MLS’s Western Conference playoff picture is set

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Even though all five of the West’s playoff teams were decided before Sunday’s games, matches in Seattle and Vancouver left some doubt. Even though the Timbers and Real Salt Lake had claimed the conference’s top two spots, nobody knew where the Galaxy, Sounders and Rapids would end up.

Yet despite eventful games at BC Place and CenturyLink, the teams finished as they started. LA will go straight into the conference semifinals after claiming the third seed, while the Sounders are set welcome Colorado to Seattle mid-week. That four-five match will decide who meets the conference champion Timbers in the West’s semifinals.

Colorado’s fate was sealed by Camilo Sanvezzo, whose hat trick claimed the Golden Boot and relegated the Rapids to the five-seed. While Colorado certainly didn’t want to end their season with a 3-0 loss, they can content themselves with a 35th game few predicted they’d see.

[MORE: Hat trick allow Camilo to claim the Golden Boot.]

In the regular season’s last game, Seattle needed a win to claim the West’s third spot, a result they were 12 minutes away from after Clint Dempsey’s first Sounders goal. But Robbie Keane’s volley off an attempted clearance kissed the turf before flying past Michael Gspurning, giving LA the result they needed (1-1) to skip this year’s four-five game.

[MORE: Seattle ends losing streak, but not without controversy.]

That leaves us with these postseason matchups:

Who: Seattle Sounders vs. Colorado Rapids
What: First Round (Four-Five game)
How: One-game, winner take all
When: Wednesday or Thursday

The teams split their three regular season meetings, leaving the series’ most dramatic result for last. Seattle won the season’s first match 1-0 in Colorado before the teams drew 1-1 at CenturyLink. On October 5, Colorado handed Seattle the loss that pushed them into this free fall, beating them 5-1 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Either Seattle avenges that loss or Colorado exploits the vulnerability they exposed.

Who: Real Salt Lake vs. LA Galaxy
What: Conference Semifinal
How: Two-legged series, RSL hosting game two
When: Saturday or Sunday; then Nov. 6 or 7

A huge matchup between teams that haven’t met since August. Los Angeles has won two of three meetings, outscoring RSL 7-5 along the way. With Jason Kreis likely to approach leg one looking to limit damage on the road, scores are unlikely to be that high. Still, this is an MLS Cup final-caliber matchup in the conference semifinal round – the cost of living life in the Western Conference.

Who: Portland Timbers vs. Seattle/Colorado
What: Conference Semifinal
How: Two-legged series, Portland hosting game two
When: Saturday or Sunday; then Nov. 6 or 7

A Portland-Seattle semifinal would produce the atmosphere MLS has tried to showcase since Pacific Northwest soccer came to the league.  That matchup would feature two teams who split their season series, Portland winning the last derby at JELD-WEN after taking one point from two games in Seattle. If Colorado comes through, the Timbers will meet a team who’s only taken one point from the teams’ three-game series.

Griezmann sets pre-World Cup deadline for transfer future

Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images
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French striker Antoine Griezmann is no stranger to seeing his name in the transfer rumor mill, but that familiarity doesn’t make it any more enjoyable for the Atletico Madrid attacker (who celebrates his 27th birthday on Wednesday).

Long-tipped for a move to either Barcelona or Manchester United, Griezmann knows one thing: He wants his future sorted before the World Cup.

[ MORE: Key newcomers for USMNT friendly ]

“I want to travel to Russia without this concern,” he told L’Equipe. “It’s not about knowing where I’ll play, but about having the peace of mind if I’m still in one place or another.

“It may be boring, but I have told my sister that, whether I stay or not, this will have to be resolved beforehand. What bothers me the most is that everyone asks me about this issue.”

That’s both honest and reasonable, and we can imagine it’s not a blast to answer questions on your future every day. He also has a contract through 2021-22, which won’t make any transfer a simple one.

Griezmann has 23 goals and 13 assists in all competitions for Atleti this season, as La Liga’s second place side remains alive in the UEFA Europa League. He’s scored 106 goals for Atleti since arriving from Real Sociedad.

