - Portland Timbers/mlsfemale
Official Portland Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson // @shebainpdx

Wednesday, 10/31, Portland Timbers at FC Dallas

Result: Timbers 2-1 Dallas

Coming off last Sunday’s 2-1 regular season defeat against the Vancouver Whitecaps, the Portland Timbers found themselves in a do or die play-in game on Wednesday night vs. FC Dallas.

While coach Gio Savarese’s decision to bench almost all of the starters in Vancouver was painful for fans to watch (trust me, I was one of them), it looked like the right decision when fast-forwarded to Frisco Wednesday night. All of the veterans were back, rested, and ready, as opposed to Dallas’s squad, who played plenty of starters at higher altitude in their loss to the Colorado Rapids in Commerce City just a few days before.

This was a pretty stressful game (okay EXTREMELY stressful game) to watch as a supporter, aside from the obvious pressure resulting from it being either the gateway to the playoffs or the end of the team’s season. The Timbers got beat in nearly every stat (possession, time in the attacking half, time in the final third, completed crosses…) and spent about 40 minutes of the match down a man. In the end, though, the only stat that matters is the scoreline, and thankfully the Timbers came away with a massive win.

Match Recap

Sometimes when a team gets beaten in overall possession it isn’t really a big deal, because the team’s plan is to sit back, absorb pressure, force wide, keep the other team from doing anything dangerous, and bide your time for that chance at a counterattack. In those kinds of games, even when your team doesn’t have the ball as often, it doesn’t feel particularly dangerous or worrisome.

This didn’t quite feel like that sort of game. It’s true that Dallas has had recent scoring woes, and they had only six actual shots on target for the night, but they felt dangerous PLENTY of times. Maybe that’s because they had 22 shots on goal. If their finishing were a little bit better, this story might have had a completely different ending.

In the first half, it sometimes felt like Michael Barrios repeatedly punished left back Jorge Villafaña, attacking with ferocity and impunity. And at 12′ when Reto Ziegler received Santiago Mosquera’s free kick and headed the ball to Matt Hedges for a tap into the back of the net, it looked like the Timbers would have to claw their way back from behind.

Fortunately, video review showed that Hedges (and frankly Dominique Badji, if he had actually been involved in the play), were WAY ahead of anybody in a green jersey when the ball left Ziegler’s head. The goal was disallowed and we all breathed a sigh of relief.

The momentum shifted when Sebastian Blanco drew a foul in a dangerous spot, and Diego Valeri stepped up for the free kick. El Maestro did not disappoint, curling in a beauty for the score at 23′. Advantage: Timbers.

In the second half, Dallas continued to press, and they definitely had their chances. And unfortunately for Portland, Larrys Mabiala gave Dallas their biggest advantage of the night when he found himself out of position against Badji in the 57th minute. Unable to prevent Badji from continuing unimpeded to the goal, Mabiala reached in with his right arm, pulling Badji down. While it may have saved a goal, it earned Mabiala a straight red, giving Dallas a one-man advantage for the rest of the game.

Fortunately, the Timbers were able to pull off a minor miracle, scoring a second goal while a man down. Jeremy Ebobisse made a beautiful run at 71′, and in spite of having the keeper and two defenders in close proximity Ebobisse kept his head, coolly fielded a well-placed ball, knew that somebody would be coming and where he’d be, and dished the ball to Valeri, who found an open net waiting for him:

The game was far from over, of course. Dallas was desperate to get on the board, and with seven minutes of stoppage time, they finally found their chance. At about 90+4′, Mosquera managed to put a header into a dangerous spot, and Hedges banged it in for a goal:

Dallas continued a flurry of attempts, but in the end it wasn’t enough, and the Timbers came away with the win and the advancement to the Western Conference Semifinals.

Quick Takes

Build the statue already. Diego Valeri, already recognized as the league MVP last year, continues to come through in the clutch. You thought the 32-year-old was maybe finally showing signs of being mortal? Watch that free kick again. And while you’re at it, recognize that he is the first Timbers player to score a brace in MLS Cup playoffs.

