Drilling down on: at Portland 1, Colorado 0

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PORTLAND, Ore. – With a swift counter just before halftime, Portland had not only crafted Friday night’s winning goal but also climbed out of last in the West.

Man of the Match: Hanyer Mosquera embodied the cliché “didn’t put a foot wrong.” In open play, he (along with partner David Horst) got the best of Conor Casey, consistently winning physical battles against the Rapids’ striker. On crosses, he was Portland’s most reliable defender  – the main reason the Timbers kept their fourth clean sheet of the season.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • Honduran Hendry Thomas made his Rapids debut, pairing with Jeff Larentowicz deep in Oscar Pareja’s midfield. His inclusion allowed Larentowicz to get forward more often, occupying space behind Martin Rivero. It also put somebody in position to try and cover for Tyrone Marshall.
  • Marshall, again starting to the left of Marvell Wynne in central defense (with Drew Moor staying right), had a tough first half, jumping into midfield too quickly, vacating his space in the line. Sometimes Thomas covered for him. Other times it was Wynne. Regardless, Marshall wasn’t winning enough of his challenges to justify his abandoning position.
  • In the 45th minute, Marshall got burned. Darlington Nagbe brought his team into a counter, carrying the ball toward Portland’s final third. The moment he got left back Tyson Wahl to commit, he played a pass in front of right wing Sal Zizzo. In the process, Nagbe had also drawn in Marshall. When Zizzo put his second touch to the edge of the six for Bright Dike, Wynne and goalkeeper Matt Pickens were left in a no-win situation. 1-0, Portland.
  • For Pickens, the goal carried some Morrisettian irony. Throughout the first half, Pickens had done a very good job reading the play in front of him, picking the right time to come off his line to break up the Timbers’ attack. For much of the first half, Colorado held the edge in shots on goal, and not because they were the better side. Pickens was breaking up plays before Portland could get off shots.
  • At the other end, Colorado’s attacks kept breaking down as Portland’s physical center halves, Mosquera and Horst, able to out-muscle the Rapids’ lone striker. Without a partner to play off of, Casey was stranded. Outnumbered, he always turned to find one defender free to take him on.
  • In the second half, Pareja tried to shake it up, first bringing on Omar Cummings (at halftime), then replacing Casey with Andre Akpan. But initially staying with the same formation (playing Cummings out right), Colorado allowed their first half problems to carry over into the second. Eventually Pareja went to two up top, but only shortly before Portland started making their substitutions.
  • Still, Colorado was almost able to equalize late, with a cross from the right giving Cummings a chance to head the Rapids even from five yards out. The ball ended up sailing through the six, Cummings fanning on the potential equalizer.
  • With the loss, the Rapids fell to last in the Western Conference, an ignominious distinction given what the Timbers have gone through this summer.
  • Portland now sits one point back of seventh place Chivas USA. With two games in hand on sixth place Dallas, the Timbers are in position for another late season, morale-boosting surge up the table.

MLS Cup Playoffs: LA Galaxy 3-1 Real Salt Lake (video)

Los Angeles Galaxy defender Jelle Van Damme (37) congratulates forward Alan Gordon (9) for scoring against the Real Salt Lake during the first half of a knockout round MLS playoff soccer match in Carson, Calif., Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
AP Photo/Alex Gallardo
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The game in 100 words (or less): The LA Galaxy are through to the conference semifinals of the MLS Cup Playoffs, where they’ll take on the Colorado Rapids beginning Sunday, for the seventh time in eight years with a 3-1 knockout-round triumph over Real Salt Lake at the StubHub Center on Wednesday. Alan Gordon put the home side ahead inside the first quarter-hour before RSL drew level seven minutes later, but Emmanuel Boateng bagged a quickfire brace to complete a pair of brilliant individual exhibitions of dribbling inside the penalty area. With Steven Gerrard unavailable and Robbie Keane only fit to feature off the bench, Bruce Arena turned to Gordon, who gave way to Keane early in the second half after picking up an injury of his own, to play the fulcrum of the Galaxy attack, and it worked to near-perfection during the opening half-hour. Landon Donovan started the game and played 87 minutes, providing the kind of defensive work rate that’s been missing up and down the flanks of LA all season. Sebastian Lletget put in a near-flawless passing performance while playing deep in midfield. Don’t look now, but those are the Galaxy’s biggest question of 2016, all just about answered as the playoffs begin. I won’t say, “I told you so” if/when they win MLS Cup 2016, but…

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

Three Four moments that mattered

14′ — Gordon finishes from close range for 1-0 — Landon Donovan -> Giovani dos Santos -> Alan Gordon. Just like Bruce Arena drew it up in preseason midseason last month this week this morning.

