Sebastian Blanco

Getty Images

MLS Playoffs Preview: 1st round kicks off on Saturday

Leave a comment

After a two-week break, MLS is back, and with some outstanding matchups as the first round of the playoffs kicks off on Saturday.

Here’s a closer look at Saturday’s matchups in the Western Conference and Eastern Conference.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]


2. Atlanta United v. 7. New England Revolution — Saturday, 1 p.m. ET

Atlanta United begins its title defense against the most successful coach in MLS history, Bruce Arena.

Atlanta United heads into the match at home a bit shorthanded. Miles Robinson suffered a left hamstring strain while on international duty with the U.S. Men’s National Team, leaving veteran centerback Michael Parkhurst to start alongside Leandro Gonzalez Pires. There’s also some questions over whether Ezequiel Barco and Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez will start together in midfield.

All that being said, Atlanta is still one of the best teams in MLS and as long as they have Josef Martinez, they’ll be a threat to make a deep run in the playoffs. The Revs have been a revelation since Bruce Arena took over in May, and no one knows the MLS playoffs more than he. Carles Gil and Gustavo Bou have been terrific this summer for the Revs while the defense, anchored by centerbacks Andrew Farrell and Michael Mancienne and 25-year-old goalkeeper Matt Turner have kept opponents off the board.

Atlanta certainly has the edge here, especially at home, but never count out a Bruce Arena team.

2. Seattle Sounders v. 7. FC Dallas — Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET

Unlike in previous years, the Seattle Sounders never needed to make a patented late-season push to make it into the playoffs. This time, the Sounders were solid throughout, especially thanks to a start that included five wins in six games. With Jordan Morris in peak form and Roman Torres and Kim Kee-Hee patrolling the middle of the backline, Seattle sure looks like an MLS Cup contender. Of course, they’d have to get past LAFC first, no small task.

For FC Dallas, in a way, they’re just happy to be here. It seems like forever, but was less than a year ago when club legend Oscar Pareja left for the Club Tijuana manager spot. In his place was local soccer legend and former FC Dallas academy director Luchi Gonzalez, and with a mostly young squad of players, Gonzalez has proven he could guide them to the playoffs. It doesn’t hurt though that one of the few veterans, Zdenek “Cobra” Ondrášek, has been on fire the last two months and just scored for the Czech Republic against England. The Sounders should take care of business at home, but Jesus Ferreira and Paxton Pomykal can create something out of nothing and could make Saturday’s match interesting/

4. Toronto FC v. 5. DC United — Saturday, 6 p.m. ET

With the regular season concluded and the start of single-elimination matches, we’re on the verge of saying goodbye to Wayne Rooney at any moment, and it could come as early as Saturday.

Thanks to a win and some other favorable results, Toronto FC jumped up in the standings and earned a home playoff match. It doesn’t hurt that it’s been very solid to close out the season, going unbeaten in its last 10 matches – though to be fair, that span only included four wins. Worryingly for TFC is that striker Jozy Altidore didn’t practice on Thursday after missing the international break with yet another muscle injury. However, his Canadian international teammates Jonathan Osorio, Liam Fraser, and Richie Laryea are returning to the club side on a high after beating the U.S.

For D.C. it’s been an up and down last few weeks. They picked up huge wins over Portland and Seattle in the final two months of the season, only to settle for scoreless draws against the porous New York Red Bulls and abject horror show in FC Cincinnati. As always, there will be plenty of pressure on Rooney to produce some magic, and his side will need it if they want to keep their season alive. Toronto, playing at home, has the edge here.

3. Real Salt Lake v. 6. Portland Timbers — Saturday, 10 p.m. ET

Mike Petke was fired by Real Salt Lake in mid-August after serving a two-week suspension for berating the referee – and saying some unacceptable terms – after a Leagues Cup game in July. In his place, interim coach Freddy Juarez has done quite well with the squad, winning seven games in the final three months of the season to cruise into a top-three place and earn a home game in the playoffs.

Former Manchester City and Queens Park Rangers defender Nedum Onuoha has been a rock at the back alongside youngster Justin Glad, and RSL may have the most underrated attack in the league. Albert Rusnak, Damir Kreilach and Jefferson Savarino have all been brilliant at points this season. If the trio put it together, RSL could be a dark horse for the title.

