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PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs and Postseason Roundtable

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The Major League Soccer season has just nine matches left, and after this weekend will have four teams vying for the MLS Cup title.

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With that in mind, ProSoccerTalk called its writers together to lay out their thoughts on this playoffs and the MLS postseason in general.

The four best regular season teams in Major League Soccer will have had a week to stare at the zeroes next to their names after conference semifinal first legs. Who has the best chance to flip their fate on its ear?

Andy Edwards: “The Red Bulls managed to do what neither Dallas nor NYCFC could in the first leg: damage limitation. To only give up one goal — on two shots on target — in a game where Montreal would have been desperate for two or three, was mission accomplished. No one scored more goals at home than the Red Bulls this season, which means they’ve got L’Impact right where they want them.”

Joe Prince-Wright: “I have a feeling that the New York Red Bulls are the most likely to overcome the deficit. Aside from a wonder strike from Matteo Mancuso at Stade Saputo, there wasn’t much in the game. Jesse Marsch’s side had an off day. Don’t expect them to have another one. Elsewhere I expect Seattle to get through against Dallas and LA to get past Colorado, but I have a sneaky feeling New York City FC will make it very interesting against Toronto. Because, Toronto.”

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Bradley Wright-Phillips and Dax McCarty, New York Red Bulls (Photo credit: New York Red Bulls - Twitter: @NewYorkRedBulls)
(Photo credit: New York Red Bulls – Twitter: @NewYorkRedBulls)

Matt Reed: “Outside of the Sounders-FC Dallas fixture it’s hard to say that any of the other matchups are over and done with. That said, I think the New York Red Bulls have the best chance to overcome their deficit. The Impact weren’t dominant in the opening leg and the Red Bulls are a significantly better home side than they are on the road (13-2-2 at Red Bull Arena). With Jesse Marsch’s side potentially only needing a goal to send things to extra time I believe Bradley Wright-Phillips and co. are more than capable of handling their business.”

Kyle Bonn: “Has to be RBNY. Not only is their deficit just a one-goal differential from a first leg on the road (they were a questionable road team at best during the year), but they have been stellar at home. They were 13-2-2 at home this regular season, and they beat Montreal twice at home in the recent past by a combined score of 4-1. I don’t see any other result but the Red Bulls advancing.”

Nick Mendola: “I’ll take a differing angle, solely to be different. The Colorado Rapids have shown a keen ability to keep a clean sheet, and Tim Howard nearly blanked the Galaxy last week. The Rapids went unbeaten at home this season, with 11 wins in 17 matches, and Jermaine Jones is finally back. It may take extra time and kicks, but I’ll take Howard over Brian Rowe every day.”

What’s the best active storyline in these MLS Cup Playoffs?

Andy Edwards: “While the Sounders with Brian Schmetzer and Nicolas Lodeiro and Jordan Morris are the obvious answer, I’m giddy about the current form of one Josmer Volmy Altidore in Toronto. When was the last time the U.S. national team had a single striker scoring the way Altidore, Morris and Bobby Wood are doing, let alone three at the same time? Sebastian Giovinco gets most of the plaudits (rightly so) in Toronto, but the difference with and without Altidore on the field is clear as day. The link-up play between the two is strangely perfect, and might be enough to take the Reds all the way to the Cup.”

Joe Prince-Wright: “I don’t want to single out a player but I think the way the Seattle Sounders have turned things around is remarkable. Sigi Schmid will always be a legend in Seattle and in MLS but he will always be remembered in the Emerald City for not being able to deliver the elusive MLS Cup. If Seattle somehow go on to win MLS Cup this year under Brian Schmetzer, who was interim boss up until this week when the Sounders made it permanent, it would be bizarre. I think with the streak they’re on to finish the season, Seattle can go all the way to MLS Cup.”

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TORONTO, ON - MAY 07: Michael Bradley #4 and Jozy Altidore #17 of Toronto FC celebrate a goal by teammate Tsubasa Endoh #9 during the first half of an MLS soccer game against FC Dallas at BMO Field on May 7, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Kyle Bonn: “I agree with Joe that a big storyline is Seattle’s turnaround, but to me the biggest is Toronto’s rise. Having made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history last year but suffering a disappointing early exit, this year they’re primed to eliminate NYCFC. On an individual level, Sebastian Giovinco will feel slighted after being left off both the Italian squad recently, as well as the MVP list released a few days ago. Can he prove everyone wrong with a big playoff push?”

