In Pictures: Timbers, SKC play out goalless draw in first leg of Western Conference Championship

Portland Timbers and Sporting Kansas City are as they were coming into Sunday’s Western Conference Championship series. They battled to a 0-0 draw in the first-leg at Providence Park, meaning there’s all to play for in what should be a thrilling second-leg on Thursday.

Portland had the best chances on the night, hitting the post and seeing a goal ruled out for offside following a VAR decision. They were also denied by Tim Melia time and time again, with the SKC goalkeeper making six saves on the night.

Sporting KC had a couple of chances of their own, mostly breaking on the counter wherever possible. Johnny Russell had a good sight of goal just after half-time. While Daniel Salloi had a great chance to win it in stoppage time, only for Liam Ridgewell to put his body on the line to block.

Check out exclusive photos from Sunday’s first leg below, courtesy of MLSGB photographer, Denise McCooey.

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Dempsey says farewell as Sounders get big win over Sporting KC

Clint Dempsey was barely off the field after his retirement ceremony when Sporting Kansas City took the lead at CenturyLink Field but Seattle Sounders FC would come back to score three unanswered to make it eightstraight wins, the most in a single season in the post-shootout era.

Sporting capitalised on Seattle’s inability to clear their box as Diego Rubio scored in just the second minute of the match. Brad Smith tried to clear the ball but was just beat to it by Gerso Fernandes and the bouncing ball sat up perfectly for Rubio who smashed it into the bottom left corner.

Smith would make up for missing the clearance just ten minutes later as Sounders equalized in impressive fashion thanks to a perfect cross from Smith that found Raul Ruidiaz for the easiest of tap-ins from just a few feet out.

 

It was a sloppy first ten minutes for Sounders and while the equalizer did help to tighten up their passing, Kansas City continued to get dangerous looks at goal and forced Seattle to scramble defensively multiple times in the first half.

While Seattle has struggled mightily at times this season, they have consistently done well in defense when forced to scramble.

The first half came close to having some added intrigue as Nico Lodeiro was brought down just outside of the box in stoppage time by Ike Opara and was shouting for a straight red for denying him and obvious goal scoring opportunity after intercepting a pass. While he looked to be in on goal alone at the time, referee Baldomero Toledo decided that centre-back Matt Besler was close enough for it to not be worthy of a straight red and issued a yellow card instead.

Ruidiaz stepped up to take the free kick but hit it poorly right at the wall for the final play of the first half.

While it’s safe to say the first half was less than impressive from Seattle, the second half was a near complete change of form for Sounders as they swarmed Sporting and took the lead in the 52nd minute and would double it in the 56th.

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First was a stroke of good fortune for the Rave Green as Harry Shipp’s cross from inside the box banked off of the back of Graham Zusi and over the fingertips of Tim Melia making it three straight matches that Seattle has been the beneficiary of an own goal.

Then minutes later a cross from Smith hit the arm of Opara inside the box prompting Toledo to award the penalty kick. Lodeiro stepped up to the spot and froze Melia with his shot to put Seattle up 3-1.

Now down two goals with more than 30 minutes to play, Kansas City began to fight their way back into the match, owning the possession stats for the rest of the match as Sounders began playing more defensively.

Seattle was looking like they would defend fairly comfortably for the rest of the match until an 81st minute red card to Chad Marshall was issued after going to VAR.

Even with the man advantage though Sporting failed to break down the stalwart Seattle defense and it would ultimately be the Sounders match to win as they eclipsed Kansas City’s 2012 winning streak of seven matches. They still have one match to go though before they’ll match the nine straight won by Sporting over two seasons, 2012-2013, and will have to do so on the road against Vancouver where a win or draw will clinch the Cascadia Cup for Seattle.

