The MLS Cup Playoffs knockout stage was a strange one. If the first two games on Wednesday between the third and sixth seeds in each conference gave us a barrage of goals – nine, to be precise – and were overall not very tight affairs, it was the opposite on Thursday, when the fourth and fifth seeds in each Conference went head-to-head. A grand total of zero goals was scored in regular time, neither in Atlanta nor in Houston, meaning extra-time was necessary to find each Conference’s last semi-finalist.
New York Red Bulls spread their wings
The task wasn’t easy for Jesse Marsch and his New York Red Bull, who needed to beat Chicago at home, something they’ve achieved only once before, to secure a spot in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Not to mention that Chicago was very difficult to beat at Toyota Park, having suffered only two losses during the regular season
But the New York Red Bulls came out swinging. Bradley Wright-Philips got the visitors off to a perfect start when he controlled an inch-perfect cross from teammate Damien Perrinelle and tucked it neatly behind keeper Matt Lampson in the seventh minute. Just four minutes later, Tyler Adams beat his defender on the right wing and crossed it hard and low into the six-yard box, giving Sacha Kljestan one of the easiest goals of his career to make it 2-0 Red Bulls.
Two away goals in just 11 minutes proved too much to handle for the Fire, especially with Bastian Schweinsteiger on the bench. Although the Fire pushed hard to provide a reply, it was New York who sealed the victory with a goal in the 70th minute, taking advantage of the spaces left unattended by the hosts. They would add insult to injury with another goal at the end of the game.
Whitecaps destroy San Jose for first ever playoff win
The Whitecaps kept doing what they did all season long: scoring off set pieces. With 15 goals on set pieces this year, the Whitecaps added three more last night it what turned out to be a rout.
The must-see goal of the game was Cristian Techera’s, who got the crowd on their feet when he curled a magisterial free kick past the ‘keeper to double Vancouver’s lead.
Atlanta’s season abruptly ended by the Columbus Crew SC
Entering the game as the favourite not only for the tie, but for the MLS Cup altogether, Atlanta United hosted the Columbus Crew SC in a jam-packed Mercedez-Benz Stadium. The 67,221 fans really got their money’s worth as the players put on a show that saw 41 shots directed towards goal in a game that was truly end to end. The expansion club’s exciting, offensive, and risky style, combined with Columbus’s threat on the counter, proved that a 0-0 score can still produce a very, very good game. The two teams actually broke an MLS record in relation with the expected goals stat for a goalless game: the quality of the strikes, normally, should have produced something near 4.32 goals. The main culprits responsible for this are surely goalkeepers Zack Steffen and Brad Guzan, as well as the forwards who lacked in their finishing and hit the post one too many times. We could also marvel at Federico Higuaín’s poise and skill, as he calmly beat the ‘keeper with a panenka penalty after playing 120 minutes of playoff soccer.
Houston stays solid at home
Did the 30-minute delay caused by extra time in Atlanta have any influence on the Sporting Kansas City and Houston Dynamo players’ focus? Possibly. The game often lacked quality and rhythm, while the pitch was in pitiful condition. Both teams combined unleashed a total of 42 shot attempts, creating some opportunities, although only 11 of those shots were actually on target. Houston and SKC improved their play drastically with a few minutes remaining in the second half, coming close to breaking the deadlock in stoppage time to set up extra time and Alberth Elis’ winning goal in the 94th minute.
Thrilling semifinals are set
The Conference semifinals are set in stone and we have some exciting soccer ahead of us. Starting this Sunday, the Cascadian rivalry will be revived when the Seattle Sounders FC travel north of the border to face the Vancouver Whitecaps FC at BC Place, in the first of two legs. On Monday, the New York Red Bulls will host Toronto FC, and the Houston Dynamo welcomes the West’s top dog, the Portland Timbers. The Columbus Crew SC and New York City FC will be the last to play their first leg, on Tuesday.
Toronto FC (1) v New York Red Bulls (6)
1st leg: Monday, October 30 at 7pm at Red Bull Arena (TVA Sports, TSN, FS1)
2nd leg: Sunday, November 5 at 3pm at BMO Field (TVA Sports, TSN, ESPN)
New York City FC (2) v Columbus Crew SC (5)
1st leg: Tuesday, October 31 at 8pm au MAPFRE Stadium (TVA Sports, TSN, ESPN)
2nd leg: Sunday, November 5, time TBD, at Yankee Stadium (TBD)
Portland Timbers (1) v Houston Dynamo (4)
1st leg: Monday, October 30 at 9:30pm at BBVA Compass Stadium (TVA Sports, TSN GO, FS1)
2nd leg: Sunday, November 5, time TBD, at Providence Park (TBD)
Seattle Sounders FC (2) v Vancouver Whitecaps FC (3)
1st leg: Sunday, October 29 at 8:30pm at BC Place (TVA Sports 2, TSN, ESPN)
2nd leg: Thursday, November 2 at 10:30pm at CenturyLink Field (TVA Sports, TSN, FS1, Fox Deportes)