MLS Cup Playoffs: Conference Semifinals preview

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With the knockout rounds complete, the MLS Cup Playoffs are down to four teams in each conference.

This round of the playoffs features two-legged matchups, as the team with the highest aggregate advances. The first leg will be played at the lower seed, with the second leg at the higher seed.

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Below, we take a look at all the matchups from the East and West, as the first leg of matches kick off this Sunday.


New York Red Bulls (1) vs. D.C. United (4)

Leg 1: Sunday, November 1 — RFK Stadium, Washington D.C. (3 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Leg 2: Sunday, November 8 — Red Bull Arena, Harrison, N.J.

Season series

March 22: New York 2-0 D.C.
April 11: D.C. 2-2 New York
August 30: New York 3-0 D.C.

One of the best rivalries in MLS will be renewed during the playoffs, as the Atlantic Cup between the New York Red Bulls and D.C. United kicks off the second round of the postseason. New York took the Cup this season, winning two of three matches.

New York won the Supporters’ Shield, finishing the regular season with the best record in Major League Soccer. Once again, the Red Bulls were led by Bradley Wright-Phillips, whose 17 goals were fifth-most in the league.

D.C. United held on to defeat New England 2-1 in the knockout round, and will hope that momentum carries over into this matchup with the Red Bulls. However, captain Bobby Boswell will be suspended for the first leg after an off-the-ball incident in the win over New England.

[ SportsWorld: A look at the PL’s newest rivalry between Saints and Bournemouth ]

Columbus Crew (2) vs. Montreal Impact (3)

Leg 1: Sunday, November 1 — Saputo Stadium, Montreal, Quebec (7 p.m. ET, FS1)
Leg 2: Sunday, November 8 — MAPFRE Stadium, Columbus, OH

Season series

June 6: Columbus 1-2 Montreal
July 11: Montreal 3-0 Columbus

Montreal is the hottest team in the league, coming off of a massive 3-0 win over Canadian rivals Toronto FC in the knockout round. The Impact are 8-2-2 over their last 12 matches, and haven’t lost at home since August. Not surprisingly, the Impact’s fine run has been led by Didier Drogba, who has scored 12 goals in 12 matches this season.

For Columbus, Kei Kamara‘s 22 goals were tied for the league-lead, and they’ll look for the big striker to continue his production. The Crew thrashed D.C. United in the final game of the regular season, although they did lose both matches to Montreal this year.

[ MORE: MLS Power Rankings, Volume VIII — Playoff Edition ]


FC Dallas (1) vs. Seattle Sounders (4)

Leg 1: Sunday, November 1 — CenturyLink Field, Seattle, WA (9:30 p.m. ET, FS1)
Leg 2: Sunday, November 8 — Toyota Stadium, Frisco, TX

Despite the fact that FC Dallas finished tied with the Red Bulls for the most points in the league, the Sounders are believed to be the favorites in this matchup. Seattle overcame a tough test in the Los Angeles Galaxy, eliminating the defending MLS Cup champions in the knockout round. With the combination of Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins in fine form, a trip to Seattle is never fun for any opponent.

FC Dallas has their own attacking duo in Fabian Castillo and Mauro Diaz. The pair finished 1-2 on the team in goals and assists, and will be tasked with breaking down a Seattle defense that has been surprisingly stout late in the season.

[ REPORT: New York City FC in talks with Fabio Capello ]

Season series

March 28: Dallas 0-0 Seattle
June 13: Seattle 3-0 Dallas

Vancouver Whitecaps (2) vs. Portland Timbers (3)

Leg 1: Sunday, November 1 — Providence Park, Portland, OR (5 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Leg 2: Sunday, November 8 — BC Place, Vancouver, British Columbia

Season series

March 28: Vancouver 2-1 Portland
May 2: Portland 0-0 Vancouver
July 18: Portland 1-1 Vancouver

From the Atlantic Cup rivalry in the East, to the Cascadia Cup rivalry in the West. Vancouver finished the highest of the Pacific northwest teams this season, just edging out the Timbers.

The Whitecaps conceded just 36 goals on the year, the fewest in all of Major League Soccer. By finishing second in the West, this is the first season in franchise history that Vancouver will play past the knockout round in the playoffs.

Portland enters this matchup on the heels of a wild win over Sporting KC that saw 11 rounds of penalty kicks in one of the most memorable playoff matches in MLS history. It’s only the second postseason appearance for the Timbers, who reached the Conference Finals back in 2013.

Guardiola vows to ‘find solutions’ after Man City dismantled, embarrassed

Pep Guardiola - Man City
Photo by Martin Rickett - Pool/Getty Images
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Pep Guardiola has vowed to “find solutions” following Man City’s 5-2 defeat to Leicester City on Sunday, a result which undoubtedly cast a layer of doubt over his injury-riddled side’s title aspirations.