Sporting Kansas City vs Columbus Crew | 2018 MLS Preview and Prediction

Major League Soccer: Sporting Kansas City vs Columbus Crew

Children’s Mercy Park – Sunday, May 27th 2018 – 18:00 ET (23:00 BST)

UK TV Coverage – Live on Sky Sports Football

Sporting Kansas City vs Columbus Crew: Preview

Sporting Kansas City welcome Columbus Crew to Children’s Mercy Park in Sunday’s lone MLS fixture. They are both in great form and so both will be looking to mark their superiority with another three points here.

The hosts come into the weekend at the top of the Western Conference. They will stay their regardless of results this weekend but will be hoping to add another three points to their tally of 24 points from 12 games.

Peter Vermes’ men have lost just one of their last 11 games and are unbeaten in three coming into Sunday’s contest. They are a really tough outfit to break down at home and so the Crew have their work cut out if they are to take points back to Columbus.

However, the visitors couldn’t arrive in much better confidence. They have rolled off three-straight wins and sit just one point behind Atlanta United at the top of the East heading into the weekend’s fixtures.

The Crew haven’t conceded a goal in any of their last four games and are currently unbeaten in six. They will be looking to frustrate SKC on Sunday, before hitting them on the break whenever possible. New York City FC executed that strategy to perfection on the opening weekend and remain the only side to have won in Kansas City this season.

The worry for Columbus is that they have now managed to take anything away from Sporting KC since 2012. They’ve lost each of their last four MLS games at SKC, conceding 11 goals in the process. Their lone meeting last season ended in a 1-1 draw at MAPFRE Stadium.

Sporting Kansas City vs Columbus Crew: Team News

Sporting KC

❌ Suspensions: None.

❓ Doubts: Jimmy Medranda (undisclosed injury).

🚑 Out: Felipe Gutierrez (sports hernia surgery), Colton Storm (ankle sprain).

Columbus Crew

❌ Suspensions: None.

❓ Doubts: None.

🚑 Out: Pedro Santos (right thigh injury).

Sporting Kansas City vs Columbus Crew: Key Stats

Sporting KC’s MLS form: W/L/W/W/D

Columbus Crew’s MLS form: W/D/W/W/W

Key stat: There has never been a 0-0 draw between these sides in 20 years of clashes. Their last five meetings have had an average of 3.8 goals per game.

Sporting Kansas City vs Columbus Crew: Prediction

Sporting Kansas City 1-1 Columbus Crew: This is a really tricky one to call. Sporting Kansas City are in good form and are a real force at home. They sit top of the West for a reason and will be relishing the challenge of an in-form Crew side. But the form Columbus are in means it’s hard to see them losing. They have been solid defensively and should create problems for Sporting KC here. Score draw.

Sounders get first point and first goals in 2-2 draw at Sporting Kansas City

Seattle Sounders (0-3-1, 1 pt) registered their first point and goals of the 2018 campaign on Sunday in a 2-2 draw with Sporting Kansas City (4-1-2, 14 pts) at Children’s Mercy Park. A late first-half equaliser from Will Bruin gave Seattle their first goal of the year and Cristian Roldan would give the visitors their first lead of the MLS season. Graham Zusi would bring the home side back level just five minutes later though and neither side would manage another breakthrough.

It was somewhat of a surprise to see Alex Roldan in the starting lineup just in front of Jordan McCrary but the rookie midfielder looked very good against the Western Conference leaders. The younger Roldan looked confident on the ball and helped to setup the attack that lead to Seattle’s second goal. Hopefully for Seattle this is not just a flash in the pan but a sign of things to come for the Seattle University alum.

Sounders fans were also treated to the return of Osvaldo Alonso from injury, coming on as a substitute in the 68th minute. With Alonso on the field for Handwalla Bwana, coach Brian Schmetzer pushed Cristian Roldan into an attacking position and brought Nicolas Lodeiro out wide which allowed Roldan to play more aggressively and ultimately lead to scoring the second goal. With Alonso on the field Seattle’s midfield looked more disciplined and structured defensively, something that was badly missing in their home loss to Montreal.

