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Portland outlasts Seattle in gripping playoff second leg

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Portland and Seattle staged a second leg befitting of their rivalry, as the Timbers knocked their rivals out of the MLS Cup Playoffs with a gripping win in Seattle early Friday.

A chaotic ending put the match in extra time, where Dairon Asprilla sent a bullet header into the back of the goal off a Diego Valeri cross to make it 4-3 on aggregate only to see a penalty make it 4-4 four minutes later.

Will Bruin hit the post with Seattle’s second penalty attempt and Jeff Attinella stopped Osvaldo Alonso on the next Seattle attempt. Stefan Frei stopped Liam Ridgewell‘s winning bid, but could only get a hand on Asprilla’s winning hit.

The triumph sets Portland up for a meeting with either Real Salt Lake or Sporting KC in the Western final.

[ MORE: Louisville City defends USL Cup title ]

The Sounders entered the match down 2-1 but holding an away goal. That meant 1-0 would be enough for them to get into the conference finals, and an awful Portland mistake put them in the catbird seat.

Timbers goalkeeper Jeff Attinella bungled a cross and left it on the doorstep for Raul Ruidiaz, who made it 2-2 on aggregate in the 68th minute. Seattle, as it stood, was headed back to the Western finals.

Enter Sebastian Blanco.

The Argentine took a lay-off from Dairon Asprilla and hit a low ball that caught Stefan Frei in a hard place.

Portland was back in front, though the Timbers were denied a bid to close the match out via Frei’s in-tight denial of Lucas Melano.

Stoppage time made it 2-1 to Seattle, when Ruidiaz unleashed this beauty following a weak headed clearing attempt from Blanco.

The match went to extra time, and Valeri’s long cross was met at the back post by the leaping Asprilla.

The score line stayed the same for less than four minutes, as a Blanco handball sent Lodeiro to the spot and the Sounders star did not miss his chance to make it 4-4.

Ruidiaz had a goal pulled back for a handball as the match continued to deliver drama en route to kicks.

Some Timbers players celebrated after extra time, apparently thinking they advanced via away goals (away goals in extra time are no longer a tiebreaker). That’s… problematic.

An infuriating attempt at the 2018 MLS Best XI

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It occurs to me that projecting an MLS Best XI for this year is tougher than its been in some time.

In truth, it’s probably been growing in that manner on an annual basis. Shoot, look at last year’s post on the topic.

It’s especially difficult to narrow down your attackers if you want an XI to be representative of anything close to a unit you’d place on field.

[ MORE: Champions League Weds. wrap ]

Consider that the league has three 20-goal scorers, none who could be considered anything close to a midfielder, and six players with double digits goals and assists.

Let’s start with the necessities.

Forwards: The XI could not look remotely rational without Josef Martinez’s 30-goal record season, and there’s on debate that Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s 22 goals in 26 matches rates.

So there’s two forwards, which means you need to exclude all but one of the following players:

  • Wayne Rooney — 12 goals, six assists, 19 matches
  • Bradley Wright-Phillips — 20 goals, 7 assists, 31 matches
  • Carlos Vela — 13 goals, 10 assists, 27 matches

And, by the way, Adama Diomande has 12 goals in 17 matches and David Villa 13 in 22. Not bad.

Midfielders: Miguel Almiron, Ignacio Piatti, and Nicolas Lodeiro have had out of this world campaigns, as has Alphonso Davies. Both Davies and Piatti are unlikely to make the playoffs, and should that matter? Orlando’s Yoshi Yotun and Mohamed El-Munir (a defender) have been amongst the best at their spots, but their team was terrible.

Borek Dockal, Luciano Acosta, Lodeiro, and NYCFC’s Maxi Moralez have 15 assists or more. Sebastian Giovinco and Darwin Quintero are just off the pace despite playing 27 and 26 games on bad teams.

Dockal is averaging an assist in two of three matches this season, and Piatti.

Piatti!

Defenders: This one’s difficult because you need at least three and this league is like the Dutch Eredivisie on steroids (Even that league only had one 20-goal scorer last season).

There’s a bit of cheating in including Sporting KC’s Graham Zusi, the influential right back who also plays advanced at times and also guarantees us an SKC man on the roster. And Matt Besler is a better positional fit, but Zusi feels more necessary.

It feels like either Aaron Long or Tim Parker should represent the Red Bulls, and Walker Zimmerman has reclaimed his elite form with LAFC.

Goalkeepers: Tim Melia and Luis Robles both pace the league in clean sheets with 13, while Andre Blake of Philadelphia and Evan Bush have thrived on… less impressive units. Bush has faced 181 shots, more than all but one goalkeeper, and has made a league-high 130 saves in keeping Montreal alive.