21′ — Plata converts from the spot after Morales’ dive — Javier Morales was angling for a penalty from the moment he entered the penalty area. All Emmanuel Boateng had to do was look at him, and Morales was going down.

26′ — Boateng weaves through to make it 2-1 — Left. Right. Left. Right. Left. Boateng took advantage of some poor defending, and the Galaxy were back in the lead.

34′ — Boateng cuts inside, blows past his man, makes it 3-1 — There’s playing in top gear, and there’s having an extra gear that you rarely have to use because no one else on the field has it. Boateng falls into the latter category.

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Men of the match: Emmanuel Boateng

Goalscorers: Gordon (14′), Plata (21′), Boateng (26′, 34′)

MLS Cup Playoffs: Toronto FC 3-1 Philadelphia Union (video)

Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC
Chris Young/The Associated Press via AP
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The game in 100 words (or less): 10 years later, Toronto FC are MLS Cup Playoffs victors. For eight seasons, the playoffs eluded them altogether. Last year, they were one-and-done in embarrassing fashion at the hands of their local rivals. In 2016, it was  their year — a proclamation we’d heard plenty times before — and so far, they’ve lived up to the hype. Wednesday’s 3-1 home victory over the Philadelphia Union in the knockout round gets the monkey off the Reds’ back, but more importantly, afforded Sebastian Giovinco, who bagged a goal and an assist on the night (his second straight game with such a line), 90 more minutes of game time after missing more than a month through injuries as the regular season wound down. After 270 minutes of action, the Atomic Ant looks sharp as ever, and destined to terrorize New York City FC, whom TFC will face in the conference semifinals, beginning Sunday.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

Three Four moments that mattered

15′ — Atlidore feeds Giovinco for 1-0 — The first playoff goal in TFC’s 10-year history. Poor goalkeeping, ball-watching defending, terrible touches, an overhead cross, and a strike off the crossbar. There’s a lot going on here. Watch it all right here.

49′ — Osorio slams home from the corner for 2-0 — The Union have been bad at defending set pieces all season, so is it at all surprising a set-piece gaffe effectively ended their season? No, it’s not.

73′ — Bedoya puts the loose ball home for 2-1 — Speaking of failing to effectively clear a corner kick, the Union were gifted a lifeline 15 minutes before full-time.

85′ — Altidore puts it out of reach, seals it for TFC — Ken Tribbet did not have the best night a center back has ever seen. His final blunder resulted in Jozy Altidore reclaiming TFC’s two-goal lead, and ending the Union’s 2016 season.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Sebastian Giovinco

Goalscorers: Giovinco (15′), Osorio (49′), Bedoya (73′), Altidore (85′)

Men In Blazers podcast: Mourinho’s Chelsea return; Bradley’s 1st point

Men In Blazers
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Rog and Davo break down Jose Mourinho’s return to Chelsea with Manchester United, another stumble for Manchester City and Bob Bradley’s first Premier League point.

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VIDEO: Altidore, Giovinco combine for TFC’s first-ever playoff goal

Sebastian Giovinco
Chris Young/The Associated Press via AP
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It’s been 10 years in the making, and Toronto FC finally have their first-ever goal in the MLS Cup Playoffs.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

After failing to qualify for the playoffs in each of their first eight seasons, 2015 saw the Reds venture into the postseason for the first time ever, only to be thumped in the knockout round, 3-0, by their 401 derby rival Montreal Impact, of all sides.

This is the year, though, or so we’ve said and been told all season long. While it remains to be seen how deep of a run TFC can muster in 2016, they’ll always have the Jozy Altidore‘s terrible first touch; Altidore’s wayward second and third touches; Altidore’s overhead cross; and Sebastian Giovinco’s strike, all of which you can watch in all its hilarity glory below.

[ MORE: Power rankings — Playoffs edition | MLS Cup predictions ]