It was not such a great night for Nouhou who seemed to be a step slow all night, directly leading to both Sporting goals. The first goal came from a penalty kick conceded by a poor challenge from Nouhou while the second was due to him not getting back to stop Zusi.

The play starts with Nouhou making a long attacking run into space before hitting an ill-advised high shot from about 25 yards out. As Sporting restarted play, Nouhou doesn’t get back into position in time and leaves Zusi open on the wing. Even once Zusi receives the pass and is dribbling into the box, Nouhou doesn’t get back to mark his man and allows Zusi to walk in one-on-one against Frei and tie the match.

https://twitter.com/JogaBonito_USA/status/985637300586545157

Sporting controlled possession for the majority of the match and forced Stefan Frei into making six saves compared to Tim Melia’s one but made defensive mistakes to let Seattle on the board against the run of play. While Seattle does well to keep the play alive after Bruin’s first chance clanked off the crossbar, Jimmy Medranda gets caught watching the ball on the second chance and allows Bruin to score on a tap in.

Although Seattle was unable to hold on to the lead, the second goal showed the Sounders’ potential in attack. Alex Roldan out plays Zusi on a long clearance to get to the ball and then makes a perfectly weighted outside-of-the-foot pass around a defender to Bruin. With a defender on him, Bruin has the wherewithal to pull the ball back and find Christian Roldan at the top of the box for a shot. Roldan is able to hit the ball with power while also placing it in the far corner, past the stretching arm of Melia.

Seattle is going to want to see more possessions like this next weekend when they host Minnesota United FC (2-4-0, 6 pts) on Sunday at 1 PM as they look to record their first win of the season.

Five MLS clubs set to battle for signing of former Liverpool and Chelsea star – report

Five Major League Soccer teams are set to fight for the signing of Spanish striker Fernando Torres this summer, according to Marca. The 34-year-old forward will be a free agent once his contract with Atletico Madrid comes to an end in June, leaving the former Liverpool and Chelsea star free to negotiate what will surely be the final move of his career.

Torres has been linked with a move to the Chinese Super League but it’s understood he is not keen on making the move to Asia. He rejected the chance to join CSL side Dalian Yifang in February and would reportedly prefer a move to the United States.

With no La Liga sides making Torres an offer at this point, and just a month left of the season in Spain, Torres is looking to MLS. The five clubs who are reportedly interested in bringing him to the league are Chicago Fire, Montreal Impact, New York City FC, Seattle Sounders and Sporting Kansas City.

A move to NYCFC would allow Torres to link up with former international teammate and good friend David Villa. The pair fired Spain to Euro 2008 glory as well as the 2010 World Cup title. New York City FC do not currently have a Designated Player slot free though, so Torres would need to accept being a TAM signing to move to the Big Apple.

Chicago and Montreal are the only sides of the five linked that have a DP slot available. It’s not certain that Torres would need to fill a DP slot, particularly at 34 years of age. But it will certainly help negotiations having that option.

The Fire are a particularly interesting option, given the fact that Torres played with Chicago head coach Veljko Paunovic during his first spell at Atletico Madrid. The pair spent two seasons together in 2003/04 and 2004/05.

On top of that, Chicago own the discovery rights to Fernando Torres if he does indeed move to MLS, according to league sources. The Fire have opened the 2018 season with just four points from their opening five games. They’ve scored seven goals but could undoubtedly benefit from partnering Torres with 2017 Golden Boot winner Nemanja Nikolic up front.

Sporting Kansas City vs Seattle Sounders | 2018 MLS Preview and Prediction

Major League Soccer: Sporting Kansas City vs Seattle Sounders

Children’s Mercy Park – Sunday, April 15 2018 – 16:00 ET (21:00 BST)

UK TV Coverage: Live on Sky Sports Football

Sporting Kansas City vs Seattle Sounders: Preview

Sporting Kansas City take on winless and goalless Seattle Sounders on Sunday afternoon, with the home side looking to stretch their unbeaten run to six.