Matt Reed: “As much as Brian Schmetzer’s miraculous run with the Sounders will gain plenty of headlines (and deservingly so), I think what Patrick Vieira has done with New York City FC is quite impressive. Yes, it’s a star-driven squad, but the former Arsenal midfielder has done well implementing a system and sticking to it even though his personnel doesn’t necessarily always allow them to succeed. It’ll be a tough task overcoming Toronto down two goals, but David Villa has had plenty of magic in his two-plus seasons with NYCFC. It’s hard to count him and this side out.”

Nick Mendola: “It was treble-chasing FC Dallas, but their 3-0 deficit to Seattle makes that a lot less sexy. As mentioned above, Toronto and Seattle are great selections. But it comes down to two teams now, in terms of storylines: The Red Bulls still haven’t won an MLS Cup and are running the risk of falling behind NYCFC in the latter’s second season downstate (or in New Jersey). Yet as much as I hate to say it, as long as Landon Donovan is playing close to 90 minutes per game for the LA Galaxy after coming out of retirement, he would be the No. 1 draw of any storyline for fans in the U.S.

Speaking of the playoffs here in Year Ten, what are you feeling about the way the MLS structures its postseason? Do you have significant qualms?

Joe Prince-Wright: “Bit in between to be honest. I’d actually like to see the playoffs eradicated, just for one season, and see how it was received. With the increased number of teams in the league over the next two seasons, you could just have an extra four or so regular season games. I know the playoffs always create buzz and excitement but to me there still seems something far too hollow about the Supporters’ Shield. It shouldn’t be that way.”

Kyle Bonn: “I like it a lot. Sure, the regular season is somewhat diminished by the playoffs, but it’s like that in any sport. There is a sacrifice of sporting fairness in exchange for excitement and big moments. It works the same in Major League baseball, where a 162-game season can come crumbling down in 7 games.”

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KANSAS CITY, KS - DECEMBER 07: The Philip F. Anschutz trophy is seen on the field before the start of the match between Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City in the 2013 MLS Cup at Sporting Park on December 7, 2013 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
(Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Nick Mendola: “I enjoy the playoffs while they are going, but I’d like to see one-off home games if we’re going full-blown American structure. Yes, teams get a break if home-field advantage comes their way, but playing one more match in a 10-day span is hardly an advantage after 34 matches worth of grinding for position.”

Andy Edwards: “Of all the gripes I have about the MLS Cup Playoffs, that they play home and away in the conference semifinals and finals is the biggest (that they don’t even give the higher-seeded side their choice of which leg to host is even worse). When they put the higher-seeded team on the road in the first leg, where you choose between playing for a 0-0 draw, or opening yourself up to an onslaught by coming out and attacking, I find myself wondering, ‘Why did we even play eight months of the regular season?’ In a perfect world, every round is single elimination. If after 90 minutes the game is tied, put the team that performed better over 34 games into the next round. There’s money to be made in these here playoffs, though, which is why it’ll never happen.”

Matt Reed: “I’m not a huge fan of a playoff system in general but given the way things are set up with two separate conferences it seems pretty good the way things are. Just like I’m not a huge proponent of away goals being a tiebreaker in Europe, I feel the same way about its use in MLS, so I suppose that would be the biggest change I’d make to the current system.”

Would you rather your team won the Supporters’ Shield or MLS Cup?

Matt Reed: “Just like any other league, you want to be considered the best team at the end of the season. The Supporters’ Shield is certainly nothing to cast aspersions on but at the end of the day MLS Cup is the ultimate prize for any team.”

Andy Edwards: “Until the regular-season schedule is balanced (i.e., not playing some intra-conference teams twice, while playing others three times), the Supporters’ Shield, by definition, is a tilted competition at best, and rigged at worst. For that reason, even though I would like to see more value placed upon the regular season, it’s always going to be about MLS Cup.”

