Vancouver Whitecaps

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MLS: Timbers beat Whitecaps to top West; RSL out, SKC fall to 5th

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Portland Timbers 2-1 Vancouver Whitecaps

The standings: Timbers clinch the West’s 1-seed; Whitecaps fall to West’s 3-seed

The game: For the entirety of the regular season, no one wanted to finish top of the Western Conference. That lasted until the final day of the season, as the Vancouver Whitecaps, who sat atop the West for the last two months, lost 2-1 to the Portland Timbers and fell all the way to the 3-seed (and the knockout round) on the back of the Seattle Sounders’ 3-0 victory over the Colorado Rapids. Kendall Waston put the visitors ahead on the half-hour mark, but Liam Ridgewell quickly equalized and Darren Mattocks came back to bite his old team with the game-winning goal in the 48th minute.

[ MORE: MLS at Week 34 — it all comes down to this ]

The goals

29′ — Waston heads home from a free kick for 1-0 — Waston has had himself a pretty good month or so, turning into a regular goalscorer for Vancouver and helping Costa Rica clinch their place at the 2018 World Cup.

32′ — Ridgewell responds quickly, and it’s 1-1 — The initial shot was saved by David Ousted, but the rebound didn’t fall very far and Ridgewell was quick to pounce.

48′ — Mattocks beats his former club, makes it 2-1 — Vytautas Andriuskevicius (Vytas) cut the ball back for Mattocks, and the Jamaican picked out the 40 square inches that weren’t completely obscured at the near post.

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

Man of the match: Darren Mattocks

Goalscorers: Waston (29′), Ridgewell (32′), Mattocks (48′)


Real Salt Lake 2-1 Sporting Kansas City

The standings: Sporting KC clinch the West’s 5-seed; RSL finish 8th in the West

The game: On the bright side, RSL’s revival, which began after three games when Jeff Cassar was fired and Mike Petke was named the new boss, is complete. On the not-so-bright side, so is their season. Petke galvanized a young RSL side over the course of six months and turned them into legitimate playoff contenders, only to come up short on the final day of the regular season. Luis Silva and Brooks Lennon each bagged a goal in Sunday’s 2-1 victory over Sporting KC. Speaking of not-so-bright sides, Sporting’s regular season ends with three losses and two draws from their final five games. In that span, they went from competing for the West’s no. 1 spot, to something of an afterthought with a trip to the Houston Dynamo in the knockout round on tap.

[ MORE: MLS at Week 34 — it all comes down to this ]

The goals

3′ — Silva slots past Dykstra for 1-0 — You could count the number of major mistakes made by Ike Opara this season on one hand, even after this early blunder.

41′ — Lennon gets two chances, makes it 2-0 — Silva drew the attention of four defenders and managed to move the ball wide to Lennon. Andrew Dykstra did well enough to make the initial save, but the rebound fell right back to Lennon, who left no doubt about it with his follow-up.

89′ — Opara heads home a free kick to the near post — Graham Zusi’s free kick was low and where only Opara could get to it. Opara’s header was low and where Nick Rimando couldn’t get to it.

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

Man of the match: Nick Rimando

Goalscorers: Silva (3′), Lennon (41′), Opara (89′)

MLS Decision Day preview: Much at stake

Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP
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Four teams can claim a Western Conference second round berth, while four more can earn a valuable first-round bye in the East.

Yep, there’s plenty to play for beyond the West’s final playoff spot Sunday during Major League Soccer’s Decision Day, when every team will take the pitch for 4 p.m. ET kickoffs.

[ MORE: Conte feels pressure ]

Here’s what we do know regarding the playoffs:

  1. Supporters’ Shield winning Toronto FC gets a first round bye, while No. 6 seed New York Red Bulls are headed to the road for a first round playoff
  2. New England, Montreal, Philadelphia, Orlando, DC, Minnesota, Colorado, and LA will not make the playoffs
  3. Full stop.

So, yes, this will be fun.

First, let’s look at the Eastern Conference Standings ahead of Sunday’s extravaganza:

Eastern Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Toronto FC 33 20 8 5 72 35 37 13-3-1 7-5-4 68
x – New York City FC 33 16 8 9 54 41 13 10-4-2 6-4-7 56
x – Chicago 33 16 7 10 61 44 17 12-3-2 4-4-8 55
x – Atlanta 33 15 9 9 68 38 30 11-2-3 4-7-6 54
x – Columbus 33 16 5 12 51 47 4 12-2-3 4-3-9 53
x – New York 33 13 8 12 51 46 5 9-6-2 4-2-10 47

— New York City FC controls its bye destiny, though Columbus could join them on 56 points and would pass them on tiebreakers (wins).