The hosts have bounced back from an opening weekend home defeat by going unbeaten through the last five. They seem to have fixed their early defensive problems too, keeping a clean-sheet in back-to-back games coming into Week 7.

Tim Melia made a club-record 10 saves in last week’s 2-0 win at LA Galaxy to keep SKC at the top of the Western Conference. They need to start allowing fewer shots per game but the fact is, they’ll be expecting to pick up three more points against Seattle.

The Sounders’ season couldn’t have gone much worse so far. They’ve only played three games as a result of CONCACAF Champions League commitments but have yet to score a goal, let alone pick up a point. Oh, and they’ve picked up three red cards. Brian Schmetzer’s team have been decimated by injuries but they have enough quality to bounce back from this slump.

Seattle know they can turn their season around. They seem to pick up pace in the summer every year before charging into the playoffs. But they need to start getting some points on the board now to make sure they don’t have a ridiculous mountain to climb.

This will be the 17th regular season clash between the two sides. Seattle hold the advantage, having won eight of the previous 16 games, with SKC picking up five wins. They met twice last season, with the home side coming away victorious both times. It’s been five years since Seattle won away at Sporting KC.

Sporting Kansas City vs Seattle Sounders: Team News

Sporting Kansas City

❌ Suspensions: None.

❓ Doubts: Felipe Gutierrez (undisclosed).

🚑 Out: None.

Seattle Sounders

❌ Suspensions: Kelvin Leerdam & Clint Dempsey.

❓ Doubts: Henry Wingo (left thumb surgery).

🚑 Out: Jordan Morris (torn ACL), Osvaldo Alonso (quad), Victor Rodriguez (right knee sprain), Kim Kee-Hee (right calf strain).

Sporting Kansas City vs Seattle Sounders: Key Stats

Sporting KC’s MLS form: W/W/D/W/W

Seattle Sounders’ MLS form: L/L/L

Key stat: Seattle Sounders have failed to score in each of their last four regular season road games – the longest run in club history.

Sporting Kansas City vs Seattle Sounders: Prediction

Sporting Kansas City 2-0 Seattle Sounders: It’s difficult to see the Sounders’ shocking start to the season picking up in Kansas City this weekend. The hosts are in fine form and are flying high at the top of the West. Seattle aren’t helped by the suspensions either and facing Tim Melia means it’s unlikely they will even find their first goal of the season here. Home win.

MLS Defensive Player of the Week: Week 6 – Tim Melia comes up big in record-setting performance

For every week of the 2018 MLS season, MLSGB will award two Player of the Week accolades to the previous gameweek’s standout performers. We will highlight one star attacking player, as well as the leading defensive performer from the last round of fixtures. The Attacking Player of the Week award can be won by strikers, wingers and advanced midfielders. While the Defensive Player of the Week award can be won by goalkeepers, defenders and defensive midfielders.

There was only going to be one winner of Week 6’s MLSGB Defensive Player of the Week so it will come as no surprise to see Tim Melia as our standout defensive performer of the weekend. The Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper put in a record-setting performance in the 2-0 road win at LA Galaxy. Melia made a staggering ten saves to earn a valuable shutout and help SKC to three more big points.

The 2017 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year made six saves from shots made from outside the box, saving all four of the Galaxy’s efforts from inside the area too. He also completed 35 of his 42 passes.

Sporting Kansas City were the league’s best defence last season by some margin. But there were early concerns this campaign after they conceded nine goals in their first four games. However, Melia has now kept back-to-back clean sheets as the SKC defence begins to look solid once more.

A look at the ten shots Tim Melia saved in the 2-0 win over LA Galaxy (Stats via @StatsZone)

The graphic above shows just how impressive Melia’s goalkeeping was. LA Galaxy peppered his goal with ten attempts for a variety of positions but the 31-year-old stopper would not be beaten.

