MLS Roundup: Seattle wins battle of conference leaders; Rapids, Union, and LA teams claim wins

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Major League Soccer may have officially returned on Friday night, but Saturday’s six-match slate marked the true end to the league’s World Cup break. Unfortunately for those in attendance in Columbus, weather and near-tragedy reduced the number of five, but amongst those matches was a battle between teams at the top of the league’s conferences.

That game kicked off the day’s action in Washington, D.C., where the Sounders beat Ben Olsen’s team at its own game. Elsewhere, Philadelphia made its new coach’s debut a winning one, Carl Robinson’s lineup games cost him in Colorado, while Erick Torres’s Goal of the Year candidate sunk visiting RSL.

Capping off the night, the California Clasico went to the LA Galaxy, but with over 50,000 people showing up at Stanford Stadium, Earthquakes management was still given reason to smile.

Here’s what happened on Saturday night in Major League Soccer:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RYBvuX6penk]

D.C. United 0-1 Seattle Sounders

The MLS break did nothing to slow down the league-leading Sounders, who put D.C. United’s formula for success to work for themselves at RFK Stadium. With a first half goal from Chad Barrett and a defense that held the Eastern Conference co-leaders to two shots on target all night, Seattle rendered large deficits in possession (66-34, D.C.) and shots (14-5) meaningless. Unable to break the Sounders down, D.C. was handed their second home loss of the season.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TTWm4o-9tdM]

New England Revolution 1-3 Philadelphia Union

That Revolution team that looked like the league’s best earlier this spring? It may be gone, even if New England still appeared dangerous at times going forward against Philadelphia. But that couldn’t prevent a major José Gonçalves error just before half time from gifting Philly the lead. With second half goals from Danny Cruz and Sebastien Le Toux (his second of the night) the Union were able to exact revenge for the 5-3 defeat they suffered to New England six weeks ago, using a lineup that featured Maurice Edu in central defense, Amobi Okugo in midfield, and Brian Carroll on the bench, to give interim boss Jim Curtin his first win as an MLS head coach.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=el6d7RKQmYE]

Colorado Rapids 2-0 Vancouver Whitecaps

When Dillon Powers is on and getting help from Vicente Sanchez and Deshorn Brown, the Rapids’ attack goes from pedestrian to potent. In the first half against visiting Vancouver, that potency emerged, with Powers hitting the woodwork three minutes before giving the Rapids a 1-0 lead in the 20th minute. In the 35th minute, after Brown drew a penalty, Sánchez converted his fifth of the season from the spot, finishing the day’s scoring before Carl Robinson could get Gershon Koffie, Darren Mattocks, or Kekuta Manneh on the field. (Manneh, curiously, never got off the bench.)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sjx848dyR-k]

Chivas USA 1-0 Real Salt Lake

A match of two moments was defined by 10 minutes before halftime when a wonder strike from Erick Torres* left the visiting Western Conference champions down a goal and a man, with a ninth minute, studs-up tackle from Luke Mulholland reducing RSL to 10 in the ninth minute. Though Jeff Cassar’s team would hold a huge possession edge throughout the match (57 pct.), they only put two shots on Dan Kennedy, with Jeff Attinella needing seven saves (and some help from Chris Schuler) to keep RSL within one.

* – With the goal, Torres passed Cuauhtémoc Blanco to become MLS’s all-time leader in goals by a Mexican-born player (17).

San Jose Earthquakes 0-1 LA Galaxy

From our snapshot:

In front of 50,006 at Stanford Stadium, San Jose’s attempts to leverage Steven Lenhart fail to pay off, with a series of chances in the air against an Omar Gonzalez-less defense allowing the Galaxy’s single goal to stand up. Finishing into the top of Jon Busch’s net in the 62nd minute, Gyasi Zardes delivered full points for the Earthquakes’ visiting rivals, giving LA a 1-0, California Cup victory in Palo Alto.

MLS Snapshot: Toronto FC hold Crew on the road

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The game in 100 words (or less): Without two of its stars, Toronto FC set out to play compact and hold on for a draw on the road, and that’s exactly what they did. Michael Bradley recorded 17 recoveries and a trio of interceptions as TFC broke up play and covered the passing lanes, frustrating the Columbus Crew all night. The best chance fell to Harrison Afful late, but TFC goalkeeper Alex Bono made a crucial save to keep it at 0-0.

Three moments that mattered

‘ — The starting lineup — In a game with chances few and far between, the tactical set-up by Greg Vanney – in which his side without Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore came out in a 4-1-4-1 formation – proved to be the difference in the game, frustrating the Crew all night.

52′ — Pedro Santos penalty kick no-call — Justin Meram plays a neat pass through the TFC backline that Santos runs on to, and he appears to be taken down in the box by Bono. Referee Robert Sbiga doesn’t blow the whistle and lets play continue, where Ola Kamara takes a shot that’s deflected away. Santos appeals for video review, and receives a yellow card for his efforts.

85′ — Big Save Bono — Gregg Berhalter’s 77th minute substitution to bring on Kekutah Manneh helped to push Afful higher up the field, which led to this late-game chance. Bono, who hadn’t had a whole lot to do, came up with a massive stop to keep the tie level.

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

Man of the Match: Alex Bono, Toronto FC

Three things: Being happy with 0-0, and sabotage by Precourt

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On what felt sure to be a seminal night in franchise history, Columbus Crew SC were held by Toronto FC to a 0-0 draw in the first leg of the 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday. Leg 2 will be played next Wednesday, Nov. 29.