— If that happens, Chicago could claim the second bye with a win or draw in Houston (The Fire owns the goal differential tiebreaker).

— If New York City and Chicago lose or draw, Atlanta could finish second with a home win over TFC.

— Columbus can finish second with a win and non-wins for Chicago and Atlanta.

Western Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
x – Vancouver 33 15 7 11 49 47 2 9-5-3 6-2-8 52
x – Portland 33 14 8 11 58 49 9 10-4-2 4-4-9 50
x – Seattle 33 13 11 9 49 39 10 10-5-1 3-6-8 50
x – Sporting KC 33 12 13 8 39 27 12 10-6-1 2-7-7 49
x – Houston 33 12 11 10 54 45 9 11-4-1 1-7-9 47
San Jose 33 12 7 14 36 58 -22 9-5-2 3-2-12 43
FC Dallas 33 10 13 10 43 47 -4 7-7-2 3-6-8 43
Real Salt Lake 33 12 6 15 47 54 -7 8-4-4 4-2-11 42

Byes

— Vancouver finishes first with a win or draw at Portland. The ‘Caps could finish as low as third with a loss to Portland and a Seattle win versus Colorado.

— Portland finishes first — and wins the Cascadia Cup — with a win over visiting Vancouver.

— Seattle can claim a first round bye with a win over visiting Colorado and a Vancouver win over Portland.

— Sporting KC can finish second with a win at Real Salt Lake and non-wins for Portland and Seattle.

Final playoff spot

— San Jose claims the sixth seed with a home win over Minnesota. They can also finish sixth with a draw joined by non-wins for FC Dallas at home to LA and Real Salt Lake at home versus SKC.

— FC Dallas claims the sixth seed with a win over LA and a San Jose draw or loss versus Minnesota. FCD gets sixth with a draw, and a San Jose loss coupled with a RSL loss or draw versus SKC.

—  Real Salt Lake gets sixth with a win over SKC, and non-wins from San Jose and Dallas. RSL could also get sixth with a draw and losses for San Jose and Dallas.

(Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)

Schedule
FC Dallas vs. LA Galaxy
DC United vs. New York Red Bulls
San Jose vs. Minnesota United
Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting KC
Houston vs. Chicago
Seattle vs. Colorado
Philadelphia vs. Orlando City
Portland vs. Vancouver
Montreal vs. New England
New York City vs. Columbus
Atlanta vs. Toronto

Predictions

— NYCFC hangs on for a draw against Columbus, earning a bye, leaving Chicago to host New York Red Bulls and Atlanta off to Columbus for the first round of the playoffs (We have Toronto beating Atlanta on Sunday).

— Vancouver and Portland draw, while Seattle beats Colorado. The ‘Caps and Sounders get byes, while Seattle takes back the Cascadia Cup.

— San Jose beats Minnesota, gaining the West’s sixth seed. The Quakes head to Portland for the first round, while SKC hosts Houston.

MLS Snapshot: RBNY trounce VAN, clinch East’s final playoff spot

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The game in 100 words (or less): Just when we were oh so sure the Vancouver Whitecaps had solidified themselves as the cream of the Western Conference crop, Carl Robinson’s side lands flat on its collective face in suffering a 3-0 defeat away to the New York Red Bulls a week later. A win would have put Vancouver seven points clear (for the time being) of everyone in the West. Instead, Sporting Kansas City feature in one of two games in hand later on Saturday with a chance to close the gap to one. New York, meanwhile, needed just three more points to clinch the sixth and final playoff place in the Eastern Conference, which they did thanks to another standout, two-assist performance by Sacha Kljestan. The 32-year-old set up goals scored by Daniel Royer and Felipe to take his average to 17 assists per season for the last three years. Bradley Wright-Phillips bagged the other goal (assisted by 18-year-old stud Tyler Adams).

[ MORE: USMNT routs Panama to boost WC dreams in a big way ]

Three moments that mattered

33′ — Kljestan feeds Royer to make it 1-0 — Kljestan tallied his 50th assist in just under three seasons since returning to MLS, which positions him among pristine company. Royer still has plenty of work to do after getting on the end of Kljestan’s ball.

58′ — BWP dinks it past Ousted for 2-0 Wright-Phillips should be lauded for the cheeky finish after carrying the ball 40 yards, but the real story here is the ball from Adams. Watch it and feel safe in knowing he’s ready for the call, USMNT fans.

72′ — Felipe hits a laser for 3-0 — Make that 51 assists for Kljestan, who still had lots of work to do once inside the penalty area. The ball back for Felipe looks simple enough after all he did to keep it in bounds and create a bit of separation for himself.

