mls cup

2017 MLS Cup playoffs: your guide to the Conference semifinals

Toronto struggles but moves on

It wasn’t a pretty sight at BMO Field Sunday night. Eight cards were distributed by referee Chris Pense, two of those being red due to an altercation in the tunnel between the field and the dressing rooms, during halftime. Sacha Kljestan and Jozy Altidore were consequently unable to participate in the second half.

Their argument meant that both teams would be missing key attacking players that represent vital parts of their respective attacking departments, the result being a very timid and hatched game that only saw three shots on target. Yes, the Red Bulls managed to get a win in Toronto, a feat only one other team has achieved this year – the Montreal Impact.

BWP’s lucky goal, an unconscious deflection of Daniel Royer’s 40 yarder, was not enough to see the Red Bulls advance to the Eastern Conference Final, due to the away goals rule. The Reds thus advance to a second Conference Final in two years, but it was a tougher ask this time around – Toronto dispatched New York City FC 7-0 last year – and not without consequence: other than Jozy Altidore being suspended after seeing red, Sebastian Giovinco will also be unavailable due to disciplinary reasons, the Italian earning a second yellow card in two games for dissent.

It should make the Eastern Conference Final first leg in Ohio all the more interesting, on November 21 at MAPFRE Stadium, broadcast on TVA Sports.

Columbus holds on against New York City FC

Close, but no cigar for NYCFC. The Columbus Crew SC managed to hold on and beat New York City FC over two legs, despite losing 2-0 in the Big Apple in the second leg last night. Patrick Vieira’s team came agonizingly close to becoming the first team in MLS history to rally from a three-goal first-leg deficit, but they will spend the off-season rueing these missed chances in the first leg, and mostly, that useless red card to Alexander Callens.

New York City FC came out aggressively, knowing what an early goal would do to their hopes. They took advantage of an error by Columbus defender Josh Williams, winning a penalty that David Villa easily put away. New York’s only other goal came in the beginning of the second half, when Andraz Struna’s shot deflected off Jonathan Mensah and ended up in the back of the net in a stroke of bad luck for the Crew, getting them agonizingly close to qualification. Vieira even brought on Pirlo in the 90th minute for his farewell to the game and hoping to perhaps see a glimmer of the magic that made him a footballing legend, but to no avail.

The Cinderella story continues for the Columbus Crew SC, as Toronto will be coming into MAPFRE Stadium without its two starting strikers (see previous text).

Dynamo upsets the Timbers

There’s a result we were not expecting: the Houston Dynamo, who won only one game away from home this season, against D.C. United in Washington, needed a good result and at least a goal to punch their ticket to the Western Conference Final. The orange wave unravelled in the best of ways on a jam-packed Providence Park, and the Timbers, still riddled with injuries – again, the home team had to make an early substitution, Darren Mattocks coming out in the 13th minute – were submerged by the Texan surge.

The hosts opened the scoring in the 39th minute, to the delight of the Timbers Army, but were unable to impose themselves after that first goal. The Dynamo then showed great determination, stunning the Timbers when Caleb Porter stepped up and scored just a few moments before the half. Already, you can feel the game slipping between Portland’s fingers. Mauro Manotas added to the Timbers’ misery with 13 minutes left in the game when he took advantage of a big pocket of space in midfield and belted a shot from 25 metres that Jeff Attinella could not reach.

Houston, we have a final, against Seattle Sounders FC that will start in Texas on November 21. Our friends over at TVA Sports will offer it on TV.

Seattle logically knocks out Vancouver

We had to wait 150 minutes to see a goal in this home-and-away semifinals series, but in the end, it was worth it. Clint Dempsey, with a brace, carried his club to a second consecutive Western Conference Championship against a Vancouver Whitecaps FC team that was a bit too risk-averse throughout the tie, seeing its principal assets – quick and efficient counter-attacks and deadly set pieces – kept under control by Brian Schmetzer’s men.

While Seattle showcased its strengths, notably in possession of the ball and in the final third, the Whitecaps could not answer the call. Careful, almost shy passing the ball out from the back, Vancouver had a tough time trying to get through the Sounders’ defense and too rarely broke the lines with forward passes. And as the team with the most success in MLS with little possession, we could have expected more than one sole shot on target in over 180 minutes from the ‘Caps.

What can we say about these performances by Clint Dempsey, who missed the entirety of his club’s playoff run last fall, and by Nicolás Lodeiro, dictating the pace of the game and being the biggest influence with 136 touches yesterday? It will be a tough ask to take away the MLS Cup from Seattle’s hands.