[ MORE: Suarez plays just 20 minutes, scores two goals in Atleti debut (video) ]

What can Guardiola do to hugely affect the current situation, though, as he has just 13 first-team players available due to injuries and COVID-19? First things first, he must rescue his players’ morale after such a devastating defeat when they are anything but accustomed to losing in such a fashion. Apart from that, Guardiola will be forced to take a wait-and-see approach — quotes from the BBC:

“We played a really good first half and scored early on. They defend so deep it is not easy. The problem was was we put extra pressure on ourselves to score the second and third. We need to be more calm, we don’t have the players to attack the box that we need.

“We got nervous and gave three penalties and when you give three penalties you cannot win. I don’t know how many chances they created. We needed to be more patient. It is hard, but it is the second game of the season and we have to try to see what we need to do to avoid it again.

“I feel bad for the guys and for the club.”

“They did not want to play, they just wanted to counter-attack. We know that Vardy runs from far, far away and Barnes you have to control him. But the moment we started to get nervous, we thought we were not doing well.

“We are not going to create 10 chances. We have to know it is difficult. Even at 5-2, Leicester were in the 18-yard box. I am not going to give up, I am going to try to find solutions.”

Up next for Man City is a trip to Leeds United next weekend, where Guardiola will match wits with cult-of-personality legend Marcelo Bielsa.

Follow @AndyEdMLS

West Ham counter, cross their way to 4-0 win over Wolves

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West Ham – Wolves saw the Hammers explode for four goals, spearheaded by Jarrod Bowen’s brace, and a clean sheet as they secured a thoroughly surprising result at the London Stadium on Sunday.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]

The Hammers picked up their first points of the season and climbed outside the relegation zone after suffering defeats in their first two games of the 2020-21 Premier League season.

2 things we learned: West Ham – Wolves

1. It pays to attack: Look, at the age of 57, David Moyes simply is who he is, and who he is is who he’s always been. He’s a pragmatic manager who prefers to defend with numbers behind the ball and counter-attack with the fewest number of players necessary to create half-chances in the hopes of fortuitously putting one or two away. It’s pretty bleak stuff for fans of Moyes’ various employers, let alone the neutrals among us. But, every now and then — typically when his back is up against the wall and he’s feeling desperate — he’ll tell a midfielder — perhaps even two — they’re allowed to move higher and join the attack. The fingerprints of Pablo Fornals and Tomas Soucek were all over Sunday’s shocking destruction of Wolves, when they wouldn’t otherwise have been. Enjoy it today, West Ham fans, because you know what it’ll look like again next weekend.

2. Wolves defense exposed in open space: As the modern game trends more and more toward teams favoring prolonged periods of possession as a means not only for attacking, but also defending, clubs are opting more and more for technically gifted defenders and less and less for the old-school, straightforward ball-winners of yesteryear center backs. Wolves have a squad full of the former, and they were badly exposed when asked to defend quicker wide players in acres of space on Sunday. Fortunately for Nuno Espirito Santo, he won’t face many more sides like West Ham this season.

West Ham started brightest and on the front foot for a change, and the Hammers were duly rewarded for their attacking endeavors in the 17th minute.

Fornals took a quick restart from inside the center circle and played Bowen in behind the Wolves defense with a brilliant through ball as two defenders paused ever so briefly. Bowen went one-on-one with Romain Saiss before cutting inside and placing a perfect left-footed strike past Rui Patricio and just inside the far post.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Perhaps turning over a new leaf under manager David Moyes, West Ham refused to relent an ounce of pressure as they steadily threatened Wolves with counter-attack after counter-attack. That strategy paid off in the 58th minute, when Bowen bagged his second goal of the game.

Michail Antonio did yeoman’s work to Conor Coady down the left wing and pick out Fornals atop the penalty area. His shot smashed off the front side of the far post and spilled out to the six-yard box, where Bowen was to smash it home.

Just as Wolves were finding their footing and applying a bit more pressure, West Ham made it 3-0 in the 66th minute. The goal was initially given on Soucek’s header of Aaron Cresswell’s corner kick, but Raul Jimenez was eventually saddled as the scorer of an own goal at the near post.

Sebastien Haller completed the scoring with a header back across the face of goal from Arthur Masuaku’s cross in the 93rd minute.

Follow @AndyEdMLS

Suarez plays just 20 minutes, scores two goals in Atleti debut (video)

Luis Suarez - Atletico Madrid
Photo credit: @atletienglish
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Luis Suarez enjoyed a hugely productive, if rather brief, debut for Atletico Madrid on Sunday as the Uruguayan superstar came on as a second-half substitute and scored two goals and assisted another in his new club’s 6-1 victory over Granada.

