In Pictures: Portland Timbers come back to take first-leg advantage from Seattle Sounders

Portland Timbers came back to beat Cascadia Rivals Seattle Sounders 2-1 in the first leg of their Western Conference Semifinal playoff clash at Providence Park. It means the first playoff series between the two rivals in five years is finely poised ahead of the second-leg meeting at CenturyLink Field.

The Sounders took an early lead as Raul Ruidiaz converted Cristian Roldan’s cut back inside the first 10 minutes, netting what could still prove to be a crucial away goal. But Portland battled back.

The hosts leveled the tie as Jeremy Ebobisse ran on to Diego Valeri’s perfect pass on 17 minutes and they took the lead just 12 minutes later. Sebastian Blanco turned what looked like a half-chance into a fine goal, sending Portland fans crazy.

Neither team was able to breakthrough again, despite the frantic start to the game and the two rivals now head into the second leg with the score at 2-1. You can guarantee there will be drama in Seattle on Thursday night.

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

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Morris injured as Seattle struggles in 2-1 loss to Santa Tecla

Seattle Sounders FC’s trip to El Salvador to face Santa Tecla in the CONCACAF Champions League started well after Nicolas Lodeiro chipped the keeper from about 40 yards out to take an early lead after 15 minutes.But things fell apart in the second half, with Seattle falling 2-1 to the home side. While unfortunate to concede a questionable penalty kick that would give Santa Tecla the lead, Seattle was the inferior side for the second half of the match and was fortunate to get an away goal and only concede two.

For much of the match Seattle looked a step slower than Santa Tecla, and while part of that can be attributed to this being the first competitive match for the Sounders where as Santa Tecla is in the middle of their season, Santa Tecla seemed to want the win more. Tecla were winning 50-50 balls and pressuring the ball when Sounders had possession while Seattle was giving the Salvadorian side space to pass and move, bypassing the midfield with ease.

Tony Alfaro had a particularly difficult night for Seattle as he was caught out of position multiple times throughout the match. The centre-back found himself too far up the field on numerous occasions as he tried to win back possession, only to be unable to get to the ball in time to stop Santa Tecla. This created problems for Seattle’s back four, especially Waylon Francis on the left wing as he struggled to find opportunities to join the attack due to having to cover the space left open by Alfaro.

Offensively Seattle were reliant on counter-attacks and the speed of Jordan Morris to create chances. Morris was able to stretch the defence at times but rarely had a teammate to support him as late in the match conditioning became an issue. Morris would eventually have to come off after going down with an apparent knee injury. Morris was unable to put weight on his leg as he was half carried off the field by Sounders training staff and his health is easily the most concerning takeaway from the match.

Ultimately this match was always going to be a test of the Sounders depth as they were without Clint Dempsey, Osvaldo Alonso, Kelvin Leerdam, Roman Torres, and Victor Rodriguez who all stayed home in Seattle. Brian Schmetzer fielded a lineup based on those closest to being 90 minutes fit and with the injury to Morris and limited depth at forward, it’s likely that their depth will be tested again next week in the second leg on March 1st. Their regular season opener will take place just days later against expansion side LAFC on March 4th.

While they were not the better side for much of the match, they were able to limit Santa Tecla’s scoring opportunities. Were it not for an unfortunate penalty call Seattle’s young, mismatched roster would have been able to return home with an all important away goal and a tied series. While it was not a performance Seattle will hang their hat on by any stretch of the imagination, it’s a result that the Sounders can be content with knowing they will be playing the second leg at home where they have outscored opponents 15 to zero in their last five matches.

