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MLS Weekend Preview: Friedel’s Revs get NYCFC test

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It’s an international break, and Major League Soccer is only sorta observing it.

More than half of the league’s clubs will participate on Saturday match days, with several shorthanded by national team duty.

[ MORE: Southgate on racism in football]

Columbus won’t have Zack Steffen and Wil Trapp for a visit from DC United — who is missing Zoltan Steiber, Bruno Miranda, and Oniel Fisher — while the Red Bulls will be without Tyler Adams, Kemar Lawrence, and Michael Murillo for Minnesota United’s visit.

NYCFC won’t have Alexander Ring, Ronald Matarrita, and Rodney Wallace, Portland’s without David Guzman and Andy Polo, and Sporting KC loses Daniel Salloi.

The Whitecaps won’t have center back Kendall Waston, while opponents LA Galaxt are without Ola Kamara.

New England Revolution vs. New York City FC — 1:30 p.m. ET Saturday

Brad Friedel‘s New England revolution, purposely lower case, is making believers out of its players. It would take a giant step if it could slow the NYCFC juggernaut. The visitors have allowed just one goal in their 3-0 start.

As for the hosts, Friedel has made his mark in a way that mostly makes you wonder what in the world Jay Heaps was doing:.

(Bunbury) pointed to a fine system in the locker room, increased accountability, how Friedel posts the starting XI on game day, and occasional two-a-day training sessions, which never occurred in the forward’s four years under Heaps.

“I think it unifies the team,” Bunbury said. “The broad sense of professionalism, it’s about having respect for each other and making sure you are held accountable in every part of this club.”

Never occurred under Heaps? Woof.

FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers — 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday

FCD had an uninspiring ending to their CONCACAF Champions League dreams, but that’s little compared to the Timbers’ 0-2 start under Gio Savarese. A trip down South isn’t a surefire way to right the ship.

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. LA Galaxy — 10 p.m. ET Saturday

A long trip up North is only made worse by a laundry list of injuries for Sigi Schmid’s Galaxy. We’re only listing it amongst our Top Three because an LA win would be wildly impressive given the ‘Caps strong start.


Columbus Crew vs. DC United — 6 p.m. ET Saturday
New York Red Bulls vs. Minnesota United — 7 p.m. ET Saturday
Colorado Rapids vs. Sporting KC — 9 p.m. ET Saturday

Don’t gloss over Toronto FC’s richly deserved crown

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The embarrassment of riches that is 2017 treble winning Toronto FC is a richly-deserved experience for the Ontario faithful.

That may seem a bit farfetched for a supporter base with just 11 seasons of league play under its belt, but in many ways the Reds crammed about 50 years of misery into their first decade.

Allow me this personal indulgence as a regional microcosm of TFC trials.

[ MORE: Recap | Bradley’s rewarded obsession ]

The year is 2008, and friends north of the border have need of partners in their two-year-old habit of TFC season tickets. Given a love of the game and a less than two hour drive from Buffalo to BMO Field, we leap at the chance.

The Reds had won seven games in their inaugural campaign, but had signed Pescadito and hired ex-Leeds and Newcastle assistant John Carver (We didn’t know then what we know now). And it all looked great when Rohan Ricketts scored a brace on June 14, moving the team to 6W-4L-2T.

They won one of the next 14 league games. Toronto committed a similar grievance the following season — Two wins from 11 after a 7W-6L-4T start — compounding it by failing to score over 180 minutes of CONCACAF Champions League play against the Puerto Rico Islanders. Following a scoreless friendly against River Plate, we bid TFC the best and saddled up with a nascent club closer to home.

More misery followed for Toronto supporters, and little soothed the frayed nerves of the faithful enough Red Patch Boys. Little swings, like the signing of Mista, missed. The drafting woes were almost comical, selecting consecutive players the picks before Sporting KC took Roger Espinoza. The next year? O’Brian White when three of the next four picks were Rodney Wallace, Chris Pontius, and Matt Besler. 2010 and 2011? First round picks traded for Adrian Serioux and Nathan Sturgis.