Jeff! Jeff! Jeff! Jeff! If Valeri wasn’t your MVP for this match, maybe that’s because it was Jeff Attinella. Coming back to his second game following a separated shoulder injury, Jeff had five MASSIVE saves in Frisco, four of them in the second half and one of them in stoppage time. If Diego Valeri won this game, Attinella saved it.

Halftime adjustments. I mentioned earlier that Barrios was pummeling Villafaña on his side of the field in the first half. But whatever adjustments were made at the half, they seemed to be effective. Dallas maintained possession and continued their attack, but Villafaña’s defense improved, with 5/7 of his successful recoveries and 8/11 of his successful passes taking place in the second half. Barrios, in contrast, had most of his unsuccessful passes (8/11) in the second half. Kudos to Jorge for making the adjustment. By the second half, he looked more like the 2015 season player we know and love. Welcome back, Sueño.

Defense, defense, defense. When you’re down a man for a third of the game, your defense is critical. And a couple of players stepped up in a big way to preserve the lead and the win. Between them, Diego Chara and Liam Ridgewell had 15 clearances. 14 of them in the second half and 11 of them after the team went down a man. Of those 11, all but one were inside the 18, and all but one were directly in front of the goal. Chara and Ridgewell defended the goal tenaciously in spite of Mabiala’s booking. Honorable defensive mention also goes to Zarek Valentin, who aside from putting in another smart, solid shift, literally took it on the chin for the team, catching a free kick to the face. Ouch.

Looking Ahead

As of this writing, pending the outcome of the LAFC vs. Real Salt Lake play-in, the Timbers will host either Sporting KC or the Seattle Sounders on Sunday at a time still to be determined. Either opponent would be formidable, and with both Chara and Ridgewell having obtained a yellow card in the match, another yellow would have either player on the bench for the away leg, something the team can ill afford.

Here’s hoping the soccer gods are kind, that yellow cards for our key defenders remain in the center ref’s pocket, and that the boys put in a solid performance. See you all at home on Sunday.

Featured image: @TimbersFC

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With a 3-1 Loss, the Union Limp into the Playoffs After All

Cait Costello - Philadelphia Union/mlsfemale
Official Philadelphia Union Reporter

By Cait Costello // @caitcostello

Well, that’s one way to end the regular season.

The Philadelphia Union fell 3-1 to NYCFC in Yankee Stadium on Sunday night in a disappointing end to what is definitively the team’s best season in its history. From the start, the Union felt disjointed and gave up a goal to Maxime Chanot off a corner kick in the 8th minute.

Two minutes later, Auston Trusty scored his second own goal of the season while running toward the Union’s goal line, and two minutes after that, Trusty was shown the first yellow card of the match. The 20-year-old is a great addition to the team—playing every single minute of the regular season—which only makes these rookie mistakes hit harder.

It felt like the Union may be able to recover when Cory Burke scored a goal from the center of the box in the 14th minute with an assist from Borek Dockal. This was Burke’s 10th goal of the season, tying with Fafa Picault, and Dockal’s MLS-best 18th assist.

David Villa took back the momentum by scoring for NYCFC in the 34th minute. Then, Burke picked up a yellow card in the 40th minute and exchanged heated words with Dockal. Burke started the second half on the bench in tears as Ilsinho took his place on the pitch.

A foul by NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson gave the Union their best chance to pick up another goal with a penalty kick by Fafa, but Johnson guessed right for the save. The Union’s offense couldn’t capitalize on any of the other opportunities they made, and the score stayed at 3-1.

Throughout the match, the Union’s defense felt off, with the back line consistently playing way up the pitch in a possible failure to adapt to Yankee Stadium’s smaller dimensions. Despite being left on his own and giving up two goals, Andre Blake did make some big saves to stop the bleeding. This match easily could have been a draw without the own goal and with the penalty kick, but it was not to be for the Union.