[ MORE: Guardiola vows to ‘find solutions’ after Man City embarrassed ]

Atleti had the game well in hand, 4-0 ahead, when Suarez replaced fellow lightning rod and new teammate Diego Costa, and yet he managed to take four shots, score two goals and tally one assist in only 20 minutes of action.

Suarez’s first goal for Atleti came in the 85th minute. It was a brilliantly placed header back across the face of goal after Marcos Llorente dropped a lofted cross onto his forehead on one post.

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The second was far more a product of world-class reflex and the instinctual improvisation which has made Luis Suarez one of the world’s best goal-scorers for the last decade. He had precious little time to think as the ball was deflected back to him on atop the penalty area, but got the initial shot away anyway. It hit the post and bounced back out toward the penalty spot, where he followed up and slotted it home.

Suarez’s departure from Barcelona feels like it’s headed for the classic “what were you thinking?” ending, as a player who still has lots of goals left to score strengthens one of two La Liga title rivals from the capital.

[ MORE: La Liga: Real Madrid steal late win against 10-man Betis ]

Barca are in complete disarray as Lionel Messi continues to publicly denounce the club which still employs him against his wishes, and Real Madrid are forever stuck halfway between rebuilding and making another run with the same group of players. All of that points to a massive opportunity for Atleti to slide into this season’s title race and make it a true three-horse race.

And Suarez, with all of his experience as a four-time La Liga champion, looks set to play an important part in that quest for Diego Simeone’s side.

Follow @AndyEdMLS

Leicester City smashes Man City through Vardy hat trick

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Manchester City – Leicester City: Jamie Vardy’s hat trick included two of three Leicester City penalties as the Foxes punished Man City 5-2 at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.

James Maddison scored a spectacular goal in a substitute performance and Youri Tielemans converted a Maddison-won penalty to salt away the points.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Riyad Mahrez had given Man City a lead over his former team but Leicester had a 2-1 lead by halftime. Nathan Ake scored late off a Mahrez corner kick for City’s second goal.

It’s the first time Pep Guardiola has seen his team concede five goals at home, and also the first time a team has scored three penalties in a game.

Leicester City goes atop the table in joining Everton as 3-0 teams, while Man City falls to 1-1.

Three things we learned: Manchester City – Leicester City

1. Rodgers gets a signature win: Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers has been seeking a win over a notable rivals since getting hammered by Liverpool and Man City in consecutive affairs during last season’s festive fixtures. This absolutely qualifies, and to do it in the first of 12 weeks without Wilfred Ndidi makes the win all the more impressive.

2. Pep’s point made: Guardiola had been grousing about his injuries all week and it might’ve all seemed a bit silly given the riches of Man City, but when Ferran Torres and Liam Delap entered the game as subs and you looked to the bench to see they were merely chosen over a bunch of defenders and youth, well, yup. Bernardo Silva, Ilkay Gundogan, Joao Cancelo, Gabriel Jesus, and Sergio Aguero all missed out.

3. Vardy loves the spot: Vardy knows how to make the most of any contact in the box and he’s even better once he sorts the ball on the spot. He has five goals on the young season and is not showing any signs that he’s 33 years old (aside from, perhaps, his limping gait).

Man of the Match

Tielemans is the club’s the most important player to the team now that Ndidi is out, but Nampalys Mendy filled in admirably against the top attack in the league.

Manchester City – Leicester City recap

Ex-Leicester City striker Riyad Mahrez has torn the cover off a goal to give Man City an early lead over his former club.

A loose ball fell to the Algerian near the back of the 18 and Mahrez absolutely smashed the ball into the upper reaches of the goal.

Schmeichel made a solid save on Raheem Sterling in the 18th minute as City bid for a second, and the goalkeeper also caught a Fernandinho header off a free kick.

Leicester had a chance on the break but James Justin passed instead of shooting with Ederson way off his line and it was broken up by Man City.

Rodri had the ball in the goal off a De Bruyne free kick but was offside and the score stayed 1-0.

Kyle Walker then wrestled Vardy to the box in the 37th minute. He doesn’t miss many penalties, that Vardy.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

He’d provide the go-ahead goal on a combination play often seen from Man City, as Youri Tielemans sent Timothy Castagne racing to the end line. The Belgian’s cutback was cheekily turned past Ederson by the back leg of Vardy.

Vardy drew his second penalty off a push from Eric Garcia and City was in real trouble.

Schmeichel saved a De Bruyne effort in the 62nd minute and Liam Delap headed over the goal minutes later.

De Bruyne picked out Raheem Sterling at the back post with 23 minutes to play only for the Englishman to head over the goal.

There wasn’t much for Man City to like aside from Ake’s goal, 71 percent possession and a 15-7 shot edge doing little.