[ RECAP: TFC hold Crew SC to scoreless draw in leg 1 of East finals ]

We learned (roughly) three things over the course of the 90 minutes…


Who’s happiest with 0-0?

There’s a case to be made that both sides will be quite happy with Tuesday’s result — Crew SC for the fact they conceded no away goals, and TFC facing no deficit whatsoever before their home leg — but it’s quite clear that TFC should be the happier of the two, given 1) they were the best regular-season team in MLS history, this season; and, more importantly, 2) Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore were suspended for leg 1 (they’ll both be back for leg 2) and Crew SC failed to capitalize anywhere meaningful.

TFC lost once at BMO Field all season, while Columbus managed just four victories away from home. Granted, any draw where both sides score would see Crew SC through to MLS Cup, which they would host no matter the opponent (54 points in the regular season; Seattle Sounders and Houston Dynamo finished on 54 and 50, respectively).


TFC’s tactical adjustment pays off

For all of the regular season, TFC head coach Greg Vanney deployed a back-three, with great success — 69 points, an all-time regular-season record. Nov. 21, three games from lifting (or losing) MLS Cup, is hardly the ideal time to deviate from the only path you’ve known.

MLSsoccer.com

Alas, the absences of Giovinco and Altidore, TFC’s permanent strike partnership in the 3-5-2, changed everything. Without Altidore’s hold-up play bringing the best player to ever grace the league into attacking moves, the 3-5-2 would have quickly devolved into a 5-3-2, followed in short order by a 5-4-1. Columbus need no invitation to hold north of 60 percent of possession in a given game, which is exactly what would have happened. Not just meaningless possession, either, but camping-inside-TFC’s-defensive-third possession; 50-crosses-into-the-box possession; get-the-center-backs-forward-too possession.

Vanney was proactive with his starting lineup, putting another body in midfield by sacrificing a striker for another man in the middle, and it paid off. At right, you’ll see Crew SC’s attempted passes into/from TFC’s defensive third. Woof.


Anthony Precourt sinks to a new low

How low is Anthony Precourt willing to go in order to sabotage Crew SC, the club he owns and efforts to move to Austin, Tex., without so much as a phony attempt at a non-relocation resolution, and alienate the fans that have supported the franchise since MLS’s debut season in 1996? Tuesday night saw Precourt and Co. up the ante as they intentionally restricted entry (two gates for the entire stadium, causing thousands to miss the game’s opening minutes) into MAPFRE Stadium with the presumed intent of a half-empty venue when the television broadcast kicked off and panned left to right.

You pay good money for a ticket so you can see your team play, which ultimately results in filling the pockets of the villain whose no. 1 goal it is to steal your team, and this is how you’re treated on gameday.

This is shameful stuff from all parties involved — Crew SC, under the leadership and direction of Precourt, and MLS, who have allowed this entire saga to be played out in a public forum and enabling Precourt every step of the way.

Report: Crystal Palace to build new stadium

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Crystal Palace may have a new home in the next few years.

That’s according to reports out of English, which state that Crystal Palace owner Steve Parish is set to make a major stadium announcement before Christmas.

Crystal Palace’s home stadium, Selhurst Park, is nearly 100 years old, and the club has looked over the last few years at either new locations for a stadium in South London or ways to renovate the current ground.

“When I came into this thing, the aim was to bring something for all of us to be proud of on the pitch and very importantly off the pitch,” Parish told the Croydon Advertiser. “We want to give everybody in Croydon a south London stadium that we can all be proud of and not lose our atmosphere and uniqueness.

“That’s a dream for me, a lifelong dream and one that hopefully everybody will share when they see what we’ve put together. It’s fantastically exciting times for us to look forward to.”

Unlike in America, where many sports owners demand a new stadium every 20-25 years or so, in England, there are many stadiums still in use across the Football League and Premier League that were initially built in the 1800s.

It’s unclear who would pay for a new Crystal Palace stadium, what it would look like and how many seats it would hold, but perhaps a new stadium and facility could help

FOLLOW LIVE – MLS Conference Finals, Leg 1

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There’s never been more on the line in the latest Trilliam Cup matchup.

For the first time, Toronto FC and the Columbus Crew will meet in the MLS Cup playoffs, kicking off at 8:00 p.m., with both teams taking different paths to the Eastern Conference finals.

Toronto FC battled the New York Red Bulls to win on away goals, after a 2-1 win in Red Bull Arena in the first leg, but tempers flared and the Supporters Shield winners will be without both Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore on Tuesday night. The Crew meanwhile survived an incredible 120 minutes at Atlanta United to win in a shootout, and then carried that momentum into a 4-3 aggregate victory over New York City FC.

[FOLLOW: MLS Conference Finals Play-by-Play]

Now, with the Crew’s status in Columbus still up in the air, Crew fans have one chance to pack MAPFRE Stadium to support their team and prove to the league they can support an MLS franchise.

Meanwhile, in the Western Conference, the upstart Houston Dynamo host a sold-out crowd as the defending MLS Cup champions Seattle Sounders visit, with kickoff set for 9:30 p.m.

The Dynamo stunned the injury-riddled Portland Timbers in the last round and the Dynamo has lost just once at home in MLS action this calendar year. On the other side, the Sounders are getting a major boost, with Osvaldo Alonso and Jordan Morris close to returning, either in this game or next week, and Clint Dempsey remains fit and raring to go back in his home state.

Follow all the action from tonight’s MLS Cup playoff matchups.