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COLUMBUS, OH - DECEMBER 6: The Portland Timbers celebrate with the MLS Cup trophy on December 6, 2015 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. Portland defeated Columbus Crew SC 2-1 to claim the MLS Cup title. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Joe Prince-Wright: “You want your team to win the highest possible honor possible which right now is MLS Cup, but if you win the Supporters’ Shield then you’re a damn good team (looking at you, FC Dallas). In the current format the regular season champ doesn’t get enough respect. So, MLS Cup is better.”

Kyle Bonn: “Absolutely the MLS Cup. The Supporter’s Shield probably recognizes the best overall team, which says a lot, but it’s not the league championship. I want the title.”

Nick Mendola: “You can’t manufacture hype and passion, and it’s clear the MLS world respects the Cup more than the Shield. So while I love the Shield accomplishment far more, I have to tip my hat to the majority… for now.”

Arsenal “too scared” of Watford in collapse

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Arsenal captain Granit Xhaka admitted the Gunners were “too scared” of Watford as they collapsed in the second half.

Leading 2-0 at half time thanks to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Arsenal were totally outplayed in the second half as Watford roared back to draw 2-2 at Vicarage Road on Sunday.

Speaking after the game, Xhaka said the Arsenal players were not confident enough to see out the game.

“No-one wanted the ball. In the end we are happy to take a point,” Xhaka said. “We didn’t show our game in the second half, we were too scared… Every team in the Premier League is strong enough to score but you have to keep calm, to show good character, to be mentally strong. We weren’t today.”

If only this was a rare occurrence for Arsenal.

Under Unai Emery their defensive collapses have been frequent, and this issue even dates back to Arsene Wenger‘s final few seasons in charge.

Arsenal were their own worst enemies on Sunday.

Instead of playing the ball out of dangerous areas they tried to play short goal kicks time and time again and were caught in possession on several occasions. David Luiz gave away a penalty kick, Xhaka and Mateo Guendouzi were overrun in central midfield in the second half and in the end they were lucky to grab a point.

Trying the same things time and time again and expecting different results is just bonkers, and that is what this Arsenal squad is going.

Luiz, Bernd Leno, Sokratis and Xhaka are players Arsenal have built their defensive core around, and the same issues keep cropping up when they are in the team. Adding Luiz to the mix after losing Laurent Koscielny was a risk and it seems like a move which will backfire for the Gunners.

It is true that defenders Rob Holding, Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney are all close to returning from injury, so when that happens perhaps we will see a newfound defensive solidity and things will improve.

Then again, it’s likely neutral everywhere will be grabbing their popcorn whenever Arsenal play this season because you’re guaranteed entertainment at both ends of the pitch.

Galaxy hammer Sporting KC; Zlatan: “I’m the best ever in MLS”

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LA Galaxy smashed Sporting Kansas City 7-2 on Sunday, as Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored a hat trick then called himself the best player in MLS history.

Just a casual Sunday for Zlatan, then…

Ibrahimovic, 37, scored a hat trick as LA raced into a 7-1 lead after falling 1-0 behind early on as Felipe Gutierrez scored both of Sporting’s goals.

Speaking to reporters after the game, Ibrahimovic was typically humble after his hat trick which means he now holds the record for the highest scoring season in Galaxy history with 26 goals.

“I think I am the best ever to play in MLS. And that’s without joking,” Ibrahimovic said. “Scoring goals is easy, you just have to be like Zlatan and it’s coming.”

Zlatan is now two goals behind Carlos Vela in the race for the Golden Boot in MLS with four games remaining, and he’s now scored 48 goals in 52 games since arriving in MLS.

Joe Corona, Uriel Antuna and Sebastian Lletget grabbed the Galaxy’s other goals as they won for the first time in five MLS games to boost their chances of making the playoffs in the congested Western Conference.

With the defeat Sporting KC’s hopes of reaching the playoffs is all but over.

Check out the highlights in full below. It will take quite a while to sort through the nine goals, so set down and soak in Zlatan’s brilliance.

Mexicans Abroad: Weekend Roundup

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Taking the field in the 70th minute, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez made his debut with Sevilla, who became La Liga’s leaders following Sunday’s result.