After starting #DecisionDay with the opportunity to finish in 3rd place in the Eastern Conference, the Union instead fell from 4th to 6th in a disappointing decline for a season in which the boys in blue netted more wins, more points and clinched a spot in the playoffs earlier than ever before in team history.

The loss dashed their hopes for a home match in the knockout round of the #MLSCupPlayoffs, so the Union head back up to the Bronx for a Halloween rematch at 7pm.

It’s good to see that the Union have cut their practice pitch down to the appropriate size as they prepare to face NYCFC again, but the pressure is on if the team wants to win its first playoff game ever and get payback for Sunday’s loss. We’ll have to see whether that pressure will keep them focused as a team or knock them out of the running.

Featured image:  @steph_rex408

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @caitcostello

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Columbus Crew SC Playoff Bound

Hilary - Columbus Crew/mlsfemale
Official Columbus Crew Reporter

By Hilary // @hils4crew

Sunday, October 28: 3-2 Win

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.

Other thoughts:

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

Featured image: @ColumbusCrewSC

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @hils4crew

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Montréal Impact keep the Playoff dream alive with win over TFC

Eve Powell - Montreal Impact/mlsfemale
Official Montreal Impact Reporter

By Eve // @evejulia9

Result: 2-0 Victory vs TFC

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.

Regardless of what would happen in the match, the supporter groups 1642 Montréal and Ultras de Montréal were ready to stand behind their team with season finale tifo displays.

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.

Featured image: Montréal Impact

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @evejulia9

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“Don’t let the ball behind the defense…”

Bailey Brown - FC Dallas/mlsfemale
Official FC Dallas Reporter

By Bailey Brown // @baileystaysposi

It’s been a while, I know. But, a lot has happened since I last wrote about FC Dallas.

We seem to be hitting a groove, but fans are still not entirely pleased. Dallas sits in first in the Western Conference and it just doesn’t seem to be good enough for many. Amongst rumors of Oscar Pareja interviewing for the USMNT team, we must keep going forward because the season isn’t over.

With a win in Vancouver, Dallas is the only team in 23 matches to defeat another team at their home. We are still seeing good stats out of the team and just clinched a playoff spot with our draw in Portland. But, is how we are playing going to be enough?

(Side note: I do think Pareja would be great for the USMNT, but I’m not ready to see him go. It seems that these rumors have been laid to rest. Many people seem to be calling for Pareja to be gone, okay well not many, but enough that it annoys me if he doesn’t get us a star this year. Personally, I think that is dumb. Yup, I said it. Where else is Dallas going to get a quality coach for the amount in the Dallas budget? I mean it. I suppose we can promote from within, but I think a good playoff run after last year is enough to keep him here in Dallas.)

I’m not here to break down the game against Portland Timbers. You can go elsewhere for better coverage of that. And, if I am being honest, I don’t get to watch a ton of games in their entirety. Last night was an exception. I loved it. I mean, I didn’t love everything about the game, but I loved that I just got to sit and watch.

However, one thing really hit me hard last night and that was when I was talking with fellow members of the Dallas Beer Guardians about what people said were “keys to the match”. One of these keys were to “not let the ball behind the defenders” or something to that extent. I mean, come on guys… isn’t this soccer 101? We should probably try to get the ball in the net as well, right? But, if this is really one of the keys that we are looking at as Dallas fans, we are in trouble.

I will admit, I like seeing Reto Ziegler and Matt Hedges in the back, but there has been a disconnect between them and whoever is playing left back and right back. I am seeing that the timing is just off on a lot of shifting and I am sure they’re practicing it, but in games, that can’t be the case. It leaves people especially open on the far post, which is definitely a scare for me.

We have been lucky that it hasn’t hurt us more. This won’t fly in playoffs. Also, where is Pablo Aranguiz? Why did we spend TAM on him and an international spot? I would like to see more of him as a playmaker and really bring that missing #10 spot on our field. (Also, goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez can stop wasting time. I’ll admit, I think we are all sick of it.)