The one concern for SKC will be the fact they are allowing their opponents so many shots at goal. Melia is currently facing an average of 13 shots per game from opponents, and while not all of those will be on target, he will hope his defenders can start closing down attacks sooner.

Don’t miss: MLS Attacking Player of the Week – Week 6

Sporting KC’s win sees them stretch their lead at the top of the Western Conference to three points. They have made a good start to the season and now prepare for their Week 7 home clash with Seattle Sounders.

LA Galaxy vs Sporting Kansas City | 2018 MLS Preview and Prediction

Major League Soccer: LA Galaxy vs Sporting Kansas City

StubHub Center – Sunday, April 8th 2018 – 21:00 ET (02:00 BST)

LA Galaxy vs Sporting Kansas City: Preview

Sunday evening sees LA Galaxy welcome Sporting Kansas City to StubHub Center. The Galaxy fans will be holding out for back-to-back wins.

Last weekend had it all in the LA Derby. With Galaxy’s new hero, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, coming off the beach with his side 3-1 down, to bag a brace and help turn things around for a 4-3 victory.

While there was plenty of excitement across the globe for that game, the LA Galaxy faithful will be hoping for a calmer performance, with an improved defensive display.

Sporting Kansas City come into this one having won 1-0 at home against DC. The Western Conference leaders will be looking to send out a message to the chasing pack with an away win here.

Peter Vermes saw his side lose in their season opener and they have responded well. Unbeaten in their last four (W3, D1) they look like they mean business.

Sporting KC have had good form against the Galaxy in the last six meetings between the two, winning three and drawing three. There has been plenty of action in those six games, with 15 goals scored – if that’s anything to go by it should be a good one.

LA Galaxy vs Sporting Kansas City: Team News

LA Galaxy

❌ Suspensions: None.

❓ Doubts: Giovani dos Santos (hamstring), Jonathan dos Santos (hamstring) and Michael Ciani (groin).

🚑 Out: Romain Alessandrini (hamstring) and Bradford Jamieson IV (concussion).

Sporting Kansas City

❌ Suspensions: None.

❓ Doubts: Felipe Gutierrez (undisclosed).

🚑 Out: None.

LA Galaxy vs Sporting Kansas City: Key Stats

LA Galaxy’s MLS form: W/L/D/W

Sporting Kansas City’s MLS form: L/W/W/D/W

Key stat: SKC have won just one of their last ten games on the road.

LA Galaxy vs Sporting Kansas City: Prediction

LA Galaxy 2-2 Sporting Kansas City – Score draw. There isn’t much to split the two ahead of this fixture. The Galaxy will be buoyed by their dramatic comeback last week and with players returning from injury, things are looking up. Sporting KC know this is going to be a tough visit – however, given their recent form against LA Galaxy and that they’re top of the pile in the West, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them come away with a share of the spoils.

Chicago Fire vs Sporting Kansas City | 2018 MLS Match Preview and Prediction

Major League Soccer: Chicago Fire vs Sporting Kansas City

Toyota Park – Saturday, March 10th 2018 – 18:00 ET (23:00 GMT)

Chicago Fire vs Sporting Kansas City: Preview

MLS is back for Chicago Fire after their week one bye. They start their 2018 campaign by welcoming Sporting Kansas City to Toyota Park.

After an impressive 2017 regular season, where they finished up third in the Eastern Conference, Chicago Fire fell at the first hurdle in the playoffs.

This season Veljko Paunović will be hoping to take his side into the playoffs again and reach the latter stages of the postseason competition. He has strengthened his squad in the hope of continuing to head his side in the right direction.

Sporting Kansas City didn’t start their 2018 campaign in the fashion they would have wanted to. They lost 2-0 to NYCFC in a surprising home defeat. Now they have to bounce back.

