Sebastian Giovinco

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MVP favorites Valeri, Villa headline 2017 MLS Best XI

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All five Major League Soccer MVP finalists — Diego Valeri, David Villa, Nemanja Nikolic, Sebastian Giovinco and Miguel Almiron — have been named to the 2017 Best XI squad.

[ MORE: F.O.M.O., and a USMNT-less 2018 World Cup draw ]

The attacking talent doesn’t stop there, as the above quintet is joined by Toronto FC midfielder Victor Vazquez and Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez.

Tim Melia and Ike Opara, who were previously named Goalkeeper of the Year and Defender of the Year, respectively, for their parts in leading Sporting Kansas City to the best defensive record in 2017, were chosen alongside Kendall Waston and Justin Morrow of the Vancouver Whitecaps and Toronto FC, respectively.

Yes, that is indeed a rarely-seen 3-3-4 formation which very closely borders on being a 3-0-7. My personal ballot, which features a defensive midfield-type and was submitted on Oct. 22, reads as follows:

Goalkeeper: Tim Melia

Defenders: Ike Opara, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Kendall Waston

Midfielders: Diego Valeri, Ignacio Piatti, Victor Vazquez, Cristian Roldan

Forwards: David Villa, Nemanja Nikolic, Josef Martinez

Reserves (not on ballot): Alex Bono, Chris Mavinga, Sacha Kljestan, C.J. Sapong

Toronto FC heading back to MLS Cup Final

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The game in (a bit more than) 100 words: Toronto FC is going to host the MLS Cup for the second-straight season, and this time could become the first team in league history to claim a domestic treble (TFC won the Canadian Championship and the Supporters’ Shield). Victor Vazquez saw his first half penalty saved by Zack Steffen, but the ex-Barca man had the primary assist on Jozy Altidore‘s goal to put the hosts in front after an hour of play. Altidore, by the way, had been limping around on a bum wheel for a good 7-10 minutes for his best Willis Reed impression.

Columbus had three glorious chances, and Ola Kamara couldn’t find an 88th minute loose ball through traffic with nothing but goal in front of him. Justin Meram had the other two. In the first half, he was foiled by Michael Bradley. In the second, he scooped over the bar.

Three moments that mattered

22′ — TFC’s captain catches up to the Crew — Bradley was a little lax in his tracking, and that allowed Columbus a 2v1 chance. Ola Kamara slid the ball across to Justin Meram, but Bradley timed his sliding intervention well and broke up the play.

26′ — Steffen saves TFC PK — Josh Williams hauled down Drew Moor on a corner kick, and Vazquez strode to the spot. His quick run-up attempt was foiled when Steffen flew to his right to parry Vazquez’s attempt. It remained scoreless.

60′ — Giovinco to Jozy to Vazquez to Jozy — Sebastian Giovinco sucked two defenders to him a few yards outside the 18, the backheeled to Altidore for a 1-2 with Vazquez that ended up inside far post’s side netting (Kisses thumb and pointer finger like I made a nice sauce).

87′ — Kamara can’t find equalizer (literally) — Ola Kamara has scored a lot of goals, so it’s going to drive him nuts that this one eluded his vision.

Goals: Altidore (60′)

Man of the Match: Justin Morrow

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.

[ MORE: Premier League Weds. preview ]

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.

Toronto FC beat RBNY at soccer, royal rumble to reach East finals

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The game in 100 words (or less more): When fans of Toronto FC, the New York Red Bulls and MLS in general tuned in for the second leg of the above sides’ Eastern Conference semifinal on Sunday, surely every last one of them thought, “Gee, I really am looking forward to The Chris Penso Show this afternoon.” Thrust upon the big stage, Penso duly delivered eight yellow cards, two red cards, and lost complete control of the game very early on, which resulted in no fewer than a half-dozen chest-to-chest and hand-to-hand confrontations between players from both sides, and even Penso himself. Jozy Altidore and Sacha Kljestan were each sent off at halftime after reported “violent conduct” as the two sides left the field; the two U.S. national teamers were involved in a silly, seemingly nothing dust-up minutes earlier. As for the actual soccer that was played, New York entered BMO Field 2-1 down before pulling level to 2-2 (though still behind on away goals) through Daniel Royer in the 54th minute. 11 shots between the two sides, just three on target With both sides down to 10 men for the entirety of the second half, the game opened up and a handful of chances came for — and were wasted by — both sides.

[ MORE: 3 keys to Sunday’s 2nd legs ]

Three Four moments that mattered

HT — Altidore, Kljestan get second yellows in the tunnel — It started like this a few minutes before halftime…

… and ended with “violent conduct” in the tunnel, for which both players were shown a second yellow card.

54′ — Royer gets a wicked deflection, scores from nothing — After the halftime shenanigans — and with all that extra space on the field — this game needed a goal to keep it interesting. Royer and/or Bradley Wright-Phillips delivered in short order. Game on.

78′ — Adams puts it in his own net, but Osorio is offside — It’s the (own) TFC needed to put the tie to bed, but Jonathan Osorio was offside and clearly affected Tyler Adams’ ability to clear the ball.

80′ — Giovinco mouths off, gets himself suspended next game — After picking up a yellow in the first leg, Giovinco reached the limit when he chased after and shouted at Penso.

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

Man of the match: Aaron Long

Goalscorers: Royer (54′)

A(nother) Giovinco free kick helps TFC to 1st leg (video)

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The match in 100 words (or less): New York Red Bulls have the steel and experience to trouble most teams in MLS, and weren’t rattled when Victor Vazquez helped the visiting Reds to a 1-0 lead. An unfortunate but very legit penalty against Drew Moor sent the defender to the sidelines injured and RBNY to halftime level. The Red Bulls very much had the run of play until Felipe fouled Sebastian Giovinco about 25 yards away from goal. At this point, we can just leave that sentence there and know you know the score went to 2-1. The Supporters’ Shield winners now have two away goals heading back to Toronto for the second leg.

The moments that mattered

8′ — Vazquez gets the favorites an away goal — Clumsy defending from the Red Bulls allowed Jozy Altidore to the right flank, and the American striker walked around Damien Perrinelle before crossing into the six. Red Bulls backstop Luis Robles parried it back into the 18, and Victor Vazquez had ages to line up his shot. He did not mess up.

Sacha Kljestan had a chance at the other end, but Toronto resumed control. Marky Delgado headed a shot off the cross bar in the 36th minute.

45+1′ — BWP goes down under Moor challenge — Wright-Phillips took the ball off Delgado on the edge of the 18, and then hit the deck when he caught Drew Moor off guard with a short touch. Daniel Royer stepped up and cruised his effort down the middle.

All game long’ — Bono stands up to the task at hand — The penalty, halftime break, and injuries to Drew Moor and Victor Vazquez, seemed to shake up TFC. Fortunately for the Reds, goalkeeper Alex Bono was up for the call.

74′ – Giovinco free kick — Some time this summer, our own Andy Edwards and I had a discussion about how Giovinco free kicks from a certain area are either free throws or penalty kicks. Either way, boom.

Man of the Match: Plenty had arguments, including Vazquez, Giovinco, Wright-Phillips, and Bono. We’ll go with the free kick man, and let this stat be our tiebreaker.