Conclusion: Look, we’re going to have to try and outscore the other team now, aren’t we? And we’re going to lose. But it’s going to be fun.

I’ve got it down to 10 players, only repeating two teams (Red Bulls and Atlanta).

There’s no one from Dallas, who deserves a man, nor NYCFC. Plus  we’ve got two players who could miss the playoffs in Zlatan and Piatti, but it’s crazy not to include them. It just is.

So who gets our 11th slot? A stable center mid? Vela to make it a 3-4-3 and a third team with two slots?

Robles (RBNY)

Zusi (SKC) — Zimmerman (LAFC) — Long (RBNY)

Almiron (ATL) — Piatti (MTL) — Dockal (PHI) — Lodeiro (SEA)

Vela (LAFC) —  Ibrahimovic (LAG) — Martinez (ATL)

Lodeiro brace gives Seattle’s faint playoff hopes a lifeline

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In Major League Soccer’s forgiving playoff structure, there’s almost always a way back into the mix.

When your team has a talent like Nicolas Lodeiro, your chances get magnified quite a bit.

[ MORE: Josef Martinez bags 3 more ]

Lodeiro scored twice, once from the spot, and Seattle debuted its new Designated Player in a 2-0 Cascadia Cup win over Vancouver on Saturday.

Seattle is now eight points back of the West’s final playoff spot with 15 to play in its season. And the Sounders join Portland on three Cascadia Cup points, with the Timbers beating Seattle in the other cup match of the season.

Raul Ruidiaz came off the bench for the Sounders, and showed early glimpses of why Seattle wanted the World Cup participant from Peru.

The ‘Caps finished the match with 10 men thanks to a red card on Efrain Juarez, who saw yellow and then made contact with the referee.

The second goal took a vicious turn on its way to making goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic look capital-A awkward.

Twenty-three* thoughts from MLS Week 1

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At regular intervals during the 2018 Major League Soccer season, we’ll provide one thought for every MLS team.

[ MORE: MLS teams in CCL quarters ]

An asterisk is needed this week, with three sides yet to debut (Chicago, New York Red Bulls, Colorado). Here’s what we picked up from the 20 debuts.

Atlanta United: Just. Throw. The. Game. Tape. Out. The. Window.

Columbus Crew: Winning on the road is tough, and winning at BMO Field has been darn near impossible for teams not named Toronto FC. Columbus made it two teams in two years by getting stuck into 50/50 challenges and getting the ball the heck out of dodge as often as possible. While Toronto (See below) whiffed on several chance to pick up a point, the Crew sent a message that whatever’s happening off the field, there are a number of players left who danced this team deep into the playoffs.

[ MORE: All #SaveTheCrew news ]

Wil Trapp was special for Columbus, completing almost 96 percent of his passes over 90 minutes. That includes three key passes and six successful long balls.

And, oh yeah, #SaveTheCrew.

DC United: Yamil Asad got his debut goal for DC, who was better defensively than expected. There’s a lot of men with motors in the Black-and-Red, and Ben Olsen’s unit is going to be a tough out every week. The biggest difference maker? Probably defender Frederic Brillant.

FC Dallas: Eighteen shots, and FCD’s only goal in a 1-1 home draw was courtesy the other team. Max Urruti and Michael Barrios combined for nine shots. Throw in Mauro Diaz and it climbs to 12. It could’ve been worse.

Houston Dynamo: Wilmer Cabrera might still be grinning ear-to-ear after hanging a 4-0 on Tata freaking Martino’s Atlanta United. Alberth Elis was everywhere and he’ll need to continue that presence. Also, DYK Philippe Senderos scored a goal? Yes, that Philippe Senderos from Fulham and Arsenal who’s played 31 total times for four teams since the start of 2014-15.

LAFC: Bob Bradley knows how to coach, but we’re thinking LAFC supporters would do well to relish the good vibes of Diego Rossi’s 11th minute opener (from Carlos Vela) and a quality win over Seattle. Who knows what’s next, but this looks nice.

LA Galaxy: Carson, California, saw a home win and an attack which feels like it could cue Ola Kamara up for a goal or more per game. It’s just one game, but amazing what a solid defensive midfielder can do to shore up a back line. Perry Kitchen’s back, team.

Minnesota United: 

End of last season: “Hey Minnesota, fix your leaky defense.”

Minnesota: “Okay. We’ll try the backup goalkeeper.”

Start of this season, after a 3-2 loss to San Jose: “See our end of last season thoughts, please.”