MLS Playoffs Preview and Prediction: Houston Dynamo vs Seattle Sounders

2017 MLS Cup Playoffs – Western Conference Final (1st Leg): Houston Dynamo vs Seattle Sounders

BBVA Compass Stadium – Tuesday, November 21 – 21:30 ET (02:30 GMT)

Match Odds: Houston 11/8 – Draw 2/1 – Seattle 2/1

Houston Dynamo vs Seattle Sounders: Preview

The defending MLS Cup champions are two games away from a return to the league’s showpiece event. Standing in the Seattle Sounders‘ way are the Houston Dynamo, who have surprised most people with their impressive run to the Western Conference Final.

The two sides will do battle over two legs, starting in Houston on Tuesday night before the second-leg in Seattle the following Thursday. The winner of the series will advance to the 2017 MLS Cup Final.

Houston have already seen off one Cascadia side as they beat Portland 2-1 on aggregate in the Western Conference Semifinals two weeks ago. Goals from Dylan Remick and Mauro Manotas were too much for the 2015 champions. And now Wilmer Cabrera’s men will be looking to get past the 2016 champs.

Houston have grown in confidence in recent months. They are unbeaten in two months and surged into the postseason after winning three of their last four games – all of which were at BBVA Compass Stadium.

Home advantage is vital for the Dynamo on Tuesday. They will be desperate to win the game, but will not want to allow the Sounders an away goal. They must get their approach right to ensure they stay in the contest ahead of the second-leg.

The Sounders have two key advantages. Firstly, they can play the second-leg at home. Secondly, they’ve got very recent experience at this stage of the season, having gone all the way 12 months ago.

Brian Schmetzer’s men got past Cascadia rivals Vancouver in the conference semi’s, winning 2-0 on aggregate. They drew the first leg 0-0 and may well be looking to earn a similar result on the road here. They’ve not won away in five and haven’t scored a goal in the latest four of them.

Oh, and the Sounders have yet to win a game in Houston in club history. They would love to change that record but will be more focused on the series, as opposed to just the 90 minutes at BBVA Compass Stadium on Tuesday.

This will be just the second ever playoff series matchup between the two sides. They met in the Western Conference semifinals in 2009, at the end of the Sounders’ inaugural MLS campaign. A 0-0 draw at CenturyLink Field was followed by a 1-0 extra-time win for the Dynamo at home in the second leg.

Houston Dynamo vs Seattle Sounders: Team News

Houston will be without suspended first-choice goalkeeper Tyler Deric so Joe Willis will continue between the sticks. George Malki, AJ DeLaGarza and Memo Rodriguez are all sidelined through injury. There are also concerns over the fitness of Honduran trio Alberth Elis, Romell Quioto and Boniek Garcia. All three travelled to Australia for the second leg of their unsuccessful World Cup playoff and might be fatigued as a result.

Seattle Sounders should welcome back Osvaldo Alonso to midfield for Tuesday’s crucial game. While Jordan Morris could also return after two months out with a hamstring strain. Victor Rodriguez and Chad Marshall are listed as questionable, along with Morris and Alonso but Seattle will be hopeful of getting all four players back on the field. Brad Evans is definitely out.

Houston Dynamo vs Seattle Sounders: Key Points

Houston Dynamo’s last five: D/W/W/D/W

Seattle Sounders’ last five: L/W/W/D/W

Key Stat: It’s been 467 minutes (7 hours and 47 minutes) since the Seattle Sounders last conceded a playoff goal. That came in the first-leg of last season’s Western Conference Final matchup with the Colorado Rapids, which Seattle won 2-1.

Key Player: Stefan Frei – The Sounders keep enjoys playing in big occasions like this. He was the hero in last season’s final and has yet to concede in the playoffs this season. If he can keep that record going beyond the 90 minutes in Houston on Tuesday, the Sounders will feel they have one foot in the final.

Houston Dynamo vs Seattle Sounders: Prediction

Houston Dynamo 0-0 Seattle Sounders – It’s always difficult to predict how a first-leg in a series as important as this will go, but it looks certain to be cagey. Both sides drew 0-0 in the first-legs of their Western Conference Semifinal clashes and may well adopt the same gameplan here. Houston might feel they have to attack the Sounders but that would also leave them exposed on the counter. Expect a nervy contest but one that should set up an intriguing second leg next week.