This is a long way of describing why embattled American fans may not quite understand what Michael Bradley and Company have done up in Toronto, and why Canadian fans adore their bald-domed metronome. Even forgetting for a second that Bradley was a 90-minute force on Saturday.

Bezbatchenko(Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Yes, Toronto spends money. This is nothing new, though, having names like Torsten Frings and Danny Koevermans through the door in years past. But it’s how they spend money now under general manager Tim Bezbatchenko.

And for every discussion on how Bradley and Jozy Altidore may be better for country had they stayed overseas, or how Sebastian Giovinco somehow wound up in Toronto, there’s a solid acquisition like Justin Morrow or draft pick Alex Bono. There are savvy signings Drew Moor and Steven Beitashour, and the mining of MVP candidate Victor Vazquez from Club Brugge via Cruz Azul.

Jonathan Osorio developed in house.

Eriq Zavaleta for a second round pick.

Marky Delgado off the Chivas USA scrap heap.

Chris Mavinga from no more than 20 league matches anywhere in the world in recent history.

This is, without a doubt, the best team in Major League Soccer history. MLS is by far as good as its ever been, and Toronto FC took that class and dominated it. Say what you will about where the league stands internationally, but TFC didn’t just beat the teams on its docket; It largely crushed them.

We can only hope it sticks together through a CONCACAF Champions League season, and maybe gives MLS its best chance at a Club World Cup.

But for now, appreciate that Toronto’s ambitious project finally executed the plan its supporters deserved. On a cold night and its third time of asking — the first time TFC wasn’t even in the match — an MLS Cup was won by the boys in red at BMO. And the entire crew deserved it.

NYCFC’s comeback falls just short; Crew SC through to East finals

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The game in 100 words (or less more): New York City FC, trailing 4-1, had the steepest of hills to climb during Sunday’s Eastern Conference semifinals second leg against Columbus Crew SC. Thanks to another star performance from David Villa, Patrick Vieira’s side so nearly did the unthinkable, but ultimately fell a goal short, winning 2-0 on the day, but falling 4-3 on aggregate. It wasn’t for a lack of chances either, as NYCFC peppered Zack Steffen’s goal to the tune of 16 shots (6 target, plus another that smashed the post late in the second half). Villa gave the home side a real belief when he converted from the penalty spot in the 16th minute, but Columbus held firm another 37 minutes before conceding again, to Andraz Struna. Crew SC will host Toronto FC, the 2017 Supporters’ Shield winners, in the first leg of the East finals on Nov. 21. Sunday’s game at Yankee Stadium is expected to be the final appearance of Andrea Pirlo’s illustrious career after the Italian legend announced last month that he’ll retire at season’s end.

[ MORE: 3 keys to Sunday’s 2nd legs ]

Three moments that mattered

16′ — Villa converts from the spot to make it 4-2 — Josh Williams tripped Rodney Wallace in a largely inconsequential part of the penalty area, and Villa converted the spot kick to pull NYCFC to within two goals on aggregate.

53′ — Struna’s shot deflected past Steffen for 4-3 — Eerily similar to Daniel Royer’s goal for the New York Red Bulls earlier on Sunday, Struna did little more than hit this one into a sea of bodies and come up lucky.

70′ — Wallace does everything right… except hitting the post — From three goals down, to within an inch or two of making it 4-4 and advancing to the conference finals on away goals — it’s the thinnest of margins.

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

Man of the match: Yangel Herrera

Goalscorers: Villa (16′ – PK), Struna (53′)

Vieira: NYCFC “paid the price” for lackluster finishing in the final third

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Tuesday night’s defeat at MAPFRE Stadium brought up a lot of the same issues that New York City FC has faced for the better part of its first three seasons in Major League Soccer.

