San Jose Earthquakes v Portland Timbers

Considering the Will Johnson effect on the Portland Timbers’ streak-ender

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It takes so much, so many elements in synch, to assemble the kind of showy streak that we just saw end for Portland.

So while we cannot make too much of any single element, an obvious place to start is the absence of captain Will Johnson. He was away, performing for Canada, during Portland’s loss Sunday to Columbus in Ohio, a setback that snapped the team’s club record 15-game unbeaten streak.

Timbers manager Caleb Porter wanted – strike that, knew he needed – a leader like Johnson for his reconstruction project around Jeld-Wen Field. And Johnson’s presence has been no minor ingredient of the Timbers’ surprisingly quick success under their first-year MLS manager.

The captain had been available to the Timbers for every MLS match before Sunday’s, starting all and also starting the team’s toughest U.S. Open Cup contest. Johnson’s two-way contributions and all his leadership have initiated (some very reasonable) conversations about whether the Canadian international should be considered for league MVP?

Well, we are adding some fodder for that debate in looking at a lesser version of the Portland Timbers without his significant contributions. Because what I saw early Sunday was a team that needed some leadership on the field.

The thing about a leader like that, he helps keep people accountable, helps keep things wired tightly. And in doing so, he helps the Timbers avoid things like the marking collapse that saw Bernardo Anor completely unchallenged to score on an early corner kick for Columbus.

That was all a depleted Columbus team could manage – but it was enough to snap the streak. Portland eventually found its feet – but who could help but wonder if they looked a little rudderless early specifically because they were missing their captain.

By the way, I’m not the only one who noticed this early lack of balance. This from’s observations on the streak busting defeat.

From the first whistle Portland looked tentative and unsure of what to do with the ball when it was at their feet. Which lead to an early corner in the 5th minute of play. On the corner the marking was atrocious as multiple Columbus Crew players were left unmarked in the box. Bernado Anor, one of the aforementioned, said “thank you very much!” as he buried the ball into the back of the net.

“Usually when Portland gets scored on early in a game it wakes them up and they start to play their game. This time the poor passing and lackadaisical play continued. The team looked slow of feet and of mind. Kah in particular was having trouble.”

“Having trouble” was putting it mildly, as Kah left the team to play a man down for almost 80 minutes. The Timbers’ overall quality showed as the visitors were equal or better, even a man down and on the road, through the game’s final hour.

Ben Zemanski is a good, young player – but he’s no Will Johnson. Not in technical quality, not in midfield drive, not in experience and certainly not in leadership. But then again, there could be big moments where Johnson isn’t around.

Learning to get along, to start strong, to finish even stronger, to ride out tough moments, etc., without their clear leader will be another step in the learning curve for Porter’s group going forward.

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.

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

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 ]