Breaking down MLS's Sunday extravaganza

By Ridge Mahoney
After two incredible days of knockout games in the MLS playoffs, the four survivors jump right back into action Sunday.

All of the third and fourth seeds advanced, though only one game -- Montreal’s 3-0 defeat of TFC -- was a mismatch. Portland endured an epic penalty-kick shootout (7-6) to eliminate Sporting Kansas City after a riveting 2-2 tie, and by the odd goal did D.C. United oust New England (2-1) and Seattle knock off the Galaxy (3-2).

Their reward? A quick turnaround and another home game in the conference semifinals, both legs of which are being staged as quadruple-headers to be shown nationally on ESPN and Fox Sports 1.

Toronto dominated the Canadian clasico, but the semifinals offer up another Cascadia Cup showdown between Portland and Vancouver, as well as a revival of the Atlantic Cup rivalry between D.C. United and New York – the two teams that have faced each other the most times in league history.

The second legs will be played a week from Sunday (Nov. 8), with extra time and penalty kicks, if necessary, used to decide series tied on total goals and the first tiebreaker, away goals.
For the playoffs, cautions accumulated during the regular season are eradicated from a player’s record. A second caution received during the playoffs (not in the same game) results in a suspension for the next game, unless that second caution comes in the second game of the conference finals. In that case, a player is not suspended for the MLS Cup final.

All other disciplinary procedures used during the regular season are enforced during the playoffs. The MLS Disciplinary Committee announced Friday that defender Bobby Boswell has been suspended for kneeing Juan Agudelo in United’s 2-1 defeat of the Revs Wednesday. Boswell was cautioned for the foul by referee Mark Geiger.
D.C. United vs. New York
RFK Stadium, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN, ESPN Deportes.
LONGTIME RIVALS. In three games this season, United hasn’t been able to beat the Red Bulls, nor contain Bradley Wright-Phillips nor Lloyd Sam. Each has scored three goals and Sam has tallied in every game.

United is handicapped by the loss of Boswell, and despite several solid games this season from Kofi Opare, his likely replacement, the Red Bulls are likely to attack that area of the field as often as possible even as the away team. Thus, it’s imperative that Perry Kitchen control the central area of his defensive third. Otherwise, Sacha Kljestan and Dax McCarty and Felipe can create and penetrate at will.

Fabian Espindola ran rampant against the Revs and in addition to assisting on both goals nearly scored on a few other occasions. He and former RSL teammate Alvaro Saborio haven’t clicked that often since the latter arrived in an August trade, yet Espindola and Chris Rolfe are dangerous enough. The wild card is Chris Pontius. He departed the knockout game with a tight hamstring after heading the equalizer. He didn’t train Thursday or Friday.

The Red Bulls were the only team to have a positive goal difference (27 scored, 25 conceded) on the road this season and given the importance of away goals in the playoffs, they certainly will go at the D.C. defense. The difference could be, again, Bill Hamid. He stoned the Revs before and after they scored at RFK and might need an encore performance on Sunday to keep his team in the series.
Regular-Season Results
March 22 – New York 2 (B. Wright-Phillips, Sam), D.C. United 0.
April 11 – D.C. United 2 (Kitchen 2), New York (Perrinelle, Sam) 2.
Aug. 30 – New York 3 (B. Wright-Phillips 2, Sam), D.C. United 0.
Stat Leaders (including playoffs)
D.C. United – Chris Rolfe 11 goals, Fabian Espindola 9 assists, Bill Hamid 104 saves.
New York – Bradley Wright-Phillips 17 goals, Sacha Kljestan 14 assists, Luis Robles 86 saves.
Yellow Cards
DC -- Markus Halsti.
DC -- Bobby Boswell.
Bottom Line
United rebounded from the season-ending loss at Columbus (5-0) to deservedly prevail against New England, but New York is posed to exploit its fatigue and sporadic defending of the channels.
D.C. United 1 New York 2.
Portland vs. Vancouver
Providence Park, 5 p.m. ET, ESPN, ESPN Deportes
THE GREAT NORTHWEST. Drained physically and emotionally by one of the league’s all-time greatest postseason games, the Timbers -- and their amazing fans, let’s not forget -- come back in less than 72 hours, a harsh assignment considering they finished tied for second with Vancouver (53 points) and dropped into the knockout round by the first tiebreaker, most wins (16-15).

The Whitecaps labored through five games without a win prior to beating already-eliminated Houston, 3-0, in their season finale. Pedro Morales, the Newcomer of the Year in 2014, has started only two of his last eight appearances yet during that span has scored three goals off the bench. Octavio Rivero leads the team with 10 goals but hasn’t bagged one in the last six games; the ‘Caps will play through balls to Kekuta Manneh to test centerbacks Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell as often as they can.

Only five goals were scored in the three regular-season games between the teams, but the Timbers have the prowess (Fanendo Adi), guile (Darlington Nagbe, Lucas Melano), and speed (Rodney Wallace) to press the ‘Caps early. They may not have the legs to chase the game if they fall behind.
Regular-Season Results
March 28 – Vancouver 2 (Mezquida, Earnshaw), Portland 1 (Adi).
May 2 – Portland 0, Vancouver 0.
July 18 – Portland 1 (Valeri), Vancouver 1 (Laba).
Stat Leaders (including playoffs)
Portland -- Fanendo Adi 16 goals, Diego Valeri 9 assists, Adam Kwarasey 81 saves.
Vancouver -- Octavio Rivero 10 goals, Kekuta Manneh 6 assists, David Ousted 99 saves.
Yellow Cards
POR – Liam Ridgewell, Rodney Wallace, George Fochive, Diego Valeri.
Bottom Line
Another raucous home crowd will boost the Timbers in a series that looks almost dead even. Both teams have excellent keepers who each posted 13 shutouts. A stalemate would not be a surprise.
Portland 1 Vancouver 1.
Montreal vs. Columbus
Stade Saputo, 7 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1
FOCUS ON NEW FACES. These teams haven’t played in more than four months, and the August arrival of Didier Drogba isn’t the only midseason change to affect this matchup.