However, Sporting KC struggled on the road in their last eight games of 2017. They failed to pick up a win in any of those ties. The last time they made the trip to Bridgeview (2016) they lost 1-0, so the SKC faithful will be hoping history doesn’t repeat itself.

The pressure will ramp up on Peter Vermes and his side if they fail to take a positive result this weekend. They are at the foot of the Western Conference after week one and could potentially find themselves four points adrift of the playoffs if they lose this game.

Chicago Fire vs Sporting Kansas City: Team News

Chicago Fire

❌ Suspensions: None

❓ Doubts: None

🚑 Out: Djordje Mihailovic (right ACL surgery), Michael de Leeuw (left ACL surgery) and Jonathan Campbell (facial fracture)

(Take a look at all Chicago Fire’s key transfer business this winter by clicking the image above)

Sporting Kansas City

❌ Suspensions: None

❓ Doubts:  Brad Evans (lower back) and Khiry Shelton (leg bruise)

🚑 Out: None

Chicago Fire vs Sporting Kansas City: Key Stats

Chicago Fire’s MLS form: N/A

Sporting Kansas City’s MLS form: L

Key stat: Homesick – Sporting KC have not won any of their last eight MLS outings on the road.

Chicago Fire vs Sporting Kansas City: Prediction

Chicago Fire 1-1 Sporting Kansas City – Given that it is Chicago’s opening game there is going to be a buzz around Toyota Park, so the expectancy for them to deliver will be high. Sporting KC need to pick up a point at the very least here but that is by no means going to be an easy task. A draw looks a likely outcome for this one.

Sporting Kansas City vs New York City FC | 2018 MLS Match Preview and Prediction

Major League Soccer: Sporting Kansas City vs New York City FC

Children’s Mercy Park – Sunday, March 4th 2018 – 19:30 ET (00:30 GMT)

Sporting Kansas City vs New York City FC: Preview

Sunday evening sees two sides tipped for big things this season start their 2018 campaign. Sporting Kansas City wouldn’t have placed New York City FC too high in the list for teams they wanted to face on opening weekend.

Sporting KC had the best MLS defence of 2017, but ultimately didn’t have the firepower in attack to lead them to glory.

In an ever competitive Western Conference, Peter Vermes and his side will have to be at it from the off to ensure they don’t get left behind in the race for top spot. They have made some high quality signings but have also seen some key players depart, so it’s going to be interesting to see how they line up come Sunday.

New York City FC need this to be a big season. It’s their fourth MLS campaign and last season was the first time they really started to look a classy outfit on a consistent basis.

Patrick Vieira has done a good job as NYCFC head coach so far, helped in part by his big names performing – but now they need to step up and make it their business to top the Eastern Conference.

Key faces like Andrea Pirlo and Jack Harrison have departed through retirement and transfers respectively but with some youthful attacking additions, along with talisman and consistent performer David Villa, they should be a force to be reckoned with.

Sporting Kansas City vs New York City FC: Team News

Sporting Kansas City

❌ Suspensions: None

❓ Doubts: None

🚑 Out: None

(Take a look at all Sporting Kansas City’s key transfer business this winter by clicking the image above)

New York City FC

❌ Suspensions: None

❓ Doubts: None

🚑 Out: Jo Inge Berget (right quad strain)

(Take a look at all New York City’s key transfer business this winter by clicking the image above)

Sporting Kansas City vs New York City FC: Key Stats

Sporting Kansas City’s MLS form: N/A

New York City FC’s MLS form: N/A

Key stat: Fortress – SKC are unbeaten in 16 of their last 17 home games.

Sporting Kansas City vs New York City FC: Prediction

Sporting Kansas City 1-1 New York City FC: This is a difficult one to call. Given SKC’s defensive solidarity and NYCFC’s attacking prowess it may be a case of the two powers meeting their match. Neither side will be happy starting their campaign without a win, but given the magnitude of this fixture, avoiding defeat in week one would be a welcomed outcome. Definitely a game to watch.