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.
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.
MLS sides had to select their list of 11 protected players by Sunday evening in order to put them off limits from LA FC. Any player not protected by their club is available for selection.
After exploring some of the names of those left unprotected, PST takes a look at five players LA FC should select in Tuesday’s Expansion Draft.
Maxime Chanot — (CB from New York City FC)
He’s 28 years old, and helped build one of the better central defensive partnerships in MLS last season with Alex Callens, prior to his injury. NYCFC could be banking on the fact that his injury will prevent him from getting back to his previous level, but there’s no question Chanot is the sort of player that could anchor the LA FC back line for five-plus seasons.
David Ousted — (GK from Vancouver Whitecaps)
Made 90-plus saves in four of his five seasons with the Whitecaps, and overall one of the top goalkeepers in MLS. The Denmark native has recorded 36 shutouts in his time with the Cascadia side, and helped guide the Whitecaps to the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference in 2017. With Real Salt Lake not picking up Nick Rimando’s contract, the veteran USMNT shot-stopper could also be an option for LA FC, however, Ousted is younger and arguably better at this stage of his career.
Marco Urena — (FWD from San Jose Earthquakes)
The 27-year-old may not be on many people’s radars, but the Costa Rican had five goals and three assists last season for the Quakes. Urena was tied for second on the team in goals, and provides a solid veteran player on a new LA FC side. While Carlos Vela will be the focal point up front for the newcomers, Urena is the sort of player that could player a very important supporting role.
Osvaldo Alonso — (MID from Seattle Sounders)
The Designated Player contract could scare LA FC away because Alonso is 32 years old, but this is the type of guy you want in the center of the park. For nine seasons, Alonso has anchored the Sounders midfield, and he does all the dirty work that could very well help the transition of the expansion side’s back line in 2018.
Chris Tierney — (DEF from New England Revolution
Similar to Alonso, Tierney isn’t going to be the sexiest pick, but he’s had the MLS experience, and he’s likely a player that could move on from a team where he’s spent his entire career. His versatility in the midfield and defensively allows Tierney to be a highly-coveted asset, especially as a player that is capable of delivering a quality cross from down the left flank.
TORONTO — Talk about penalty kicks all you want, and definitely talk about that save, but Seattle’s formative heart kept Toronto FC’s vaunted attack off the scoreboard to win its first MLS Cup final.
Veterans Chad Marshall, Osvaldo Alonso, Stefan Frei, and Roman Torres simply got the job done against Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and the high-flying Reds.
“We knew what a great offensive team they are,” Marshall said. “Giovinco and Jozy are incredible. The amount of goals they put up this postseason is pretty ridiculous, so to keep them off the board for 120 minutes is incredible.”
The man in front of him, Alonso, was a prime reason for that. Countless connecting passes and perfect spacing limited TFC’s chances with the ball. After an MVP caliber season, you could argue that Alonso deserved just as much of a shout for MLS Cup MVP as winner Frei.
“In the final you have to give everything you have to win,” Alonso said. “I step on the field to play for my team, play for myself, and play for my family. And I think I did that.”
Both Alonso and Marshall spoke of the moments following Torres’ match-winning PK, as the Sounders crew flew down to pitch to celebrate in front of a rave green and blue visitors section high above BMO Field.
Sebastian Giovinco and David Villa possess electric skill sets and otherworldly production, and are instant all-timers for the nascent league. Next, take the historic traditional numbers posted by the Red Bulls’ Sacha Kljestan and Bradley Wright-Phillips, eye-popping stuff.
Then there’s Alonso.
The 31-year-old Seattle Sounders midfielder wasn’t going to get an MVP nod thanks to the weight given to goals and assists (in every league around the globe), but he should be a household name by now.
Not all of that is down to statistics. Alonso has been perhaps the perfect mate for Michael Bradley in the United States men’s national team’s midfield, but has not been given the chance despite earning citizenship in 2012. Alonso defected from Cuba in 2007 after earning 16 caps for the national team, and the island nation has not granted his request for a release (He doesn’t believe it will ever come, either).