Fans are upset because we aren’t seeing the dominating wins that we know our team is capable of. Instead, we see Pareja seeming to play to draw. Or, maybe even to not lose. I partly understand last night. All we needed was the draw for the playoff clinch.

Going forward, I would like to see us really solidify the plan for playoffs and how it will be executed. I would rather us experiment and figure that out in the next few regular season games so that it’s not an issue come that first playoff game.

I’m feeling hopeful about the future of this season and I hope others are, too. We will just have to sit back and trust in Papi.

Featured image: @MLS

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NYCFC clinches a playoff spot

Keira Smith - NYCFC/mlsfemale
Official NYCFC Reporter

By Keira Smith // @keiramunsmith

Wednesday, September 26: 2-0 Win

New York City Football Club clinched a spot in the MLS playoffs after a long-pined-for win against Chicago Fire on Wednesday night.  Fans of NYCFC were desperate for 3 points after our face-plant of an August and September.  For the record, I was cautiously optimistic before this game with the return of the majority of the squad, from various injuries and international call-ups.

There were a few changes to the lineup probably caused by the absence of Alexander Callens due to yellow card accumulation.  James Sands started in an attacking center midfield role alongside Alex Ring who played a more defensive role.  Despite both teams battle against the waterlogged field, causing more slipping and sliding than usual, Sands did a good job of looking to distribute long balls from the center of the field to the flanks.  Not all passes were perfect with gravity having its way at times with Sands but the long balls opened up the field and shook up Chicago’s defense.

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NYCFC’s James Sands fights for possession. Image: @TishaGale

New York City kept to their old reliable theme of quick pass possession with Ebenezer Ofori working well offensively and defensively for the majority of the game – except for the very end.  We had a number of missed and saved shots in the first half with four on target.  Chicago Fire goalkeeper Stefan Cleveland, not a regular starter for the team did a good job defending the net.

At the 47th minute, the stalemate was broken by Ring after a quick combination of one-touch passes which went from Maxi Moralez to David Villa and then to Ring.  In the 51st, David Villa put one in on a beautifully patient set up by Moralez.  Moralez had been trying to set up his teammates the whole night with mixed success.

NYC held Chicago to 2-0 due to a few fantastic saves by Sean Johnson and featuring an exceptional defensive performance by Maxime Chanot.

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David Villa & Sebastian Schweinsteiger. Image: @TishaGale
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NYCFC’s Alex Ring. Image: @TishaGale

A positive takeaway was the playing style of James Sands who was constantly pressuring the Fire’s developing offense and working to distribute the ball long and wide to the wings from the center. Were the distributions perfect? No, but multiple times it worked to propel the NYC attack forward from the congested middle of the field.  Sands seems to have learned a lot from Alex Ring’s style of play.

In the first half, a lot of the initial New York City attack was generated down the left wing by long balls from the center midfield to Ronald Matarrita who worked tightly with Villa and Moralez. In the first 45 minutes, both Villa and Moralez seemed to be working to craft the “right” pass to dish to a teammate for a strong shot, rather than just taking the shot themselves. For many of our chances on goal, it seemed like that last pass or the actual shot was off a bit in its timing or pace.

The second half seemed to have more quick one-touches in Chicago’s box and it resulted in two goals.  Was this a purposeful change in attacking strategy or just a coincidence? Either way, the win cemented NYCFC’s place in the MLS Cup Playoffs.

Next up City faces Minnesota United at the notoriously poorly turfed TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, September 29th. The combination of questionable turf and a possible tweak to his previously injured abductor on Wednesday, likely means captain David Villa will be missing the match.  Maxime Chanot may also be rested to prevent a re-injury of his abductor, according to coach Domènec Torrent.

Featured image of NYCFC supporter, Laud Amabley: @TishaGale

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @keiramunsmith

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