Timbers Real Salt Lake Soccer

Western or Eastern Conference final: Which series will showcase MLS best?


Okay, so after all the craziness of the last few nights, it’s safe to say that this seasons MLS Cup playoffs have been the most dramatic in recent history.

Extra-time goals, comebacks galore and intense rivalries have all played out so far during the play-in games and the Conference semis. Now we’re down to four.

The Eastern Conference finals will be played out between Sporting Kansas City and the Houston Dynamo, while the Western crown will go to either the Portland Timbers or Real Salt Lake.

But the question I’m asking you guys, yeah you, which game will best show what MLS is all about?

(MORE: Portland beat Seattle 3-2, make Conference final after dominant display)

Well for starters, I’m slightly glad these four teams made it to the final four because it proves that with draft parity, salary caps and strong management you can succeed in this league. Portland, SKC, RSL and Houston all have fantastic soccer-specific stadiums that are fairly new, they have strong owners who lead from the front and put their fans first and they also haven’t got any massive DPs who draw the crowds.

RSL beat LA Galaxy’s superstars to make the Western Conference final.

They’re proper MLS teams, more about the collective unit than individuals. Look, I love Seattle, LA and the New York Red Bulls and all the razzmatazz and glamor they bring to the league. But that’s not really what MLS is about. The league is about being sustainable, being smart with cash, using what you have and growing the fanbase in the cities and markets you’re in. All four conference finalists do that fantastically well.

When I think of MLS, I think back to discussions I’ve had with many journalists who say, “it’s so hard to predict this league, harder than any other league in the world.” This seasons playoffs has already proven that. The three biggest spending franchise have been knocked off in the Conference semis and teams like Portland and RSL, who’ve had complete rebuilds and rely on a mix of youth, smart draft picks and inspired signings, are prevailing.

But back to that question… which Conference final showcases what MLS is all about?

I could argue many reasons for both, but given the large number of USMNT players on SKC and Houston’s squads and the fact that they’ve met at this stage in the playoffs many times before, I’m going to plump for the Western Conference.

What Jason Kreis has done at RSL has been miraculous. The vision, leadership and cohesive bond he’s fostered at all levels of the club is fantastic. When they shipped out the likes of Fabian Espindola, Jameson Olave, Jonny Steele and Will Johnson last season, many were thinking “what the heck is going on?” But the main man knew what was going on. The clear out worked a treat as Kreis made room for talented youngsters like Luis Gil, Sebastian Velazquez, Joao Plata, Devon Sandoval and many others to break into the team and show just how good the club is at fostering young talent. That’s a true MLS hallmark and shows how sustainable Real Salt Lake are, not only this season but for many years. Kreis has done that, but the players, management and ownership have bought into it massively. The approach is paying off.

(MORE: RSL down LA Galaxy in extra-time, make Conference finals)

Then we have Portland, who like RSL underwent a huge transformation on the field over the last offseason. In came former U.S. Olympic men’s soccer head coach and Akron University pioneer Caleb Porter, and well, as they say the rest is history. The Timbers already won the regular-season crown for the Western Conference by playing attractive attacking soccer that pins the opposition into their own half, and now look like the favorites to make their first-ever MLS Cup appearance in just their third season in MLS. Young players like Darlington Nagbe, Andrew Jean-Baptiste and Kalif Alhassan have flourished under Porter and the opportunity to give a college coach the chance to shine on the big-stage, then seeing him do so, must give Timbers owner Merritt Paulsson a huge smile.

source: AP
Portland’s players salute their fanatical support as they defeat big spending Cascadia rivals Seattle Sounders.

Both sides haven’t spent much on transfer fees and have passionate fanbases that have been staunch supporters of the USMNT, having hosted internationals both at JELD-WEN Field and the Rio Tinto. Portland and RSL have made it to the Conference final the hard way. When everyone was talking about LA Galaxy’s three DPs and the millions of dollars Seattle were spending, many dismissed that the Timbers and RSL could stick with the big boys out West. But they have… and they’ve surpassed them.

RSL were at the forefront when Portland finally changed their ways of bringing in expensive veteran foreign imports, as former head coach John Spencer lost his job following a 3-0 defeat to Real Salt Lake in July 2012. The penny had dropped as to how an MLS club should be run. Over a year later, can the Timbers go full circle and announce themselves as the model all MLS clubs should follow when they face RSL in the Western Conference final?