MLS Playoffs Preview and Prediction: Seattle Sounders vs Colorado Rapids

Competition: MLS Playoffs (Western Conference Final – First Leg) Seattle Sounders vs. Colorado Rapids

Venue: CenturyLink Field – Tuesday, November 22 – 22:00 ET (03:00 GMT) 

Match Odds: Seattle 4/5 – Draw 23/10 – Colorado 7/2

Match Preview

Seattle Sounders take on Colorado Rapids in the first leg of the 2016 Western Conference Final, with both sides now two games away from a place in this year’s MLS Cup Final.

The Sounders have been in incredible form since August and look in a strong position to go all the way after winning seven of their last eight games at CenturyLink Field.

As the home side, the pressure is on Seattle to breakdown a strong Colorado defence. They might be missing Tim Howard, but the Sounders know they need to be at their absolute best if they are to take a strong lead into the second leg.

Seattle Sounders vs FC Dallas - Sounders Celebrate

A 2-1 loss at Dallas last time out was disappointing, but Seattle advanced easily because of their 3-0 win in the home leg a week before. A similar plan will be in place for this clash.

Colorado edged past LA Galaxy on penalties last time out but they have only scored two goals in their last four and are struggling for form at a pivotal stage of the season.

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They head to Seattle as underdogs and will be looking to remain tight at the back and try and hit the hosts on the counter. Avoiding a heavy loss will be crucial if they are to reach the MLS Cup Final in a month’s time.

These two sides met twice during the regular season with Colorado winning both games. They are looking for a fourth-straight win against the Sounders here. They have only met in the playoffs once before, with the Sounders eliminating the Rapids 2-0 in 2013.

Team News

Clint Dempsey remains out for the Sounders, who have a number of players that are in danger of missing the game. Jordan Morris, Andreas Ivanschitz, Alvaro Fernandez and Roman Torres are listed as questionable, while Dylan Remick is likely to miss out again with concussion.

Colorado have been rocked by the loss of Tim Howard, who has been ruled out for four months with a groin injury. Dillon Serna is also out, while Shkelzen Gashi is a doubt with an ankle problem.

Key Points

Seattle Sounders’ last five: L/W/W/W/L

Colorado Rapid’s last five: W/L/D/L/W

Key Stat: Seattle have won their last five home playoff games, while Colorado have lost each of their last five road games in the playoffs, dating back ten years.

Key Player: Nicolas Lodeiro – The Sounders playmaker is one of the league’s most creative players and he’s proven his worth time and time again. If Seattle are going to win the first leg, they need Lodeiro at his best to carve open a resolute Colorado defence.

Seattle Sounders vs FC Dallas - Nicolas Lodeiro

Score Prediction

Seattle Sounders 1-0 Colorado Rapids – The Sounders have had an incredible ride into the playoffs and their strong form should continue with another win here. They have kept back-to-back home clean sheets in the playoffs this season and look poised to keep another here, with the bigger challenge coming at the other end of the field. The Rapids are the best defensive team in the league and so Seattle will need to create something special to break them down. They should get at least one goal and take a narrow lead into the second leg.

MLS Playoffs Preview and Prediction: Montreal Impact vs Toronto FC

Competition: MLS Playoffs (Eastern Conference Final – First Leg) Montreal Impact vs. Toronto FC

Venue: Olympic Stadium – Tuesday, November 22nd – 20:00 ET (01:00 GMT)

Match Odds: Montreal Impact 11/8 – Draw 9/4 – Toronto FC 15/8

Match Preview

Montreal Impact welcome Toronto FC to Olympic Stadium on Tuesday evening in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Final, with a Canadian side guaranteed to make the MLS Cup Final for the first time ever.

This is a huge game for both of these rivals. Montreal have to make the most of home advantage and ensure they go into the second leg in a strong position, which will be easier said than done.