Montreal Impact: Remi Garde has to press the reset button on an ugly debut against Vancouver. And, yes, it’s early, but maybe do the same on the idea of a 4-1-4-1.

New England Revolution: Brad Freidel may turn out to be a heck of a manager, but if he does it with this group he’s a hero of the highest order and we’ll all be working on our unique accents. It’s just one match, on the road, with a red card, but New England’s best hope is its steady vets playing steely ball.

New York City FC: David Villa turned 36 in December, and he didn’t look it on Sunday. The Spaniard managed six shots and an assist in the 2-0 win over Sporting KC. The five-man midfield was especially fun to watch. Not like-for-like but Jesus Medina and Yangel Herrera are among the players who could ease the worries of Jack Harrison’s exit.

Orlando City: It feels a little like that first gift you get at Christmas, watching Justin Meram and Orlando play without suspended Sacha Kljestan. Santa Mustache is coming soon, though, and the 1-1 draw with DC United is acceptable enough given 49 minutes down a man.

Philadelphia Union: How will David Accam and CJ Sapong co-exist? Just fine if Opening Day is any indication. Not a bad night for Haris Medunjanin in the middle of the park, either, as Philly takes advantage of New England on their schedule.

Portland Timbers: Gio Savarese’s baptism by fire came at the hands of LA’s talented attack, but don’t sleep on the Timbers’ response to going down 2-0. Away from home is a beast in MLS — even despite LA’s 2017 in Carson — and the Timbers finished the game with more attempts than the Galaxy and put seven on target to LA’s three. Sometimes it’s just about bounces.

Real Salt Lake: Outshot by double, the Utah-based visitors still came within five minutes and an own goal of getting Mike Petke a quality road win in Texas. Real also won 80 of 128 duels with FCD. There’s enough to like from a 1-1 draw.

San Jose Earthquakes: I was one to say Valeri “Vako” Qazaishvili was being used poorly by last year’s coaches. One goal and two assists later, even against defensively-challenged Minnesota, I’m feeling good about that opinion being closer to fact. Mikael Stahre was an intriguing hire as coach, and is off to a winning start.

Seattle Sounders: Outshot LAFC 22-5 in a 1-0 loss. If there was ever a time to relax, it’s now. Things will be fine in Washington, especially once Magnus Wolff Eikrem becomes more than a sub. Nicolas Lodeiro led the league in passes with 106, seven more than his closest competitor. He also paced MLS in key passes with eight and crosses delivered with five.

Sporting KC: A match to forget against a very talented team, we learned that playmaking spots are up for grabs in Kansas City. Diego Rubio and Yohan Croizet both came off with around a half hour to play, with Daniel Salloi and Gerso Fernandes entering the fray. Young Salloi made a couple of chances, and gives a little hope to an otherwise moribund home loss.

Toronto FC: Losing at home is a rarity for TFC, and maybe they needed a dose of humility after waltzing past Colorado in the CONCACAF Champions League and winning everything in sight last season. The Reds now turn to a tricky tie with UANL Tigres in the CCL quarters, and Greg Vanney’s tactics will be important as ever. Lineup selection will be something to monitor moving forward, as newcomer Ager Aketke is an intoxicating talent but there are only so many ways to organize him with Michael Bradley, Victor Vazquez, Marky Delgado, Jonathan Osorio…

Vancouver Whitecaps: Alphonso Davies won’t be here for long, so let’s enjoy him. No player in MLS had a better rating from WhoScored this weekend.

By the way, something to bookmark: Kei Kamara looked okay.

CCL: Lodeiro from 45; Royer’s diving header — SEA, RBNY lead (video)

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After 45 minutes of their respective CONCACAF Champions League knockout-round quests, things are going unnervingly well for the Seattle Sounders and New York Red Bulls.

[ MORE: FC Dallas disappoint in CCL; Club America flying ]

If you’ve watched Major League Soccer teams try, try and try again — only to eventually fail in spectacular fashion — in CCL over the years, you might say things are going a little too well.

There’s still another 45 minutes to be played on Thursday — plus the return legs next week — but both the Sounders and Red Bulls hold 1-0 halftime leads, and the vitally important away goals which come with it. Nicolas Lodeiro’s 45-yard, first-time lob of the Santa Tecla (El Salvador) goalkeeper in the 15th minute has already been eternally etched into the memories of Sounders fans.

Just 15 minutes later, Daniel Royer perfectly executed the diving header and got on the end of Bradley Wright-Phillips’ curling ball into the box to Jesse Marsch’s side ahead of Honduran side CD Olimpia.