The Timbers beat expectations a year ago as Giovanni Savarese led his team to another final – his fourth straight final as a coach. It will be an incredible achievement if they make it this time around. Portland has elite offensive capabilities when everyone is firing on all cylanders. Sebastian Blanco, Diego Valeri, and even Dairon Asprilla can create moments of magic, while Jeremy Ebobisse has had a breakout season with 11 goals, though he’s missed a few he’ll want back. The issue is the team defensively, and they’ll have to be on their game to slow to RSL’s front three on the road.

Of course, the Timbers did win both matchups against RSL this season, so even on the road, they should be confident they can get it done again.

Decision Day Recap: Vela breaks record; Dallas, Timbers clinch playoffs; Howard, Beasley play final game

Getty Images
Leave a comment

MLS Decision Day is behind us, and the league has a new single season goalscoring king and a complete lineup for the MLS Cup playoffs.

One goal short of breaking Josef Martinez’s record set last season, Carlos Vela erupted for a hat trick in LAFC’s 3-1 win over the Colorado Rapids on Decision Day, lifting the single season goalscoring record to 34 goals.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

In 31 games, LAFC’s captain recorded a total of 34 goals and 15 assists, an average of 1.62 goals plus assists per game.The Mexican finished four goals above LA Galaxy’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic (30) and seven above former record holder Martinez (27). In other words, the 30-year-old placed his foot firmly on the pedal and never let go.

Following the game, Bob Bradley, as expected, was full of praise for the Mexican, who more than doubled his goal count of 14 last season and was crucial in the team’s historic season, which saw them lift the Supporter’s Shield and set the most points in a single season.

Some may say it’s up for debate (it’s really not), but Vela’s season should be considered as the league’s best ever.

FC Dallas, Portland Timbers clinch spot in MLS Cup playoff field

In convincing fashion, FC Dallas and the Portland Timbers punched their tickets into the the MLS Cup playoffs.

In Frisco, specifically, first-year coach Luchi Gonzalez and company took the “win and your in” motto to heart, drilling a helpless Sporting Kansas City 6-0. Every player in Dallas’ front four bagged goals, with defender Matt Hedges contributing one of his own in the 12th minute.

Over in Portland, the Timbers sent Matias Almeyda and the San Jose Earthquakes packing, edging past them 3-1 with to second-half goals from Dairon Asprilla and Sebastian Blanco.

After conceding a goal in the 29th minute, the Quakes responded within 10 minutes when Chris Wondolowski header home his 15th goal of the season. It wasn’t enough for the Black-and-Blue, however, as a ghost of the past hunted them once again: second-half meltdowns.

After placing as high as second in the Western Conference over the summer, the Quakes ended their season on a six-game losing streak and four points short of the cut.

Tim Howard, DaMarcus Beasley say goodbye to the beautiful game

Decision Day also saw the illustrious careers of Tim Howard and DaMarcus Beasley come to a close – two U.S. soccer legends and trailblazers.

Howard hangs up the boots after a 22-year journey that saw him play in the United States and England, where he featured for Manchester United and Everton. At Everton, the New Jersey native recorded 414 appearances in a decade-long career. The 40-year-old also recorded 121 caps with the U.S. men’s national team, eighth in the all-time list.

At 37 years of age, Beasley, too, is riding off into the sunset.

The longtime fullback completes a career that started 20 years ago, and saw him play in Holland, England, Scotland, Germany, Mexico and the United States. Throughout that stretch, Beasley won multiple titles with Rangers, two Eredivisie’s with PSV and three U.S. Open Cups with the Chicago Fire and, most recently, with the Houston Dynamo.

On an international level, the Indiana native featured 126 times for the USMNT, scoring on 17 occasions. Like Howard, Beasley hoisted multiple Gold Cup’s with the Stars and Stripes.

Fernandez scores on debut to snare Portland point in Texas

Photo by Manuel Guadarrama/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Brian Fernandez scored on debut to lead the Portland Timbers in a 1-1 draw with the Dynamo in Houston on Wednesday.

Portland moves to 3-6-2 on the year, while Houston remains fourth despite moving onto 20 points.

Houston led on a 40th minute goal from Mauro Manotas, and Timbers boss Giovani Savarese turned to his new record signing in the 65th minute.

[ MORE: Derby County reaches playoff final ]

A dozen minutes later, Sebastian Blanco hit this dime to Fernandez, who arrived from Necaxa last week.

The 24-year-old Argentine picked up where he left off in Liga MX, where he scored 18 times in 32 matches.

Timbers add serious firepower with Fernandez, Liga MX second-leading scorer

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Portland Timbers took a big step to solving some of its goal-scoring problems with a major signing on Monday.