The Impact overcame the Red Bulls 3-1 on aggregate in the Conference Semifinal, a result that will have filled Mauro Biello’s squad with confidence.

This is the first time Montreal have reached the Eastern Conference Championship game so there is the added incentive to make even more history and reach the MLS Cup Final now.

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Toronto FC are also creating history. Before this year they had never won a playoff game. Greg Vanney’s side advanced to the Eastern Conference Championship they after completely destroyed NYCFC 7-0 on aggregate, a result that will never be forgotten.

While the squad will still be flying high off the back of that result, their attention must turn to making sure they go into the second leg after a positive performance away at Montreal on Tuesday.

Toronto fans will be praying their side avenges their elimination from the 2015 playoffs last season by Montreal and they are favourites to advance over the two legs.

If recent history is anything to go by for Toronto they stand a good chance of a favourable result here, as they are unbeaten in their last three visits to Stade Saputo in all competitions, drawing twice and winning one.

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Team News

Andres Romero remains out for Montreal Impact, while both Didier Drogba and Matteo Mancosu are both doubts to start. Drogba, though, is back in the picture after a month out.

Vanney has the pleasure of picking his side from a near fully fit squad as Steven Beitashour is his only injury concern ahead of the first leg.

Key Points

Montreal Impact’s form: D/L/W/W/W

Toronto FC’s form: D/W/W/W/W

Key Stat: Toronto FC have scored at least two goals in their last five MLS away games.

Key Player: Ignacio Piatti – The Montreal playmaker will be expected to provide and help his side take a lead into the second leg. This is going to be an extremely tough tie to win over both legs for Montreal, so they have to be in a strong position come the end of the first 90 minutes and Piatti will look to provide some magic once again.

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Score Prediction

Montreal Impact 1-1 Toronto FC – This is going to be a tight affair, neither side is going to want to give the other an advantage heading into the second leg, but a draw is a more favourable result for Toronto than Montreal, who will be desperate to win this one.

MLS Playoff Preview and Prediction: Montreal Impact vs New York Red Bulls

Competition: MLS Playoffs (Eastern Conference Semifinal – First Leg) Montreal Impact vs. New York Red Bulls

Venue: Stade Saputo – Sunday, October 30th – 15:00 ET (19:00 GMT)

Match Odds: Montreal Impact 6/4 – Draw 11/5 – Red Bulls 17/10

Match Preview

Montreal Impact welcome New York Red Bulls to Stade Saputo for the first leg of their Eastern Conference Semifinal clash in the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs.

This is a huge tie for Montreal, who desperately need to put an end to the Red Bulls’ incredible run of form to give them any chance of reaching the Eastern Conference final.

Mauro Biello will be feeling ecstatic at how his Montreal side demolished DC 4-2 in the Knockout Round on Thursday evening, but he will be slightly frustrated at the way they conceded two very late goals.

The only meeting between these two in Montreal during the regular season ended with a 3-0 win for the Impact. They would definitely take a repeat of that scoreline, but this is going to be a very cagey contest, with both sides looking to ensure there’s still all to play for in the return leg in a week’s time.

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Eastern Conference winners, New York Red Bulls eased past Philadelphia on the final day of the regular season to earn a bye through the Knockout Round. They have had extra time to prepare for this game and should be firing on all cylinders.

Jesse Marsch will have his side pumped and ready to take on Montreal and will be urging them to remember form means nothing when it comes to games as important as this.

The Red Bulls have beaten Impact in their last two meetings, although both of those games were at Red Bull Arena, so they will be expecting a hostile atmosphere here.

If New York keep a clean sheet in this tie you have to fancy them to progress in the second-leg. Montreal know they have to take a lead to Red Bull Arena, so the visitors may well have a slightly more cautious approach this weekend, although an away goal would certainly be a boost.

