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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In Pictures: NYCFC stroll past Philadelphia Union in Eastern Conference Knockout Round

Maxi Moralez scored and picked up two assists as New York City FC strolled past Philadelphia Union 3-1 in Wednesday’s Eastern Conference Knockout Round. The result sees NYCFC through to the Conference Semifinals for the third-straight year. But it means Philadelphia are left searching for their first ever playoff win. A search they’ll have to wait another year to continue.

The game saw a repeat scoreline from Sunday’s Regular Season clash, which was also at Yankee Stadium. Ismael Tajouri-Shradi and David Villa added NYCFC’s other goals on the night. While Corey Burke scored a late goal for the Union, which was little more than a consolation after a tough night for the East’s sixth-seed.

NYCFC will now face Atlanta United over two legs in the Eastern Conference Semifinal, with the first leg on Sunday at Yankee Stadium.

Check out exclusive photos from Wednesday’s Playoff game, courtesy of MLSGB photographer Ashley Marshall.

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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.

Sounders build form at the right time with playoff spot now in reach

It took two stoppage time goals in Minnesota for Seattle Sounders FC to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 win against Minnesota United, extending the Sounders’ unbeaten streak to seven on top of four straight wins. Seattle now sits on 29 points through 22 games and are eighth in the West, just four points behind Real Salt Lake.

The turn of form has resulted in 17 points for Sounders over their seven-game unbeaten run, more than doubling their point total of 12 through 15 games to start the season while climbing out of the cellar in the West.

Having never missed the playoffs since joining MLS in 2009, Sounders players have acknowledged the pressure on them to clinch their 10th-straight playoff berth and tie the LA Galaxy for the league record.

Looking at the past three seasons since MLS expanded the playoffs to six teams, the sixth seed in either conference has finished the season with an average around 46 points. With that in mind, Seattle will need to take at least 17 points through their last 12 games to be in contention for the final playoff position.

Luckily for Seattle, seven of the last 12 are at home and seven are against teams currently outside of the playoff picture.

Here’s the Sounders’ schedule for the rest of the regular season:

  • August 12th, Home vs. FC Dallas
  • August 18th, Home vs. LA Galaxy
  • August 26th, Away vs. Portland
  • September 1st, Home vs. Kansas City
  • September 15th, Away vs. Vancouver
  • September 19th, Home vs. Philadelphia
  • September 23rd, Away vs. LA Galaxy
  • September 29th, Home vs. Colorado
  • October 8th, Home vs. Houston
  • October 17th, Away vs. Orlando
  • October 21st, Away vs. Houston
  • October 28th, Home vs. San Jose

Of those 12 matches, at least four should be wins for Sounders: San Jose, Home vs. Houston, Philadelphia, and Colorado. Away matches against Vancouver and Orlando are great chances for Sounders to take three points and although they have struggled to get results in Houston, recent form from the Dynamo makes that matchup seem favourable for Seattle.

If Seattle manages to win all seven of those games, they’d sit on 50 points which based off of recent history should be enough to make at least sixth in the West. That could be a tough ask though with short turnaround from Orlando to Houston making the two game road trip a bit more difficult to take maximum points.

The five remaining games, Dallas, LA home and away, Portland, and Kansas City, will be the biggest decider for Seattle. Dallas having lost at home against a struggling San Jose Earthquakes side looks to be a great chance for Sounders to get three points at home to help their playoff chances, especially with Seattle on their current unbeaten streak.

After taking over the team in 2016, Brian Schmetzer lead Sounders to a 8-2-3 record to end the season en route to winning MLS Cup. This time around Sounders need to end the year at 7-2-3 to safely make the playoffs which seems like an achievable goal based off their opponents but will still be a difficult task to achieve.

If Sounders can maintain their form, expect to see them playing in their tenth straight playoffs but should they slip, it would be a very disappointing season for a club with such consistently high aspirations.

Alphonso Davies to Bayern Munich ‘a done deal’ in record MLS transfer

The record-breaking transfer that will take Alphonso Davies to Bayern Munich is “a done deal” according to multiple sources. The deal for the 17-year-old Vancouver Whitecaps star will be the most expensive in MLS history.

Bayern will pay £11.5m for the Canadian winger, which could rise to £18m according to TSN’s Kristian Jack, but he adds that Davies will remain a Whitecaps player until the end of the 2018 MLS season. That would see Davies join up with his new teammates in Germany on January 1st 2019.

The transfer will make Davies Major League Soccer’s most expensive export. Jozy Altidore’s £6m move to Villarreal in 2008 has stood as the record transfer for ten years. The deal taking Alphonso Davies to Bayern is also worth more than the record sum of £11m Atlanta United paid for Ezequiel Barco ahead of this season.

Davies has taken MLS by storm since making his debut in July 2016, when he became the second-youngest player to play in the league at the age of 15, only behind Freddy Adu. He has gone on to make 54 MLS appearances for the Whitecaps, scoring three and assisting nine.

All three of those goals and eight of the nine assists have come this season, with the pacey winger looking sharper than ever. It’s no surprise Europe’s top clubs have been tracking his progress given how quickly he has developed in such a short space of time.

Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool were reportedly interested in signing him last season but didn’t make a formal offer due to work permit concerns. But Bayern have now swooped as they look to make an investment in the North American market. Reports also suggest they are hoping to add USMNT star Christian Pulisic from Bundesliga rivals Borussia Dortmund.

Davies, who turns 18 in November, is expected to return to Vancouver Whitecaps training after the deal is completed. He missed the weekend loss to Cascadia rivals Seattle Sounders, following permission from head coach Carl Robinson. He is averaging a goal or assist every 137 minutes this season so Vancouver will need his services while they still have them for the remainder of the season.

The Canadian winger was also named to the 2018 MLS All-Star team to face Juventus on August 1st, so he will still be expected to be available for the game.

Former Liverpool CEO Ian Ayre announced as Nashville MLS Chief Executive in standout move

Nashville MLS have made a huge statement of intent ahead of their league debut in 2020 by announcing former Liverpool FC Chief Executive Ian Ayre as their first CEO. The Englishman was named Premier League Chief Executive of the Year in 2017 and will relocate to Nashville with his family this summer.

Ayre will instantly begin work on building and leading the Nashville MLS club ahead of their league debut, which is expected to arrive in the 2020 season. The 55-year-old spent 10 successful years with Liverpool and was responsible for restructuring the club at all levels. The fact they are now preparing for a UEFA Champions League final with Real Madrid speaks volumes of the foundations Ayre laid.

He left his post with Liverpool at the end of the 2016/17 Premier League season and then served briefly as managing director of 1860 Munich. However, he left his role with the German side after just a few weeks because of what he deemed “warring factions” within the ownership group. He should have no such problem with Nashville as they have further outlined their bold ambitions of making an immediate impact in Major League Soccer with the acquisition of Ian Ayre.

“We are committed to bringing world-class soccer to Nashville, as evidenced by the appointment of Ian as our CEO,” John Ingram, lead owner of Nashville MLS said. “Ian understands our vision for Nashville MLS and has the skill and experience to bring the best in soccer to our city. His passion for the sport and the business of the game, along with his progressive approach and commitment to community, will help us create Nashville’s MLS club while elevating soccer in Music City and MLS. I’m delighted to welcome him to Nashville and our club!”

As well as overseeing the successful $160 million stadium expansion of Anfield during his time with Liverpool, Ayre was directly responsible for all player transfers, including contract negotiations. He helped acquire the likes of Phillipe Coutinho, Fernando Torres, Luis Suarez, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Manè during his time with the Reds. While also working with top-class coaches such as Rafa Benitez, Brendan Rodgers and Jurgen Klopp.

“The opportunity to put Nashville on the national and international soccer map is a truly outstanding challenge, and I literally cannot wait to get started,” Ian Ayre said. “Becoming chief executive officer of the Nashville MLS club is a unique opportunity in the global soccer community. To take what is essentially a blank sheet of paper and build an entire club is an amazing challenge, and one I am hugely excited about.”

Nashville was awarded Major League Soccer’s 24th club in December 2017, and enthusiasm for soccer continues to grow in Music City. CONCACAF recently announced Nashville as a host city of the 2019 Gold Cup. Nashville Soccer Club, the city’s USL club, launched in spring 2018.

The five best Mexicans in MLS to watch in 2018

With the 2018 MLS season underway there is plenty of exciting action each week to keep you entertained. The league is continuing to grow at an alarming rate. More top-rated players are joining each season, highlighting an increasing desire to be involved in Major League Soccer. We’ve picked out the five best Mexicans in MLS to watch this season and what they bring to their side.

Carlos Vela – LAFC

The new boys for 2018, LAFC, picked up an impressive win in their first ever MLS outing away at Seattle. At the heart of that performance was Carlos Vela. Many Premier League fans will know of Vela from his time at Arsenal and brief spell at West Brom.

Although his time in England didn’t quite meet high expectations, the 29-year-old forward is a full international and has come to MLS off the back of the most consistent spell of his career. He is going to be one to watch this season.

Giovani Dos Santos – LA Galaxy

Arguably one of the most naturally gifted players in MLS. Giovani Dos Santos is in his fourth season with LA Galaxy, having scored 23 goals in 64 games. He has played for the likes of FC Barcelona, Tottenham Hotspur and Villarreal – so has plenty of experience to his name.

At 28 he has a lot to offer LA Galaxy, including the ability to change a game at any moment. Dos Santos plays in a number of attacking roles and will be hoping to spearhead his side to better fortunes this season after a disappointing 2017.

Jonathan Dos Santos – LA Galaxy

Younger brother of Gio, Jonathan Dos Santos is also at LA Galaxy. He has made 29 appearances for the national team so far but fans haven’t yet seen his full potential in MLS as this will be his first full season.

The 27-year-old midfielder plays in a deeper role than his brother, but similarly can fit into a number of different roles.

Victor Ulloa – FC Dallas

The most experienced of the Mexicans in MLS in terms of appearances. Victor Ulloa has played 117 games since joining FC Dallas in 2011. A Homegrown player who has made a name for himself anchoring the Dallas midfield.