Centerback Gaston Sauro has helped shore up the Columbus back line. He’s started the last three games, during which Crew SC has allowed just one goal. How well Sauro and Michael Parkhurst contain Drogba and Ignacio Piatti, whose runs through the middle terrorized TFC, may determine the outcome. Crew SC conceded 28 road goals, the most among playoff teams, and need staunch work from midfielders Tony Tchani and Wil Trapp to blunt the Impact in the middle third.

A rare off day plagued Kei Kamara when the teams played at Stade Saputo in July. He personally outshot the Impact, 10-9, but he failed to score and so did his teammates until Federico Higuain nicked a consolation goal in stoppage time. The Impact can’t be so generous on Sunday.
Crew SC has options beyond Kamara. In addition to his team-high 13 assists, Ethan Finlay notched a dozen goals and he will be a major test for Impact left back Danny Toia. Higuain scored eight goals and is one of the league’s best dead-ball specialists.

Drogba scored the final goal in the 3-0 defeat of TFC to maintain his goal-per-game average through a dozen MLS appearances. As long as his energy holds out, Montreal is a threat every time it crosses the midfield line.
Regular-Season Results
June 6 –Columbus 1 (Higuain), Montreal 2 (Tissot, Romero).
July 11 – Montreal 3 (Oduro 2, Donadel), Columbus 0
Stat Leaders (including playoffs)
Montreal – Didier Drogba 12 goals, Ignacio Piatti 9 assists, Evan Bush 101 saves.
Columbus –Kei Kamara 22 goals, Ethan Finlay 13 assists, Steve Clark 114 saves.
Yellow Cards
Bottom Line
The Impact endured a relatively low-stress effort quelling TFC, but face a much different task in Kamara and Finlay and Higuain.
Montreal 2 Columbus 2.
Seattle vs. FC Dallas
CenturyLink Field, 9:30 pm., Fox Sports 1
TURNABOUT. Though FC Dallas failed to win or even score in its home game against the Sounders March 28, it did pitch a shutout after going down to 10 men when Kellyn Acosta was sent off in the 17th minute. Keeper Chris Seitz started that day in place of an injured Dan Kennedy; since then, 20-year-old Jesse Gonzalez has taken over in the nets.

FCD has shut out its opponents in five of Gonzalez’s 11 starts, which include wins over Columbus and Vancouver. It gave up three goals each in back-to-back losses to the Galaxy and SKC in September, but since then has conceded just twice in five games.

The Sounders had no problems storming through the Galaxy in the knockout game, but they are susceptible to the type of counterattacks by which FCD gets many of its goals. Thus the fitness of Osvaldo Alonso, who didn’t play Wednesday, is even more important for Sunday. Mauro Diaz must be shut down to minimize the danger of Fabian Castillo and other FCD attackers.

Seattle is one of the league’s best counter teams once Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey set the wheels in motion. The Sounders expended a lot of energy while downing the Galaxy Wednesday and may be feeling the physical and psychological hangover of that accomplishment on Sunday. Yet with another huge crowd on hand, they can set the tempo.

Regular-Season Results

March 28 – FC Dallas 0, Seattle 0.
June 13 –
 Seattle 3 (Neagle, Martins, Gonzalez), FC Dallas 0.

Stat Leaders (including playoffs)

Seattle – Obafemi Martins 15 goals, Clint Dempsey 10 assists, Stefan Frei 114 saves.
FC Dallas – 
Fabian Castillo 9 goals, Mauro Diaz 10 assists, Jesse Gonzalez 37 saves.

Yellow Cards
SEA – Stefan Frei.

Bottom Line

In last year’s playoffs, the teams tied on aggregate, 1-1, and as the higher seed Seattle prevailed by the only away goal. This year, FCD has the better record but is starting off in a very tough venue against an experienced team.

Seattle 2 FC Dallas 1.

3 comments about "Breaking down MLS's Sunday extravaganza".
  1. Scott Johnson, October 30, 2015 at 11:53 p.m.

    Correction, fourth paragraph: Montreal dominated the Canadian clasico, not Toronto.

  2. David Sirias, October 31, 2015 at 11:56 a.m.

    The quick turnaround is insane. It becomes a battle of attrition rather than who is in the best form. ( which itself is an issue, see below). Would rather have single game knockout throughout with a proper week off it they want to assure the final by early December. Number 6 seed on road throughout and no 1 seed at home always. Season would mean something and reward best team. Not the team that gets hot ...Alternatively,, do a WC style group stage playoff before knockout stage 3 groups of 4 , winners plus best 2nd place. Boom done in 4 weeks including taking FIFA weekend off if
    they want to keep 3 games in 11 days for the group

  3. beautiful game, November 1, 2015 at 11:45 a.m.

    Seattle has to be extra careful of Dallas FC speed. I would bet DCU over NYRB if DCU come out extra physically hard on key RB players. As long as the Walton crew of refs permits extra physicality, DCU needs to take advantage of the new rules.

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