[ MORE: Crew blast NYCFC in first leg of East semifinals ]

Manager Patrick Vieira and his side conceded four goals in Columbus against the surging Crew in NYCFC’s 4-1 loss, which now puts the Eastern Conference regular season runners’ up at a distinct disadvantage heading into leg 2 on Sunday.

It’s not only a similar situation to that of a season ago — when NYCFC trailed Toronto FC by a scoreline of 2-0 heading into the home leg in the East semifinals — but actually worse considering the number of chances the Crew garnered in front of their home fans.

[ MORE: Zack Steffen spoke to PST ahead of Columbus’ first leg vs. NYCFC ]

Meanwhile, Vieira’s side simply wasn’t clinical enough when it came down to the critical moments of the match.

“We paid the price heavily tonight,” Vieira said following Tuesday’s defeat. “When you concede four goals away from home, you make things very difficult for yourselves.

“Of course, it is going to be a tough challenge, but it is a challenge that we are going to try to prepare ourselves for, and get ready for it.

“We’re gonna try. It will be really important to internalize the game tonight and come away with a plan of how to create chances and try not to concede.

“We’re going to give ourselves a good chance. Every time that we play them, we have the opportunity to score goals — not just one, but a few goals.”

NYCFC boasted one of the top attacks at times during the MLS regular season — led by captain David Villa and his 22 goals. However, the Spanish international has had little support in the attacking third for much of the second half of 2017, leaving Vieira’s squad vulnerable when they don’t cash in on goalscoring chances.

The team’s second-leading scorer, Jack Harrison, has scored just twice since the end of June, while the trio of Rodney Wallace, Maxi Moralez and Tommy McNamara have combined for four goals since May 21.

Over the last 10 games, including Tuesday’s loss, the Bronx side has scored just 10 goals — which by their standards is quite low. In comparison, Villa and Co. registered 47 finishes through their first 25 MLS matches this season.

With attacking players not named Villa struggling to find finishing opportunities as of late, NYCFC’s uphill climb just became that much more difficult when the club travels back home to host the Crew.

“In the last seven or eight games, when we were struggling to win games a little bit, the content of our game was there,” Vieira explained.

“It’s just, we don’t score goals. When you look at the number of chances we created in the first half, we didn’t take our chances.

“They took their chances and we didn’t take them. When you create so many chances and you only score once, it’s not good enough.”

Defensively, NYCFC didn’t make things easier for themselves after Alexander Callens was sent off seven minutes into the second half after raising an elbow to Crew attacker Justin Meram’s face prior to a corner kick.

Without Callens — who has previously started every match this season for NYCFC — Vieira’s group is left with a thin set of options at the back. First-choice center back Maxime Chanot remains sidelined with an injury, potentially leaving Fredrick Brillant, Ethan White and 16-year-old James Sands up for selection on Sunday.

FOLLOW LIVE – Columbus, NYCFC meet in MLS Playoff leg 1

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“When you play well and you take your chances you always have more chances to win games than the opposition team.”

Patrick Viera is sticking to the simple and obvious as NYCFC gets set to defend its 2-seed in the East against 5-seeded Columbus in the first round of the MLS playoffs with an 8:00 pm E.T. kick.

[ FOLLOW: MLS first round scores, play-by-play ]

NYCFC has been led by David Villa, who finished second in the Golden Boot standings, but Viera has been impressed not by one Crew member, but all of them. “What I love about Columbus is the collective game,” Vieira said. “When the collective is good that allows the individual to show how good they are.

With the game set to take place at Mapfre Stadium, the crowd should be fired up by the recent rumors of Columbus relocation. The atmosphere is expected to be incredibly hostile to the opposition, and supportive of its hometown team. Recent rumblings have energized the Columbus fanbase, and that should keep the place bumping all night.

New York’s collective is pretty strong too. With Villa the star, players like Yangel Herrera and Rodney Wallace are just as important to the unit. Herrera especially is the anchor of a midfield that often decides NYCFC’s fate in matches.

Who will get the advantage in the first leg? Follow along with the link above.