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Montreal were eliminated from the playoffs last season at this very stage, despite winning their home tie in the first-leg, so they can take nothing for granted against a very strong opponent on Sunday evening.

Team News

Andres Romero remains Montreal Impact’s only injury concern. It remains to be seen whether Didier Drogba will return to the side following his soap opera saga in the last few weeks. He sat out of Thursday’s win over DC, with Matteo Mancosu shining up front in the Ivorian’s absence.

New York Red Bulls are expecting to be without four for this tie as Gideon Baah, Connor Lade, Justin Bilyeu and Daniel Royer are all out. Golden Boot winner Bradley Wright-Phillips will be looking to continue his fine form here.

Key Points

Montreal Impact’s form: W/W/D/L/W

New York Red Bulls’ form: D/W/W/W/W

Key Stat: The Red Bulls are unbeaten in their last 16 MLS outings.

Key Player: Ignacio Piatti – The obvious choice. Montreal Impact need their midfield maestro to be on top form to take a lead into the second leg. He can change a game in a flash and will need to be at his creative best once again here.

MLS: New York City FC vs. Montreal Impact Ignacio Piatti

Score Prediction

Montreal Impact 1-1 New York Red Bulls – This has the makings of a tight game, as most first legs do. Montreal are going to find the confident Red Bulls difficult to deal with and a draw would be an unsurprising result, but would certainly suit the visitors better.

MLS Playoffs Preview and Prediction: Portland Timbers vs FC Dallas

Competition: MLS Cup Playoffs (Western Conference Final First Leg) – Portland Timbers vs. FC Dallas

Venue: Providence Park – Sunday, November 22 – 19:30 ET (00:30 GMT)

Match Odds: Portland 23/20 – Draw 23/10 – Dallas 12/5

Match Preview

Portland Timbers host FC Dallas in the first leg of their Western Conference Final clash on Sunday night as the MLS Cup Playoffs return in style after the international break.

Portland know that hosting the first leg means the pressure is on them to get a good result. Keeping a clean sheet will be a priority to prevent Dallas from getting a potentially vital away goal and Caleb Porter’s side will be confident having not conceded in their last two.

The Timbers followed up their knockout round penalty win over Sporting Kansas City by beating Vancouver 2-0 on aggregate in the Western Conference semifinals. They have worked hard to get this far and now have the MLS Cup in sight.

Portland Timbers’ 2015 MLS record: P37 – W16 – D10 – L11

Vancouver Whitecaps vs Portland TImbers

FC Dallas travel to Portland in fine spirits themselves after advancing past the Seattle Sounders in an incredibly dramatic conference semifinal second leg two weeks ago that went all the way to penalties.

They were unlucky not to win the Supporters’ Shield but the Western Conference winners will now be eyeing up the MLS Cup Final in two week’s time.

This should be an entertaining clash between two of Major League Soccer’s most solid sides. They tied for goals conceded in the regular season (39) with the third-best defensive records in MLS.

FC Dallas’ 2015 MLS record: P36 – W19 – D6 – L11

Seattle Sounders vs FC Dallas Celebrate

Dallas have only won one of their last five away games, though, and travel West as underdogs here.

They have never won at Providence Park and face a tough task in getting a positive result on Sunday evening.

Team News

Portland will still be without Ben Zemanski as his long-term ACL injury continues to rule him out of action. Diego Chara is once again a doubt but should be able to start the game. Fanendo Adi is expected to start as the lone striker with Darlington Nagbe in behind.

FC Dallas manager Oscar Pareja has three injury doubts coming into the game as Andres Escobar, Rolando Escobar and Kellyn Acosta are all unlikely to start.

Key Points

Portland Timbers’ last five: W/W/D/D/W

FC Dallas’ last five: W/W/W/L/W

Key Stat: FC Dallas have never won away to the Portland Timbers in six previous attempts (D2 L4).

