Real Salt Lake v Seattle Sounders - Western Conference Semifinals

Stuff of legends: Rimando performance deserves place among MLS’s best

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SEATTLE – It’s been 12 years since the Major League Soccer playoffs saw a performance like Nick Rimando’s. True, the Real Salt Lake goalkeeper was stellar during RSL’s 2009 MLS Cup run, but he outdid himself on Friday in Seattle. Holding the Sounders scoreless in one of the most lopsided 0-0s you’ll ever see, Rimando not only preserved his team’s chance to make it back to the Western Conference final, he put his name along side Tony Meola’s on the list of memorable playoff goalkeeping performances.

“These are the playoffs,” Rimando explained after saving RSL. “Big players step up in big games, and I think everybody stepped up tonight.”

Meola’s magic day came at RFK Stadium in 2000, his Kansas City Wizards in the MLS Cup final against a Chicago Fire team who, two years off a title and boasting the league’s best attack, were heavy favorites. The one thing the wizards had in their favor was the league’s Comeback Player of the Year, Goalkeeper of the Year and MVP: Meola.

Kansas City jumped on the Fire early with an 11th minute Miklos Molnar goal. From there, it was all Meola, the former U.S. international making 10 saves – many at point blank range – in guiding the Wizards to their only title:

Rimando didn’t come close to matching Meola’s 10 saves. In fact, the conventional numbers paint a pedestrian picture of his night, his five saves only one more than Michael Gspurning’s. Use nothing more than that – the most commonly referenced goalkeeper statistic – and you’d have no clue how remarkable Rimando was; however, if you look at Seattle’s crosses (30) and see the Sounders’s shots on target (five), you start to get an idea of Rimando’s dominance.

Where did those other 25 balls go?

Some crosses came to nothing. Others never found their way to goal, but more often than not, it was Rimando, either waiting on his line for Seattle to test him or, more frequently as the match went on, coming out to the edge of his six-yard box to punch Seattle’s service from clear of goal. His efforts earned the shutout, but they also earned him three stitches, a broken nose, and seven minutes of boos from the Seattle faithful as he laid on the ground bleeding, cut open after a 67th minute collision with Christian Tiffert.

“I commit for a ball and the next thing I know I’m on the ground,” Rimando said, asked to recalled the incident. “I was told that Christian Tiffert kind of followed trough, not intentionally, but he followed through with his forearm and got me.”

“We thought he was going to have to come out,” head coach Jason Kreis confessed after the match. “[The trainers] did a good job getting the blood stopped and Nick continued on with a real brave effort.”

MORE: Drilling down on Friday’s stalemate in Seattle

That reckless abandon – the command of his area – is what separated Rimando’s performance from the series of stellar efforts he’s given in the past. Always a man whose shot stopping could steal any game, the weakness in the 5’10” `keepers’ game has been his presence in the box. Tonight, however, he got stronger as the match went on. Whereas he looked tentative on the litany of corners Seattle won in the first half, in the second half he charged off his line, realizing he had to be more aggressive in the face of a relentless Sounder attack.

“[S]occer is like this a keeper has a night like tonight,” Mauro Rosales, launcher of so many of Seattle’s crosses, said after the match, trying to explain how Seattle’s best performance of the season ended in a scoreless draw. “[S]ometimes it’s just impossible to score. You can shoot from everywhere and not score.”

Teammates were more effusive with their praise.

“Nick’s a battler and there is no question that he is the best goalkeeper in the league in my eyes,” midfielder Ned Grabavoy offered. “I can’t say enough about Nicky. He’s the man of the match tonight.”

In the second half, Seattle attempted 20 crosses from open play. They only forced on save out of Rimando, and while that could be explained by poor execution, that would be a lie. Seattle was excellent on Friday, forcing the opposing keeper into remarkable saves on Brad Evans (25′), Sammy Ochoa (32′), Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (33′), and Tiffert (51′). Rimando saved RSL.

“I think it will have to go down as one of the single best individual performances by any player that’s ever worn an RSL jersey,” Kreis said, an understatement.

Nobody will ever forget this performance, the type of effort that forces you to wonder who you else you could possibly want in a must-win game. In MLS, there’s no doubt. It’d be Nick Rimando, whose Friday’s performance makes you ask: Could Brad Guzan had done that? Could Sean Johnson or Bill Hamid kept that clean sheet? Would even Tim Howard have saved the night for RSL?

It’d be no disgrace to them if the answer was ‘no’.

Here are the highlights:

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Three takeaways from the Red Bulls CCL draw against the Whitecaps

New York Red Bulls forward Bradley Wright-Phillips, left, trips over Vancouver Whitecaps defender Kendall Waston inside the Whitecaps box during the first half of a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal soccer match, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, in Harrison, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
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With 90 more minutes to play up in Vancouver, this tie is far from over. However, Wednesday night’s clash at Red Bull Arena surely presented intriguing storylines ahead of leg two.

The Vancouver Whitecaps picked up a critical away goal in their 1-1 draw against the New York Red Bulls in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal meeting.

While their CCL clash was the first competitive action for either side since 2016, both clubs showed glimpses of brilliance in the first of their two encounters in the competition.

Here’s a look back at three important takeaways from the Red Bulls’ draw against the Whitecaps.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Red Bulls still working out kinks up front

Bradley Wright-Phillips has been one of Major League Soccer’s most prolific goalscorers since joining the Red Bulls, but even the star striker struggled to find the ball in dangerous positions on Wednesday. The Red Bulls striker netted the game’s equalizer after 62 minutes, but chances were far and few between on the night for Wright-Phillips.

Despite dominating the possession for long spells of the match (as is the case much of the time), the Red Bulls found difficulty breaking down the Whitecaps when it mattered most.

