MLS Cup Playoffs

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MLS Conference Finals: Toronto, Seattle on collision course?

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The ties are leaning away from the underdog stories as the MLS Cup Conference Finals reach their second legs.

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Reigning champs Seattle are 90 minutes away from a return to the final after scoring a pair of away goals in Texas, while Toronto needs a win at home to bring out the fine china for a rematch of the 2016 title game at BMO Field.

Toronto FC vs. Columbus Crew — 7:30 p.m. ET Wednesday
Scoreless after one leg

The good news for Columbus Crew is that a scoring draw is good enough to take them through to a second MLS Cup Final in three seasons under Gregg Berhalter, taking the embarrassment of owner Anthony Precourt’s public desire to relocate an MLS original club to Austin, Texas.

The bad news? That scoring draw has to come at noisy BMO Field against the team with the best record in MLS history, a Toronto FC bunch which will be welcoming Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco back to the fold after suspension.

Columbus has veteran savvy and some wild cards like Pedro Santos, but it’s going to take a lot of defending to handle TFC’s field-switching work and busy full backs (let alone Altidore and Giovinco).

Seattle Sounders vs. Houston Dynamo — 10:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Seattle leads 2-0

Clint Dempsey is among the most important and accomplished players in American history, and his work since returning to Major League Soccer certainly ticks a lot of boxes: influential, clutch, prolific.

He’s helped the Sounders to an almost insurmountable advantage. At home for the second leg, the Sounders can make Houston’s task near impossible just by scoring a goal.

That said, Wilmer Cabrera is a heck of a coach and has assets that can attack and fire at will. While it may be improbable for Alberth Elis and Erick Torres to spring a massive comeback in Washington, it’s not quite impossible. That’s about as much as we can give the orange-clad men from Texas.

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.

Altidore, Kljestan react to wild tunnel fracas by blaming each other

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Toronto FC’s MLS Cup Final hopes have taken a big hit after the Reds barely escaped New York Red Bulls’ stiff test at BMO Field on Sunday.

Leading 2-1 after one leg and carrying a pair of away goals, TFC lost a scrappy 1-0 second leg at home to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals against Columbus.

[ RECAP: TFC 1-0 (2-2) RBNY ]

The Reds won’t have Sebastian Giovinco for the first leg after a late card for dissent, his second of the tie, and also won’t have Jozy Altidore after on- and off-field skirmishes with USMNT teammate Sacha Kljestan.

Altidore did not cover himself in glory. After Giovinco fouled Red Bulls youngster Tyler Adams, the teams came together in an incident that ended with Kljestan and Altidore going head-to-head before the big TFC forward comically hit the deck after a shove from the Red Bulls midfielder.

Altidore initiates the contact by leaning into Kljestan’s face, and then goes down like the 150-pound diminutive player he is. Oh, that’s right, he’s 6-foot-1 and essentially carved like the response to Michelangelo being asked by an American investor, “Hey, buddy, can you make me a soccer god out of this here marble?”

Those were just a pair of yellows, and life got real nutty for both teams in the tunnel at halftime. There’s a lot of salty language in this video, and it’s NSFW so we won’t embed, but if you want to watch head coaches Greg Vanney and Jesse Marsch yell at each other in the middle of what looked like a wild night at the club, feel free.

Both players were sent off with second yellows after either (thanks to intrepid Toronto Sun reporter Kurtis Larson for the quotes):

A) Altidore shoved Kljestan into a wall

“At halftime he shoved me into the wall. I have a clear conscience,” Kljestan said. “I don’t feel like I deserved a red card. So it’s a pretty helpless feeling to not be able to play in the second half.”

and/or

B) Kljestan went at Altidore from behind

“Yo, Sacha Kljestan, why you snitching bro?” Altidore tweeted. “You tried to pull up on me while my back was turned and almost got that work. Safe flight.”

Cool stories, fellas. For what it’s worth, and it’s not much even if the staffer is a true gem, Larson tweeted that a Toronto FC staffer says Altidore was pulled into the fracas from behind while heading to the dressing room.

Again, it’s someone who works for TFC, the Reds would like to have Altidore for the Conference Finals. So, about 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 grains of salt that fill BMO Field, but something to consider.

I say the following as someone who if anything would feel a bit of bias as a former season ticket holder ages ago — Toronto was the closest MLS team to my hometown of Buffalo — TFC put forth a display that will turn itself in a villain for most neutrals (and the officiating was admittedly abysmal and let the match out of control). There was plenty of flopping even apart from Altidore’s play acting.

Here’s the MLSSoccer.com take:

Hope the guys sort this out before the World Cup…

MLS Cup Playoffs: Weekend Preview

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The Seattle Sounders booked their place in the MLS Cup Conference Finals, but there’s three places up for grabs that will be decided this Sunday.

Toronto FC and the Columbus Crew take advantages into their second-leg bouts with the New York Red Bulls and New York City FC, respectively, while the Portland Timbers head back home to host the Houston Dynamo coming off a scoreless draw.

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TFC is edging closer to a second-consecutive appearance in the Eastern Conference final after their 2-1 win at the Red Bulls while the Crew ran riot past NYCFC at home, leaving Patrick Vieira’s season on the brink.

Here’s a look at what we can expect to see in the final three second-leg matchups of the conference semifinals.

(more…)

Dempsey brace guides Sounders into Western Conference final

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One half of the Western Conference final was decided on Thursday night in a lopsided Cascadia clash.

The Seattle Sounders knocked off the Vancouver Whitecaps, 2-0, at CenturyLink Field to reach the MLS final four.

[ MORE: Dempsey says USMNT must learn from WCQ failure ]

Clint Dempsey‘s 88th minute finish sealed the victory for the home side, after the U.S. Men’s National Team attacker volleyed home a Victor Rodriguez cross at the far post.

Brian Schmetzer’s side took the lead half an hour prior when Clint Dempsey curled a left-footed shot into the right corner, beating Whitecaps keeper Stefan Marinovic.

Dempsey had nearly put the Sounders in front on the stroke of halftime after Nicolas Lodeiro’s cross found the American attacker just yards away from goal.

Controversy struck in the 35th minute when the Sounders played a quick counter attack down the left flank, and brought out video replay.

The home side appeared to be in on goal when Lodeiro picked out a perfect through ball into the path of Nouhou Tolo, but the Sounders defender was pulled down close to the penalty area by Whitecaps outside back Jakob Nerwinski.

After review, the referee decided that it wasn’t a penalty (video below), despite Tolo appearing to go down inside the Whitecaps area.

The Sounders will meet either the top-seeded Portland Timbers or the Houston Dynamo in the West final, which will be played over two legs on Nov. 21 and Nov. 30.