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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.

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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.

Portland topples Seattle 2-1 in first playoff leg

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The Seattle Sounders knew their 2-seed meant nothing in a Cascadia matchup between two heated rivals. The Sounders took an early lead but squandered that not long after and slumped to a 2-1 defeat in the first leg of their Major League Soccer playoff matchup.

Still, the early strike could prove valuable as the Sounders head home with an away goal as Christian Roldan somehow squirted a cross through the legs of Bill Tuiloma just 10 minutes in and found Raul Ruidiaz who roofed it with the side of his foot at the near post.

[ MORE: Columbus tops NY Red Bulls 1-0 ]

That proved valuable as the Sounders struggled to contain Portland on the counter, which would prove fruitful for the hosts seven minutes later. On the run, Diego Valeri threaded in Jeremy Ebobisse who dinked it over a charging Stefan Frei. With the scoreline all tied up, Seattle continued to control possession, but coughed it up on the break again on the half-hour mark.

Valeri somehow found a gap straight down the heart of the Seattle defense and while his run was finally stopped by Chad Marshall at the penalty spot, it trickled to Sebastian Blanco who stepped past a defender onto his left foot and awkwardly skidded the ball across the face and inside the far post.

There was little of note in the second half, as Portland locked things down. Seattle maintained 56% possession throughout the match and out-passed Portland 531-425, but could only muster nine shots, three on target. The Sounders now head back home with a valuable away goal but still with work to do. In their only meeting at CenturyLink Field during the regular season, Portland took home a 3-2 win on a 74th minute Larrys Mabiala goal.

Valeri scores twice as 10-man Portland eliminates Dallas

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Diego Valeri scored twice, the second when Portland was down to 10 men, as the Timbers won their first match of the MLS Cup Playoffs with a 2-1 defeat of FC Dallas in Texas on Wednesday.

Larrys Mabiala was shown a red card in the 58th minute for the Timbers, and Matt Hedges scored in stoppage time for the hosts’ lone goal.

For Valeri, the goals were his third and fourth in MLS Cup Playoff action, and his 76th and 77th as a Timber.

Portland will face Sporting KC if LAFC beats Real Salt Lake on Thursday, or Seattle if Real wins.

[ MORE: MLS MVP’s 5 finalists ]

Reto Ziegler looked to have pushed Dallas in front, but the 15th minute goal was overturned by VAR for offside.

Valeri’s goal couldn’t be overturned, though perhaps the refs would’ve liked to sneak a look at the replay just for entertainment’s sake.

The match headed to half 1-0, with Diego Chara and Carlos Gruezo shown yellow cards for a scuffle before the break.

That was a prelude to a straight red 13 minutes into the second half, albeit not one for brawling. Mabiala was shown off as last man back for a takedown of Dominique Badji.

Portland would have to make it a half-hour plus with a one-goal lead and 10 men on the pitch, and they would thanks to hard work from Jeremy Ebobisse to set up Valeri for his second.

MLS Weekend Preview: All eyes on playoff chasers

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The top seeds in both the Eastern Conference and Western Conference have yet to be confirmed, but this weekend’s games will be all about those chasing playoff spots, especially in the West where the waters are still muddy with three games to go.

Most notably, Real Salt Lake takes on Portland with a 9:30 p.m. ET kickoff that could decide who falls apart late and who makes a late move towards the postseason. Both teams currently sit in playoff positions, but with the LA Galaxy making a late surge, a loss for either side could put them in serious jeopardy.

RSL is in the most peril, sitting in the final playoff spot just two points above the Galaxy. Portland is just two points and two spots above RSL, and could be caught with a stumble down the stretch. The Timbers are without defender Liam Ridgewell who was sent off last time out.

The aforementioned LA Galaxy, just two points back of the cut line, have back-to-back 3-0 victories in their last two, jumping to the verge of a playoff spot. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has four goals over his last three games, including two last time out against Vancouver. It’s just as important for Sporting KC, who can clinch a playoff spot with a victory.

On the other side of the coin, the Eastern Conference has drama of its own. D.C. United plays Sunday sitting just two points back of a playoff spot on a charge of its own, but the Montreal Impact could cushion its safety as it hosts Columbus. Both those teams are at near full strength and full health, ready to duke it out on the field. Columbus is guaranteed a playoff spot, but they still must hold off Philadelphia for the #4 seed, and can still mathematically catch NYCFC, five points back of that third-place spot.

Moving up the table, Atlanta United and the New York Red Bulls are battling for the Supporter’s Shield, with the former owning a single point lead. Atlanta hosts the New England Revolution, a team that has just a single win since the start of July. Meanwhile, New York has a west coast trip to last-place San Jose.

