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NYCFC waltzes past Philadelphia in playoff opener (video)

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Single-elimination games on the tiny pitch at Yankee Stadium is a difficult way to conclude a season, and the Philadelphia Union will be bitter about the end to its campaign following a 3-1 loss to New York City FC in the first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs.

[ MORE: MLS MVP’s 5 finalists ]

The stars were out for the East’s No. 3 seed as Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, David Villa, and Maxi Moralez all scored for NYCFC, who will meet No. 2 seed Atlanta United in the conference semifinals.

Cory Burke scored for Philadelphia who lost in the same building by the same score for the second time in four days.

Tajouri-Shradi’s goal was the pick of the bunch, hit with vigor to open the scoring.

MLS Playoff Preview: Which home side is safest?

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Thirty-four match seasons have led to Wednesday and Thursday’s Major League Soccer playoff games, which will see four teams go one-and-done into the offseason.

[ MORE: To Real Madrid from the NCAA ]

The league’s parity means fine margins separate seeds, but single elimination in a league driven by home field advantage usually provides a significant edge to hosts.

Where does each match rate in terms of chances for an upset?

Look out: Philadelphia at NYCFC — Let’s start with two sides who met in the same venue just a few days ago. That’s where the playoffs begin, with Philadelphia visiting NYCFC on the postage-stamp pitch at Yankee Stadium.

NYCFC beat Philly 3-1 on Decision Day to seal a home match for the first round, and Columbus’ win over Minnesota sent Philly into sixth. The Union beat New York City at home in the summer, and are one of the better away teams in MLS. Sunday’s loss was their first road loss in five outings.

Doesn’t feel in the cards: Columbus at DC United — The Crew limped into the playoffs and have been pretty poor away from MAPFRE Stadium, not winning since a quality 3-2 defeat at Red Bulls in late July. But Wayne Rooney and DC have not lost since the calendar turned to September, and are 13-2-2 at home this season.

Difficult to account for the unknown: Real Salt Lake at LAFCBob Bradley‘s got plenty of experience, and his players aren’t newbies either, but how will LAFC’s first ever playoff match go? That’s about the only thing keeping us from putting this in the win column for a black and gold side which lost just once, with seven draws, in 17 home matches this season. LA also beat RSL home and away this season. Mike Petke is a savvy manager, so Real Salt Lake has a puncher’s chance despite taking just 12 of 51 away points this season.

Almost a toss up: Portland Timbers at FC Dallas — Once hopeful for the top seed out West, Oscar Pareja’s FCD heads into the postseason with losses in three-straight. The two sides drew home and away this season, and it would not be a surprise to see Portland win. In fact, the venue is the only thing tilting this toward Texas.

Wednesday
New York City FC (3) vs. Philadelphia Union (6) — 7 p.m. ET
FC Dallas (4) vs. Portland Timbers (5) — 9:30 p.m. ET

Thursday
DC United (4) vs. Columbus Crew (5) — 8 p.m. ET
LAFC (3) vs. Real Salt Lake (6) — 10:30 p.m. ET

MLS – East: Red Bulls snatch Shield; Crew SC grab last spot (video)

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The final day of the 2018 regular season couldn’t have gone any better for the New York Red Bulls — or any worse for Atlanta United.

[ West: SKC finish 1st; Sounders sneak into 2nd; Galaxy crash out ]

With the Supporters’ Shield — along with all kinds of seeding, and the sixth and final playoff spot — on the line, this is how the final Eastern Conference’s final day played out…

Supporters’ Shield: Toronto FC take an early lead on first-place Atlanta United. Atlanta holding onto top spot by virtue of third tiebreaker, goals scored (69-61).

Supporters’ Shield: Red Bulls win a penalty kick, but Derrick Ettiene’s effort is saved. Red Bulls remain second on goals-scored tiebreaker.

Supporters’ Shield: Toronto score again. ATLUTD’s goal differential drops to +27, sending Red Bulls into first.

Third-place race: New York City FC restore their two-goal lead on Philadelphia Union. D.C. United currently sitting fourth, by a single point.

Supporters’ Shield: Red Bulls break through at long last. Derrick Etienne gives his side a two-point cushion back to Atlanta.

Sixth-place race: After a lengthy weather delay, Columbus Crew SC are first on the board against Minnesota United. Thanks to Philadelphia’s struggles, Gregg Berhalter’s side sits fifth.

Supporters’ Shield: Josef Martinez pulls Atlanta back to 2-1, but they need two more with the Red Bulls leading.

Supporters’ Shield: Before Atlanta could get a second, Toronto got a third. That’s the Supporters’ Shield all but sewn

Supporters’ Shield: And a fourth.

After head coach Jesse Marsch departed in the summer, Chris Armas took over a Shield-contending team and finished the job.

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)

Ramos announces U.S. U-20 World Cup qualifying roster

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Tab Ramos announced the 20 men tasked with leading the United States to another U-20 World Cup through qualifying next month in Florida.

[ USWNT: Surgery for O’Hara ]

Goalkeeper Brady Scott is the lone returning member of the team which won the 2017 CONCACAF Championship and advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2017 World Cup in South Korea.

The U-20 World Cup is this summer in Poland.

Several players have MLS minutes under their belts, including promising Jaylin Lindsey of Sporting KC and Mark McKenzie of Philadelphia. McKenzie, 19, could miss some of the Union’s playoff run, having started the side’s last four matches at center back, but reportedly will not join the U-20s yet.

Ayo Akinola, 18, is also one of the headliners, having scored five goals in the USL and nabbing a goal and an assist in six matches for Toronto FC.

There are four college players and six youngsters based overseas.

U.S. U-20 roster for CONCACAF Championship

Goalkeepers: 1-Brady Scott (FC Koln), 12-CJ Dos Santos (S.L Benfica).

Defenders: 2-Jaylin Lindsey (Sporting KC), 3-Chris Gloster (Hannover 96), 4-Mark McKenzie (Philadelphia Union), 5-Matthew Real (Philadelphia Union), 14-Manny Perez (NC State), 16-Julian Araujo (LA Galaxy), 19-Sam Rogers (Seattle Sounders).

Midfielders: 6-Brandon Servania (FC Dallas), 7-Juan Pablo Torres (K.S.C. Lokeren Oost-Vlaanderen), 8-Alex Mendez (SC Freiburg), 10-Paxton Pomykal (FC Dallas), 15-Anthony Fontana (Philadelphia Union), 18-Isaac Angking (New England Revolution).

Forwards: 9-Justin Rennicks (Indiana University), 11-Ulysses Llanez (Unattached), 13-Griffin Dorsey (Indiana University), 17-Ayo Akinola (Toronto FC), 20-Frankie Amaya (UCLA)