Although Ulloa isn’t always a guaranteed name on the team sheet, he is reliable and ready when called upon. At 26 he is yet to be called up for the Mexican side, but that is no reflection on his qualities.

Efrain Juarez – Vancouver Whitecaps

Signed from Monterrey using Targeted Allocation Money in January 2018, Efrain Juarez is a versatile option. He has played as a right back over the last few seasons, but is likely to be used as a central midfielder at Vancouver Whitecaps.

Juarez made his debut in the middle of the park in week one. Fans will hope his experience can help the Whitecaps go one step further this season to top the Western Conference.

Are these the five best Mexicans in MLS – who else should have made the cut?

English striker poised to join the MLS 100 Club in 2018

Major League Soccer is back. Week One is in the books and there have been plenty of talking points, with 26 goals scored and five red cards in ten games. But one familiar face was missing from the action as Bradley Wright-Phillips and his New York Red Bulls team’s first game of the season isn’t until this coming weekend.

New York Red Bulls vs Portland Timbers – Saturday March 10 – 19:00 ET (00:00 BST)

As RBNY prepare to get their 2018 MLS campaign underway the pressure will be ramping up on goal-machine BWP. A lot is going to be expected from him this season due to some key creative players departing the club this winter, such as Mike Grella and Sacha Kljestan. Wright-Phillips will be looking forward to getting going and will be hoping to get off the mark straight away.

The Englishman won’t be looking into personal records too much, but he will be aware that he is closing in on 100 MLS goals, which will no doubt give him an added hunger to hit the ground running.

So how has BWP performed since joining RBNY in 2013?

The stats make for promising reading for both BWP breaking the record and for RBNY to have another positive season. Since joining in 2013 they have made the postseason every year. In a total of 154 games he has found the net 95 times for Red Bulls, with 86 of them coming in regular season play.

His goalscoring form over the last four seasons has been consistent. In 2013 he only featured in seven regular season games, hence the apparent low-scoring campaign. His 2014 tally of 27 saw him join the record books for the joint most goals in a single regular season, becoming the only non-US player to achieve that feat.

With the above stats in mind, ‘BWP’ needs just 14 regular season goals – or five goals if you count postseason stats – to notch his 100th, which based on his stats in each of his full seasons, he looks poised to achieve. Over the past four regular season campaigns he has averaged 21.25 goals per season.

So long as Wright-Phillips keeps to his consistent performances he will join the MLS 100 Club in 2018. But his main aim will be to continue to fight for an MLS Cup, something he is yet to achieve as he prepares to get underway for his sixth MLS season.

Will BWP net his 100th MLS goal this season and help RBNY to reach the playoffs again?

Will there be a new all-time MLS leading goal scorer in the 2018 campaign?

The excitement is ramping up as the 2018 Major League Soccer season is just five days away. Clubs have been busy and it looks set to be one of the most competitive seasons ever given the influx of quality players into the league. However, one of the veterans could become the new all-time MLS leading goal scorer if stats are anything to go by.

That man is Chris Wondolowski. The San Jose Earthquakes forward is on an impressive 134 goals in 293 MLS games. The current record holder, Landon Donovan, sits top of the pile on 145, meaning Wondo needs just 12 goals to break the record.

Wondo’s form over the last five seasons suggests he is on course to net the 11 goals needed to equal the record. Age hasn’t yet been an issue for him either, despite celebrating his 35 birthday in the offseason, his form has been extremely consistent since turning 30 in 2013.

MLS leading goal scorer: Can Wondo break the record?

He has averaged 13.2 goals across his last five seasons. Wondo has not scored less than 11 goals in a season since 2009. He didn’t become a regular scorer until the 2010 season so the stats make for positive reading.

While Wondolowski won’t be playing for just personal accolades, he will surely have an eye on the record and will hope he can hit the ground running when MLS kicks off in less than a week.

Will Wondo break the all-time MLS leading goal scorer record this season?

Toronto gets revenge over Sounders to complete historic treble – Exclusive photos from the 2017 MLS Cup Final

For the first time in MLS history, a Canadian side has won the MLS Cup. Toronto FC claimed the 2017 MLS Cup Final with a 2-0 win over Seattle Sounders on Saturday night, completing a historic treble after an almost faultless year. They have been the best team by a margin this year and have now been rewarded with their first MLS Cup title.

They dominated the game from start to finish but could not get past Stefan Frei, as the game started to feel like a repeat of the 2016 Final in which Seattle stunned the hosts on penalties.

But after 66 minutes, Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore took the game by the scruff of the neck and broke Seattle’s resolve. Giovinco’s pass put Altidore through and the powerful striker coolly finished past the once again excellent Frei.

The goal woke the Sounders up but not enough as Toronto withstood the late pressure and then sealed the win with a stoppage time tap-in from Victor Vazquez. That goal sent BMO Field into raptures as they knew a decade’s worth of pain was over. They’d got revenge. They’d won the title. And they have probably earned the tag as the ‘greatest MLS side of all time’.

Check out exclusive photos from the 2017 MLS Cup Final below, courtesy of Jil Hendershot.

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