Jesse Marsch’s side managed just two shots on target throughout the 90 minutes, while Sacha Kljestan’s penalty kick miss voided the host side from leveling up the first leg just after the halftime break.

The Red Bulls have wanted to toy with a two-striker set since early 2016, and Marsch finally got his wish with Argentine DP Gonzalo Veron match fit for the start of the campaign. Veron looked solid at times with his quality first touches and quick pace, but it was the final ball that was often lacking.

Sacha Kljestan and Daniel Royer interlinked well with one another behind the two strikers, and with Mike Grella and Alex Muyl also tabbed as rotational players in the midfield, Marsch will have a solid group to pick from to help his attack develop moving forward.

Manneh is coming into his own

He scored, facilitated and just looked all around dangerous against the Red Bulls. Kekuta Manneh has become one of the most intriguing MLS players over the past 12 months in large part because of his success in the league as well as the opportunity to represent the U.S. Men’s National Team.

While his goal wasn’t the prettiest six minutes before halftime, the Whitecaps attacker was in the right spot, just as he was for much of the night. His three shots on target led all players involved, but it was Manneh’s confidence under pressure that was most impressive.

The Whitecaps didn’t throw too many numbers forward on the night — with the second leg being north of the border — but Manneh and the Whitecaps attack thrived on the counterattack on several occasions.

With a number of players unavailable for Carl Robinson’s side, including Yordy Reyna, Christian Bolanos and Fredy Montero, the visitors played a strong opening leg, particularly after playing the final 20 minutes down a man when Cristian Techera was dismissed for a high tackle on Red Bulls defender Sal Zizzo.

Youngsters show out for both sides

Experience is still the name of the game for both the Red Bulls and Whitecaps, but Wednesday night also provided a glimpse into the future with several stellar performances from the youngsters on the pitch.

Sean Davis was tasked with filling the hole in the central midfield after Dax McCarty was treaded away from the Red Bulls this offseason, and although the youngster has had experience in the past, he certainly didn’t disappoint for Marsch’s group. The 24-year-old looked confident in his distribution and defended well when called upon alongside Felipe.

Meanwhile, Whitecaps attacker Alphonso Davies continues to turn heads for a player that is only 16 years old. Davies only appeared in eight MLS matches last season for the Western Conference side, but looked like a seasoned veteran against the Red Bulls at times with his blazing strides and pinpoint passes.

The young attacker surely has room to grow, particularly in front of net, but hey, he’s 16.

New York Red Bulls 1-1 Vancouver Whitecaps: BWP saves a draw

New York Red Bulls' Aaron Long, top, climbs over Vancouver Whitecaps forward Erik Hurtado while competing for the ball during the first half of a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal soccer match, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, in Harrison, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
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  • ‘Caps nap road goal
  • Techera sent off in 71′
  • Return leg March 2

Kekuta Manneh and Bradley Wright-Phillips traded goals as the Vancouver Whitecaps and New York Red Bulls drew 1-1 in their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal first leg on Wednesday at Red Bull Arena.

Cristian Techera sent the ‘Caps down to 10 men in the 71st minute when he connected with a kick between Sal Zizzo’s legs.

A deft touch by Wright-Phillips set up Sacha Kljestan for a fifth minute chance, but two sliding Whitecaps helped pressure the captain’s shot wide of the near post.

Vancouver had a chance two minutes later when Alphonso Davies played Russell Teibert down the right wing, and the Whitecaps wide man curled a shot wide of the far post.

[ MORE: Amazing beach soccer bicycle kick goal ]

The Whitecaps beat Luis Robles before halftime. Kendall Waston flicked a ball toward the net, and Kekuta used his head to turn the ball off Justin Bilyeu and behind Robles. 1-0, 39′.

A foul outside the 18 nearly saw Kljestan level it up with a 45th minute free kick.

Kljestan should’ve tied it up with a PK just after the break. He didn’t, barely chipping his Panenka attempt above shin level. Woof.

Wright-Phillips made it 1-1 in the 62nd minute, when Zizzo’s cross dropped at his feet. A quick reaction had the ball in the back of the net.

Sacha Kljestan stars in “When Panenkas Fail” (video)

HARRISON, NJ - MARCH 22:  Sacha Kljestan #16 of New York Red Bulls heads the ball in front of Steve Birnbaum #15 of D.C. United during their match at Red Bull Arena on March 22, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
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When Panenkas don’t go well, players look foolish.

Sacha Kljestan looks foolish.

The New York Red Bulls captain strode to the penalty spot to level the score in Wednesday’s CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal first leg against the visiting Vancouver Whitecaps.

[ MORE: Leicester grabs away goal ]

Only he didn’t. Kljestan chipped his attempt barely a foot off the ground, allowing David Ousted to kick the chance away. Bradley Wright-Phillips blazed the rebound over the frame, and it remained 1-0 for the ‘Caps.

WATCH: Liverpool loanee nets hat trick for U.S. U-20 side

STEVENAGE, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 19:  Brooks Lennon of Liverpool celebrates his goal during the Premier League 2 match between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool at The Lamex Stadium on September 19, 2016 in Stevenage, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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If Brooks Lennon brings this sort of scoring prowess to Real Salt Lake, he may just walk away Rookie of the Year.

On loan from Liverpool, Lennon is first on duty with the United States U-20 men’s national team in Costa Rica.

The U.S. opened U-20 World Cup qualifying with a 1-0 loss to Panama, and was under the gun when it allowed an early goal to Haiti late Tuesday evening.

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But Lennon scored a trio of goals and sent in the corner that Luca de la Torre eventually finished as the Yanks won 4-1. The U.S. has St. Kitts and Nevis in the final group match on Friday.

The top two teams from each group of four advance to the next round, in which four teams will qualify for the U-20 World Cup. That tournament is set for May in South Korea.