As much as a green card should have played a role in his stardom, perhaps it’s yellow and red cards that cost him votes from around the league. Alonso is a midfield menace who plays as if winning the ball grants him access to oxygen.
“My position is different than the forward, but I try to play for me and for the team,” Alonso said.
“My type of game is keeping the ball and is made on winning the ball. I don’t score a lot of goals or do a lot of assists, but I try to provide the rest of my team. We’ve got a lot of players who can score a lot of goals and I’m very happy for them. I’m doing the job the coach told me to do, and I’m very happy to win that way.”
Alonso keeps the ball better than anyone in MLS, at least this season. His 91 percent pass accuracy was only met by Darlington Nagbe, and Alonso completed 20 percent more of his passes than his Cascadia Cup rival. That 60 percent completion mark was also the best in the league.
Rather than risk boredom with a bevy of further stats on tackles, interventions, and passing, let’s look at a chart that sums up his performance from advanced stats site Squawka. Amongst players who made more than 20 appearances this season, Alonso is second only to Giovinco in performance score (both are not MVP finalists, which is inexcusable).
What’s worth noting, though, is how many other members of the Top Ten earned their keep with a heavy contribution from one area. Alonso is in double digits in all three categories: 27th in defense, 48th in offense, first (by far) in possession.
That last number matters a lot to the MVP suggestion, too. Alonso’s 13.5 score is more than five points better than the closest competitor (Real Salt Lake’s Javier Morales).
To sum it up in a colloquial fashion, Alonso is a boss. Given his hard-nosed demeanor, you might think he loves digging into opponents and craves contact. That’s not necessarily wrong, but his answer to the question of what gives him the most joy is interesting.
“For me, I like a good pass. Take the ball from the offense and open the game from the back. But everything I do, I like to do.”
The love for a game and seeking out a better future for himself is what gave him the impetus to risk it all in defecting from Cuba, famously slipping away from his national teammates on a stop to an American big box store a decade ago.
“It was tough when I came here to make a decision because in that time, it was not sure if I would come back or see my family again,” Alonso said. “I’m so lucky that I did that and I play soccer because not everybody can make that decision to leave behind family, friends, everything in Cuba and come to a new country for a game.”
It’s allowed him to start and raise a family in his new country, one in which he wants to do little else besides play soccer and spend time with his family.
Alonso’s immigrant story a clear success, there have been repercussions like the aforementioned lack of a release from Cuba. Even at 31, he’s the player the United States needs right now in its MNT set-up. Alonso has spent years waiting for a response from Cuba, and fans even started a Change.org petition hoping for intervention from then-FIFA president Sepp Blatter.
Still, Alonso is fairly sure the door is closed, saying it’s “I don’t know but I don’t think so. It’s going to be difficult.”
So he’ll focus on leading his upstart Seattle Sounders onward into MLS glory. Alonso is one of the few players who was thriving with the Sounders before Sigi Schmid left the club, and his stock didn’t tumble once Brian Schmetzer took the reigns. With Obafemi Martins’ sudden departure and Clint Dempsey‘s heart troubles, Alonso has underscored the adjective in “Most Valuable Player”.
He’ll take the field again in Tuesday’s first leg of the Western Conference final, battling with Jermaine Jones and the Colorado Rapids.
“I’m very lucky to be in this team for a long time, but my main thing is to give everything I have for the team I have,” Alonso said.
The game in 100 words (or less): It’s always sweet to knock off one of your bitter rivals, but keeping them out of the playoffs takes things to a different level. The Vancouver Whitecaps were officially eliminated from the postseason on Sunday night following their defeat against the Seattle Sounders. While the play on the field was overshadowed at times by strange actions from two of the game’s goalscorers, the match was everything you’d want from the Cascadia foes. Even without Clint Dempsey and Nicolas Lodeiro, the Sounders moved one step closer to clinching a playoff spot in the Western Conference, leaping to fifth place.