In Portugal, despite transitioning to right back at the start of the season, Jesus “Tecatito” Corona continues flourish with Porto. The 26-year-old has two assists after five league games.

Elsewhere, Carlos Vela, who returned from injury, is on the cusp of trying MLS’ all-time single-season scoring record. To be exact, the 30-year-old needs three goals to tie the record, four to surpass Josef Martinez. LAFC has four regular-season games still to play.

Here is a list of several other Mexico national team affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) outside of Mexico this weekend.

Serie A

Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, Napoli — Lozano’s second appearance for Napoli wasn’t as captivating as his first, but he did have his positive moments. On Saturday, Chucky started and played 65 minutes, recording a shot off target, 23 touches, and earning two fouls along the way.

Premier League

Raul Jimenez, Wolverhampton Wanderers — Jimenez started and played 70 minutes in Wolves’ 5-2 loss to Chelsea. Will Nuno Espirito Santos side’s  struggles start to affect Jimenez productivity?

La Liga

Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Sevilla — Chicharito is officially a Sevillista. The 31-year-old replaced Luuk De Jong in 70th minute in Sevilla’s 1-0 over Alaves on Sunday.

Hector Herrera, Atletico Madrid — For a fourth consecutive league game, Herrera was left on the bench. At this rate, it’s difficult to say when the 29-year-old will make his debut with Los Colchoneros, who lost 2-0 to Real Sociedad on Saturday.

Andres Guardado, Real Betis —  Guardado, who recently became a father for a second time, didn’t feature in Betis’ 1-1 draw against Getafe on Saturday.

Diego Lainez, Real Betis — The 19-year-old make the 18, but didn’t take the field against Getafe.

Nestor Araujo, Celta Vigo — Araujo took the field in the 15th minute following Jorge Saenz’s red-card challenge. Celta ended up losing 2-0 against Granda.

Eredivisie

Erick Gutierrez, PSV Eindhoven — Gutierrez is out with a hand injury suffered with the national team. A return date is unknown.

Edson Alvarez, Ajax — Alvarez started and played 80 minutes in Ajax’s 4-1 drilling of Heerenveen. The 21-year-old is, slowly but surely, becoming a fixture for  Erik ten Hag.

Primeira Liga

Jesus “Tecatito” Corona, FC Porto — Things are going great for Tecatito. The right back (yes, you read that right) played 90 minutes and recorded an assist in Porto’s 3-2 win over Portimonense. It’s been a good transition for the 26-year-old, to say the least.

Jupiler Pro League

Omar Govea, Zulte Waregem — Govea started, but came off at halftime in Zulte’s 1-1 draw with KAS Eupen on Saturday.

Elsewhere around the globe:

Hector Moreno, Al Gharafa   On Saturday, Moreno started and played all 90 minutes in Al Gharafa’s 3-1 win against Qatar SC.

Juan Gerardo Ramirez Alosno, Roda JC — The 21-year-old fullback was left on the bench in Roda’s 1-1 draw on Friday.

Carlos Fierro, San Jose Earthquakes – Dressed but didn’t play in the Quakes’ 2-1 loss to NYCFC.

Carlos Vela, LAFC – In his return from injury, Vela started and scored in LAFC’s 1-1 . draw against the Philadelphia Union. The Mexican is three goals from tying Josef Martinez’s single-season goal record.

Jonathan Dos Santos, LA Galaxy – Dos Santos started in Galaxy’s game against Sporting Kansan City on Sunday.

Uriel Antuna, LA Galaxy – Antuna started in Galaxy’s game against Sporting Kansan City on Sunday.

Americans Abroad: Weekend Roundup

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It was a slower weekend for Americans abroad, although there were a few who contributed to their club’s at some noteworthy capacity.

One of those was Lynden Gooch, who registered his third goal for Sunderland in League One this season. Elsewhere in England, Christian Pulisic, for a first time this season, didn’t take the field as new-look Chelsea battered Wolverhampton Wanderers 5-2.

Over in Mexico, Rubio Rubin scored for second-division side Dorados, while in Germany Julian Green and Terrence Boyd added to their accounts yet again.

Here is a list of several other USMNT affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) abroad this weekend.