All four teams left in the MLS playoffs epitomize exactly what the league is all about. But Portland and RSL take the biscuit.

La Liga roundup: Barcelona win big in another dominant performance

<> at Camp Nou on November 28, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain.
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Catch up on all of Saturday’s La Liga action, as the trio of Messi-Suarez-Neymar continues to terrorize defenses.

Barcelona 4-0 Real Sociedad

In case you haven’t heard, Barcelona is scary good. Coming off of brilliant 4-0 and 6-1 wins over Real Madrid and Roma respectively, the Catalans trounced Real Sociedad at Camp Nou. It was the usual suspects once again, as Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Neymar (x2) scored the goals in another masterful performance. The M-S-N trio has accounted for 30 of Barcelona’s 33 goals in La Liga this season.

Atletico Madrid 1-0 Espanyol

While the boys from Barcelona may be getting all the headlines, Antoine Griezmann has been having a great season for Atletico Madrid. The French international scored the game-winner in Atletico’s 1-0 win over Espanyol, his tenth in all competitions this season. The good news is that Atleti sit second on the table with a five-point lead over Real Madrid in third, while the bad news is that midfielder Tiago broke his leg in the match.

[ WATCH: Everton, Bournemouth trade late goals in stoppage-time thriller ]

Malaga 2-2 Granada

In a battle of teams fighting for La Liga survival, Granada came from behind to steal a draw at Malaga. The home-side was leading 2-0 until Granada tallied twice in the final ten minutes to take a huge point for the club. Malaga remains glued to the bottom of the table, while Granada is currently out of the drop zone on goal differential.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Levante 0-1 Real Betis
Las Palmas 0-2 Deportivo
Celta Vigo 2-1 Sporting Gijon
Getafe vs. Villarreal (Sunday, 6 a.m. ET)
Eibar vs. Real Madrid (Sunday, 10 a.m. ET)
Rayo vs. Athletic Bilbao (Sunday, 12:15 p.m. ET)
Sevilla vs. Valencia (Sunday, 2:30 p.m. ET)

PL Sunday Preview: Spurs host Chelsea; Liverpool take on Swansea

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 01:  Diego Costa of Chelsea pulls on the shirt of Harry Kane of Spurs during the Capital One Cup Final match between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley Stadium on March 1, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Week 14 of the Premier League wraps up on Sunday, as four more matches take place across England.

[ MORE: PL Saturday roundup ]

Saturday’s action saw 25 goals from six games, so we should be in for a good day of football.

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Chelsea 7 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra

Unbeaten in 12 league matches, Tottenham will look to extend that streak to 13 in a London derby against Chelsea. Last season’s fixture between these two sides at White Hart Lane was arguably the match of the season, as Spurs stunned Chelsea in a wild 5-3 win. Harry Kane bagged a brace in that match, and with his current form, he’s likely to tally again on Sunday. Kane has scored in six straight matches for Tottenham, grabbing nine goals over that span. While Spurs have been one of the hottest teams in the league, Chelsea have won two straight and this match could be a turning point in their season.

West Ham vs. West Brom  — 9:05 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra

After a strong start to the season, West Ham have gotten just one point from their last three matches. The Hammers have struggled Dimitri Payet out injured, and now face a West Brom side that is very stout defensively. For West Brom, the Baggies are looking to build on a big win over Arsenal last weekend, as Tony Pulis has his side quietly creeping up the table.

[ RELATED: Should struggling Newcastle sack Steve McClaren? ]

Liverpool vs. Swansea City11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra

A big match up at Anfield, as a struggling Swansea City side are in desperate need of a result against Liverpool. The Swans have just one win in their last ten matches in all competitions, and have fallen down to 14th on the table. Garry Monk‘s future at the club have come into question, but a result at Anfield would change that tune quickly. For the Reds, a dominant 4-1 win over Manchester City should have given Jurgen Klopp‘s side a huge confidence boost, as the German boss has lost just one of his nine matches in charge.

Norwich City vs. Arsenal11:15 a.m. ET online via Live Extra

A win would put Arsenal back in the top-three, as the Gunners travel to Carrow Road for a match against Norwich City. Arsene Wenger‘s men dropped their last Premier League match at West Brom, but rebounded nicely with a midweek win over Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League. For Norwich, the Canaries have been struggling and sit just two points above the drop. They’ll look to squeak out a point against Arsenal, who haven’t won in the league since Halloween.