NYCFC signs second Homegrown Player in history

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Four years, two Homegrowns.

That’s the decent track record for New York City FC, which has spotted a second youngster from amongst its ranks in 15-year-old Joe Scally.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Scally joins United States youth international James Sands as Homegrown Players from NYCFC. Here’s USMNT legend and NYCFC technical director Claudio Reyna:

“Joe has been one of the top performers in the Academy for the past few seasons and represented US Soccer at U-15 and U-17 level.”

“He has all of the attributes we look for in a right-back: he’s strong in defense and can support in attack to help create chances from wide areas.”

Sands was signed last summer, and played 23 minutes for NYCFC against Colorado in his lone senior appearance.

Allow England defender Alfie Mawson to charm you

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Swansea City’s Alfie Mawson is at England national team camp, and the young man is conducting himself in downright adorable fashion.

It seems the 24-year-old London defender cannot quite believe Gareth Southgate called his name for the Three Lions.

[ MORE: Key newcomers for USMNT friendly ]

“A lot of people wouldn’t have even heard my name until this call up,” Mawson told the BBC. “You know it’s down to performing well at certain times, it’s down to doing the right things and sometimes it’s down to being a nice person.”

Mawson has played every minute for Swans this season, picking up two goals and an assist. More importantly, he’s won 3.3 aerial battles per game and 6.3 clearances.

While this won’t necessarily serve him well against the Netherlands and Italy in this week’s friendlies — they don’t put a lot of hopeful balls into aerial or clearing positions — it’s kept Mawson on the England radar for this summer’s World Cup.

Mawson is two seasons removed from playing in the Championship, and was loaned to lower league clubs like Maidenhead United and Welling United. At the time, he was going to “car boot sales with my girlfriend” which from my limited Googling seems the English equivalent of a yard sale and flea market combined.

“We are in a good position now where we don’t really have to do the car boots unless she wants a bit of excitement on a Sunday morning.”

Pretty good position, yeah.

FIFA urges Russia to hasten work on delayed World Cup arena

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SAMARA, Russia (AP) FIFA has urged Russia to speed up World Cup preparations at a stadium which needs “a huge amount of work” to be ready on time.

With less than three months to go until the World Cup, the 45,000-seat Samara Arena is the only one of 12 stadiums which doesn’t yet have a pitch installed.

The stadium in the Volga River city of Samara was already badly delayed due to a complex roof design, but now cold weather in the Russian spring is causing further problems. The pitch can’t be installed until the weather warms up.

“Obviously we would expect further progress than this,” FIFA’s chief competitions official Colin Smith said on a visit to the arena Wednesday. “We don’t yet have a pitch, and obviously we need to wait for some warmer weather conditions in order to get this pitch installed.”

As of Tuesday, instead of a field, there was an area covered with tarpaulins and snow. Temperatures are forecast to stay slightly below freezing for the rest of the week.

“There’s a huge amount of work still to be done,” Smith added. “From the information we’ve received there’s nothing stopping all these areas being completed on time. It just requires commitment and more manpower to get it done on time, and when we talk about on time, we’re talking about the commissioning date of the end of April.”

If that date passes, it could restrict FIFA’s ability to test the stadium with Russian league games and install World Cup equipment. Outside the arena, deep snowdrifts cover much of an area that is due to be landscaped for the tournament and will host some facilities for fans.

Alexander Fetisov, deputy governor of the Samara region, said the stadium will be ready.

“I’d like to avoid unnecessary dramatization of the situation,” he said. “Everything is being done so that the stadium is commissioned in the time required.”

Samara isn’t the only World Cup field which has drawn attention in recent weeks. The stadium in Kazan has been widely criticized by Russian fans after a brown, muddy surface was used for league games after the winter break.

Smith said FIFA was offering Russia help to get its fields ready, adding, “We’re doing everything possible and we’re convinced that we’re going to have a very, very high standard of pitches at this tournament.”