Full MLS Schedule 10/6

Montreal Impact vs. Columbus Crew – 3:00 p.m. ET
Atlanta United vs. New England Revolution – 3:30 p.m. ET
Toronto FC vs. Vancouver Whitecaps – 5:00 p.m. ET
Philadelphia Union vs. Minnesota United – 7:30 p.m. ET
FC Dallas vs. Orlando City – 8:00 p.m. ET
Sporting KC vs. LA Galaxy – 8:30 p.m. ET
Colorado Rapids vs. LAFC – 9:00 p.m. ET
Real Salt Lake vs. Portland Timbers – 9:30 p.m. ET
San Jose Earthquakes vs. NY Red Bulls – 10:30 p.m. ET

MLS roundup: DCU, Galaxy win big in quest for playoffs

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Saturday’s biggest winners in the 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs race: D.C. United, Seattle Sounders and LA Galaxy; and the losers: Montreal Impact, Los Angeles FC and New York City FC.

[ MORE: MLS to consider lowering maximum of DPs in 2019 ]

D.C. United 5-0 Montreal ImpactFULL HIGHLIGHTS

Let’s go back in time three months, when D.C. United were last in the Eastern Conference and more than a dozen points out of the sixth and final playoff place. Wayne Rooney made his MLS debut a few days later, Luciano Acosta morphed into perhaps the best no. 10 in all of MLS and Audi Field opened — all in the span of two whirlwind weeks.

Fast-forward to Saturday’s 5-0 hammering of sixth-place Montreal Impact, and now Ben Olsen’s side sits just two points out of a playoff place with five games left to play (two more than Montreal). Rooney and Acosta continue to terrorize opposition defenses on a regular basis (the duo has combined for an absurd 14 goals and 13 assists over the last 10 games) and the defense is suddenly solid enough (multiple goals conceded just once in the last five).

Rooney scored twice on Saturday and Acosta bagged a goal of his own — to go with two from Paul Arriola. Acosta tallied a hat trick of assists along with a single helper from Rooney. Montreal self-destructed, to be sure, but it was certainly a byproduct of United’s increasingly aggressive tactics which heaped worlds of pressure on them from the opening whistle. When Rooney’s playing passes like this — simple as it may seem, it’s so rarely the ball chosen in MLS — there’s not much you can do to limit his impact on the game.

Seattle Sounders 4-0 Colorado RapidsFULL HIGHLIGHTS

Seattle won nine games in a row to drag themselves out of a D.C.-like hole dug in the spring and early summer. They followed that run up with a pair of disappointing defeats to Philadelphia Union and LA Galaxy. A visit from Colorado Rapids was exactly what the doctor ordered, though, as Raul Ruidiaz (times two), Nicolas Lodeiro and Victor Rodriguez all got themselves a goal in their 4-0 triumph at CenturyLink Field.

It was enough to temporarily leapfrog Portland Timbers on tiebreakers for fourth in the West before Portland drew with FC Dallas later in the day to reclaim fourth.

Chicago Fire 3-1 Los Angeles FCFULL HIGHLIGHTS

LAFC had a golden opportunity to leapfrog Sporting Kansas City for second place in the Western Conference and apply some real pressure in the race for a knockout-round bye with a win against Chicago, who have already been eliminated from the playoffs.

Djordje Mihailovic scored a stunning volley for his first goal of the season (second of his career), but Diego Rossi did his best to upstage the 19-year-old for goal of the game/day.

LA Galaxy 3-0 Vancouver WhitecapsFULL HIGHLIGHTS

The 2018 season has been one to forget for the Galaxy — from their their own struggles due in large part to a disastrous series of transfer windows, to the dismissal of Sigi Schmid as head coach, to the arrival and successes of LAFC — but somehow they’re within a single point of the final playoff place in the West (though they have played one game more than RSL) following following Saturday’s 3-0 victory over Vancouver.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, as has been the case for much of the season, willed the Galaxy to victory with a brace to bring his season tally to 20 goals (in just 24 appearances).

Elsewhere in MLS action

Columbus Crew SC 0-0 Philadelphia Union
Toronto FC 4-1 New England Revolution
Minnesota United 2-1 New York City FC
Houston Dynamo 3-2 San Jose Earthquakes
Portland Timbers 0-0 FC Dallas

Sunday’s MLS schedule

New York Red Bulls vs. Atlanta United — 1 p.m. ET
Sporting Kansas City vs. Real Salt Lake — 5 p.m. ET