The Timbers announced that it had signed Argentine forward Brian Fernandez as a Designated Player on a transfer from Liga MX side Necaxa. Fernandez finished the regular season of the Liga MX Clausura campaign with 12 goals in the 17-match half season, good to second best in the league. He has 16 goals in 30 league matches since joining Necaxa last summer. Per the Athletic and reports in Mexico, the Timbers are paying a transfer fee of around $10-12 million for Fernandez’s services.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

“We are very pleased to welcome Brian Fernández to our team,” Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese said in a statement. “Brian is a player who possesses many different attacking qualities that can cause issues for the opposition. He has shown the ability to unlock defenses and score goals in a variety of ways throughout his career, and, while we view him as a forward with our immediate group, his versatility and ability to play in different positions and systems gives us further tactical flexibility and options.”

Fernandez, who has played in his native Argentina, Chile, and even half a season at Metz in Ligue 1, brings a hot form and scoring ability to a Timbers team in need of goals. Although it can be partially excused by starting the season on the road, the Timbers have just 13 goals this season in 10 games, and more often than not, Diego Valeri, the playmaking maestro in attacking midfield, has finished the season as the team’s leading scorer.

Players such as Fanendo Adi, Darren Mattocks and Jack McInerney have come and gone, and while Sebastian Blanco appears to have the talent to succeed in MLS, he hasn’t been a consistent goalscorer. That necessitated the signing of Fernandez.

The signing also comes just a day ahead of the MLS Transfer Window first stage closing until the second stage opens in early July.

MLS roundup: Atlanta grabs late win, Sporting KC completes wild comeback

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Julian Gressel scored in the 74th minute and Atlanta United won for just the second time this season and first in front of the home fans, beating the Colorado Rapids 1-0 at Mercedes Benz Stadium.

Darlington Nagbe snatched the ball off substitute Nicolas Mezquida in a dangerous position and dribbled all the way to the byline before sending a cross to Gressel positioned right at the near post, and the German squeezed it in past Tim Howard for the game’s only goal. Colorado, meanwhile, was held to just six shots and Brad Guzan kept them off the scoresheet for just his second clean sheet of the season. Atlanta nearly had another in injury time to kill off the game, but Hector Villalba’s curler came off the far post.

Sporting KC, meanwhile, looked to be heading to another defeat, having won just one of its previous five matches and without the recently injured Roger Espinoza, but a pair of 2nd half red cards for the visiting New England Revolution changed the game and saw the hosts come from 3-1 down to draw 4-4.

The first half was all New England as Juan Caciedo scored a first-half brace and the visitors led 3-1 at the break, having gone well in front despite less than 30% possession. Sporting KC looked lost, with just one first-half shot on target despite all the possession, and having shipped seven goals over the previous game and a half.

That all turned in the second half after Brandon Bye was sent off for a last-man foul in the 55th minute. Bye was already on a yellow, but the referee issued a straight red after a lazily hit back-pass came his way and he took down a charging Gerso. That turned the game and both Krisztian Nemeth and Felipe Gutierrez bagged braces for the hosts before it was all over. With Jalil Anibaba also sent off for New England deep in the match, Sporting KC pushed for a winner but nothing came and they were forced to settle for a draw. The draw is disappointing for Sporting KC in a vacuum as their winless run pushes to four matches, but it should serve as a confidence booster moving forward without Espinoza for the foreseeable future.

Toronto FC fell further off the top of the Eastern Conference as they dropped a 2-1 result to the Portland Timbers on Jeremy Ebobisse’s 70th minute winner. The U.S. international got between Justin Morrow and Chris Mavinga and dove to connect with Sebastian Blanco‘s cross, acrobatically heading it in from close range. That proved the decisive moment after Jonathan Osorio and Bill Tuiloma cancelled each other out with first-half goals just two minutes apart.

The win pushed Portland up to 10th as they picked up their second win in a row, but for Toronto, they fell four points off the pace at the top of the Eastern Conference, although they still have two games in hand on the rest of the pack.

Full MLS roundup:

NYCFC 1-1 Orlando City
Toronto FC 1-2 Portland Timbers
FC Dallas 0-0 San Jose Earthquakes
Vancouver Whitecaps 1-1 Philadelphia Union
Atlanta United 1-0 Colorado Rapids
New York Red Bulls 1-0 FC Cincinnati

Houston Dynamo 2-0 Columbus Crew
Sporting KC 1-3 New England Revolution