Premier League

Christian Pulisic, Chelsea — Pulisic made Frank Lampard‘s bench, but did not play in Chelsea’s triumphant victory against Wolves. Is it time to worry about the Pennsylvania native’s lack of playing time? Absolutely not.

DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle — The fullback returned to training following a serious groin injury. There’s no timeline on his return yet, however.

EFL Championship

Antonee Robinson, Wigan Athletic — Robinson is a fixture at Wigan. The left back started and went all 90 minutes for the Latics in their 2-2 draw with Hull City.

Matt Miazga, Reading (loan from Chelsea) — The 24-year-old is out with a hamstring injury. There’s no timeline on his return.

Eric Lichaj, Hull City — The Tigers captain  featured all 90 minutes in Hull’s 2-2 draw with Wigan on Saturday.

Geoff Cameron, QPR — The 34-year-old defender was left on the bench in QPR’s 3-2 win over Luton Town.

Tim Ream, Fulham — Ream started and played 90 minutes in Fulham’s 1-1 draw with West Brom on Saturday.

Cameron Carter-Vickers, Stoke City (loan Tottenham Hotspur) — The Potters might be in shambles, but Carter-Vickers keeps adding minutes. On Saturday, he started and played 90 minutes in Stoke City’s 2-1 loss to Bristol City.

Duane Holmes, Derby County — On Friday, the 24-year-old midfielder played 81 minutes in Derby’s 1-1 draw with Cardiff City.

Bundesliga

Weston McKennie, Schalke —  McKennie came off the bench and played 28 minutes in Schalke’s 5-1 victory on Sunday, his first minutes since his start against Mexico with the men’s national team.

Zack Steffen and Alfredo Morales, Fortuna Dusseldorf — Steffen started and played all 90 minutes in Fortuna Dusseldorf’s 1-1 draw with Wolfsburg on Friday. Morales, on the hand, did not dress.

Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen  Following a goal-scoring performance, Sargent came off the bench and played 22 minutes for Werder Bremen in their 2-1 victory over Union Berlin.

Fabian Johnson, Borussia Mönchengladbach Johnson didn’t make Borussia Monchengladbach’s 18 in their 1-0 win over Koln on Saturday.

Timmy Chandler, Eintracht Frankfurt — The fullback started and played all 90 minutes in Eintracht Frankfurt’s 2-1 loss against Augsburg.

Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig — Adams remains inactive with a groin injury. There’s no timeline on his return.

Eredivisie

Haji Wright, VVV-Venlo — Another positive shift from Wright. On Saturday, the 21-year-old started and played 70 minutes in VVV-Venlo’s 2-1 win over FC Groningen.

Sergino Dest, Ajax — Fresh off international duty, Dest dressed but didn’t play in Ajax’s 4-1 thumping of Heerenveen.

Desevio Payne, FC Emmen — The U-23 MNT fullback was left out of FC Emmen’s 18 this weekend. 

Ligue 1

Timothy Weah, Lille — Weah remains sidelined with a muscular injury. There’s no timeline on his return.

Theoson Jordan-Siebatcheu, Rennes — On Saturday, the Washington D.C. native featured for 74 minutes in Rennes’ 0-0 draw with Brest.

Honorable Mentions:

Lynden Gooch, Sunderland – England’s League One isn’t a world-class league by any means, but the Californian continues to leave his mark. On Saturday, the 23-year-old scored his third goal of the season in the Black Cats’ 3-1 win over Accrington Stanley. Not bad, Gooch.

Julian Green, Greuther Furth – On Friday, the 24-year-old midfielder played all 90 minutes and scored in Greuther Furth’s 2-1 win over Wehen Wiesbaden. That’s three goals in six games for Green this season in Germany’s second division.

Terrence Boyd, Hallescher – Germany’s third-tier league is resulting to be too easy for Boyd, apparently. The forward scored two goals against Ingolstad on Sunday, making it his fourth and fifth of a young season.

Rubio Rubin, Dorados de Sinaloa – Rubin was the difference for Dorados on Friday night. After coming off the bench, the scored the goal that earned the Sinaloa-based team a 1-1 draw against Correcaminos.