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

Man of the match: Sacha Kljestan

Goalscorers: Royer (33′), Wright-Phillips (58′), Felipe (72′)

Top Five clubs that could crush Toronto’s MLS Cup hopes

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP
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It’s no secret that Toronto FC are far-and-away the favorite to win its first MLS Cup, one year after falling to Seattle Sounders in penalty kicks.

TFC has scooped up 11 more points than its nearest competitor, New York City FC, has a plus-37 goal differential, is unbeaten at home, and boasts more road points than 10 teams have acquired at home. Almost every major betting has them as somewhere between 2:1 and 3:1 odds to win the title despite the MLS Cup Playoffs being a massive crapshoot based on form.

[ MORE: Toronto wins big w/o Jozy, Seba ]

Consider this: Toronto hasn’t even played in a one-goal match since Aug. 5, and has not lost since July 1.

As it stands, the Reds will likely wrap up the Supporters’ Shield this week ahead of a first-round playoff bye. The MLS playoff dynamics mean TFC will face a Conference Semifinal opponent who will be playing its third and fourth matches within a 10-day span.

At the risk of being too certain, it’s hard to imagine any team handling TFC over two legs. Ranking any team’s chances to knock them off almost certainly weighs in the favor of Western Conference clubs, who will have the be better than the Reds over just 90 minutes. Seeing as that will come in the cold confines of BMO Field, perhaps that should also weigh into the discussion.

Without further ado, the five teams with the best chance to ruin TFC’s dream of a treble (the Reds already have a Canadian Championship in tow).

5. Atlanta United — Tata Martino’s men have the offensive firepower to spring an upset and are constructed in a similar manner to TFC. Greg Garza and other outside threats will force TFC’s wily wing backs to respect the threat.

4.  Seattle Sounders — May have been No. 1 were it not for the injury to Jordan Morris. The fact is that even though Seattle was outplayed in last year’s final, the Sounders can bring ghosts with them to BMO Field.

3. New York City FC — City has two keys to their upset hopes. First, their opponent before TFC will likely be a Chicago team who is not racing to the finish line while the Reds will almost certainly face a team in form. The second is David Villa, who is maybe the best player in MLS history and, along with his manager, knows a thing or two about big games.

2. Vancouver Whitecaps — An All-Canadian Final would be hard for Don Garber to promote with a straight-face, but could be an amazing 90 minutes of soccer. The ‘Caps would have already navigated a rivarly-ridden road to Ontario, and Carl Robinson knows the ins and outs of Toronto. This would be a beauty. A beauty!

1. Sporting KC — If there is a manager in MLS more fit to match wits with Greg Vanney than Martino, it’s Peter Vermes. KC is a complete team with depth that will neither be scared of cold weather nor a boisterous stadium.

MLS Snapshot: Manneh scores, assists in return to VAN; CLB get a point

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP
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The game in 100 words (or less):Kekuta Manneh returned to Vancouver for the first time since being traded by the Vancouver Whitecaps to Columbus Crew SC on March 30, and the Gambian-born U.S. national team hopeful had himself an evening to remember in the Pacific Northwest. The 22-year-old scored one and set up another as Columbus settled for a road point despite holding a 2-1 lead late into second-half stoppage time. The man to rob Manneh and Co. of two points? Tony Tchani (plus allocation money), for whom Manneh was sent to Columbus. The symmetry of soccer. Fredy Montero bagged the game’s opening goal, but Manneh’s cross was turned home by Ola Kamara less than five minutes later. Columbus went ahead of a laser unleashed by Manneh just after the hour mark, but Tchani’s decisive goal spoiled the homecoming two minutes into stoppage time. Vancouver remain top of the Western Conference (for the time being), just as Columbus remain fourth in the Eastern Conference.

[ MORE: MLS weekend preview — TFC’s Shield chase continues in LA ]

Three Four moments that mattered

15′ — Montero gets in behind, makes it 1-0 — It wasn’t pretty (it rarely is with the Whitecaps), but it was effective. Moral of the story: get the ball to Montero, preferably with his face to goal.

19′ — Kamara pokes home at the near post for 1-1 — Manneh sets up Kamara for the early equalizer.

63′ — Manneh unleashes a rocket for 2-1 — The first hour of this game leads me to believe Manneh might have just had some extra motivation for this game, which is sad when you consider he might have been capable of performances like this all season.

90+2′ — Tchani pokes it home at the far post — Justin Meram is really, really good at a lot of things, but defending inside his own penalty area might not be one of them.

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

Man of the match: Kekuta Manneh

Goalscorers: Montero (15′), Kamara (19′), Manneh (63′), Tchani (90+2′)