Bundesliga wrap: Bayern win, USMNT’s Johnson leads Gladbach

Leave a comment

Catch up on all of Saturday’s action from Germany, as Bayern Munich continue to dominate the Bundesliga.

Bayern Munich 2-0 Hertha Berlin

Another day in the Bundesliga, another win for Bayern Munich. Goals from Thomas Mueller and Kingsley Coman gave Bayern an 11-point gap at the top of the table, as the Bavarians are yet to lose through 14 matches. Even more impressive, Pep Guardiola’s men have a ridiculous goal differential of +37.

Hoffenheim 3-3 Borussia Monchengladbach

United States international Fabian Johnson scored twice for Gladbach to help his side come back for a 3-3 draw against Hoffenheim. Johnson opened the scoring in the 5th minute and added the game’s final goal in the 87th to help extend Gladbach’s unbeaten run to nine matches.

Werder Bremen 1-3 Hamburg

Werder Bremen’s struggles continue, as the club dropped a league-high ninth match this season. In the 103rd Northern derby, Hamburg jumped out to a two-goal lead before the break and added a third in the second half to ease to a 3-1 win.

[ RELATED: Premier League Saturday roundup — Man City go top ]

Elsewhere in the Bundesliga

Darmstadt 0-0 Koln — Scoreless draw at the Bollenfalltor Stadion
Hannover 4-0 Ingolstadt — Clinical Hannover cruise at home
Mainz 2-1 Eintracht Frankfurt —
Eintracht drop third straight
Borussia Dortmund vs. Stuttgart —
Sunday, 9:30 a.m. ET
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Schalke —
Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET
Augsburg vs. Wolfsburg —
Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET


Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Bayern Munich 14 13 1 0 42 5 37 8-0-0 5-1-0 40
Borussia Dortmund 13 9 2 2 36 18 18 5-1-0 4-1-2 29
VfL Wolfsburg 13 7 3 3 23 15 8 6-1-0 1-2-3 24
Mönchengladbach 14 7 2 5 28 22 6 4-1-2 3-1-3 23
Hertha BSC Berlin 14 7 2 5 18 17 1 4-1-1 3-1-4 23
Hamburger SV 14 6 3 5 17 18 -1 2-2-2 4-1-3 21
FSV Mainz 05 14 6 2 6 20 20 0 4-0-4 2-2-2 20
Bayer Leverkusen 13 6 2 5 17 17 0 3-1-2 3-1-3 20
FC Schalke 04 13 6 2 5 17 19 -2 3-2-2 3-0-3 20
1. FC Köln 14 5 5 4 15 18 -3 2-4-1 3-1-3 20
FC Ingolstadt 04 14 5 4 5 10 14 -4 2-1-3 3-3-2 19
Darmstadt 14 3 6 5 14 19 -5 1-4-3 2-2-2 15
Eintracht Frankfurt 14 3 5 6 18 22 -4 1-3-2 2-2-4 14
Hannover 96 14 4 2 8 17 24 -7 2-0-5 2-2-3 14
Werder Bremen 14 4 1 9 14 28 -14 1-0-6 3-1-3 13
VfB Stuttgart 13 3 1 9 17 31 -14 2-0-5 1-1-4 10
FC Augsburg 13 2 3 8 17 25 -8 1-1-5 1-2-3 9
1899 Hoffenheim 14 1 6 7 15 23 -8 0-4-3 1-2-4 9

VIDEO: Humble Jamie Vardy speaks on scoring in 11-straight games

Leave a comment

Jamie Vardy made Premier League history today, scoring in his 11th-straight match in Leicester City’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United.

Despite breaking a record that stood for 12 years, the Leicester City striker didn’t look too fazed in his post-match interview.

[ WATCH: Vardy breaks record ]

Speaking after the draw, Vardy said his record-breaking run hasn’t really sunk in yet. While the supporters at the KP were chanting “Jamie Vardy’s having a party,” the 28-year-old will be going home and “chilling,” rather than going out to celebrate.

Vardy said he’ll be back at work to train on Monday, and is already looking forward to next weekend’s match against Swansea City, where he’ll have a chance to extend his record.