Key Player: Darlington Nagbe – The Timbers playmaker has thrived since being shifted into the centre of the field and will be tasked with trying to unlock the Dallas defence on Sunday night.

Photo: Denise McCooey

Photo: Denise McCooey

Score Prediction

Portland Timbers 1-0 FC Dallas – This should be a tense and low-scoring first leg between two sides that will set up to avoid defeat. Home comforts mean Portland will be urged forward and they should score at least once to take the advantage into next Sunday’s second leg in Dallas.

GALLERY: Exclusive photos from Seattle’s first leg playoff win over FC Dallas

Seattle Sounders managed to rally from a goal down to win the first leg of their MLS Cup Playoffs Western Conference Semifinal with FC Dallas last night.

Fine goals from Andreas Ivanschitz and Clint Dempsey turned the tie on its head after Fabian Castillo gave Dallas an early lead with an important away goal.

The second leg will be played at Toyota Stadium next Sunday night with the winner advancing to the Western Conference final against either Portland or Vancouver.

Check out exclusive photos from the game at CenturyLink Field below, courtesy of Denise McCooey.

Seattle Sounders vs FC Dallas Seattle Sounders vs FC Dallas  Marco Pappa Seattle Sounders vs FC Dallas Celebrate Seattle Sounders vs FC Dallas Obafemi Martins Seattle Sounders vs FC Dallas Seattle Sounders vs FC Dallas Fabian Castillo Seattle Sounders vs FC Dallas Fans

Dempsey magic inspires Seattle to first leg comeback win over Dallas

The Seattle Sounders met FC Dallas in the final MLS Cup Playoffs Conference Semifinal of Sunday’s four-game card at CenturyLink Field, with the Western Conference rivals putting on a show.

Seattle eventually sealed the all-important first-leg win 2-1 thanks to a stunning late Clint Dempsey free-kick to give the Sounders the advantage in the tie heading into next week’s second leg in Dallas.

But things didn’t start so well for the home side as Fabian Castillo fired FC Dallas in front after just 18 minutes. He latched on to a fine Mauro Diaz pass to finish, moments after Dempsey wanted a penalty at the other end.

Seattle pressed for an equaliser but couldn’t seem to beat Jesse Gonzalez in the Dallas goal. But Andreas Ivanschitz had other ideas as he fired life back into the Sounders on 67 minutes.

The Austrian midfielder beat three Dallas players before firing a sublime left-footed shot into the bottom right corner, sending the roof off of CenturyLink Field.

The atmosphere then ramped up and Seattle managed to complete their comeback when Dempsey fired a stunning free-kick into the top corner just four minutes from time.

Dallas will feel hard done by but they have what could prove to be a vital away goal and will now need to win the game at Toyota Stadium next Sunday night.

The two sides will meet in the second leg at 19:30 ET (00:30 GMT) next Sunday evening with a place in the conference final against either Portland or Vancouver up for grabs.

What did you make of the game in Seattle? Did the Sounders deserve the win?

Montreal comeback to beat Columbus in first leg of key Eastern playoff

Montreal Impact came from behind to beat the Columbus Crew 2-1 in the first leg of their Eastern Conference semifinal on Sunday night.

It was an open, attacking game between two sides that entered the MLS Cup Playoffs in fine form. Montreal advanced past Toronto 3-0 on Thursday night and had to make sure fatigue didn’t affect their performance too much on Sunday.

The Impact beat the Crew home and away during the regular season and used whatever mental edge followed that by putting in a confident display in front of the home crowd.

Didier Drogba looked to have opened the scoring after 15 minutes as he bundled the ball into the net but the goal was disallowed as the Ivorian was adjudged to have handled the ball as it went in.

Montreal were then stunned as Columbus took the lead on 33 minutes, grabbing an important away goal through Federico Higuain as he slotted in after Drogba’s defensive header fell straight to him.

But the Impact’s troubles didn’t last too long as Patrice Bernier levelled with a powerful header from a corner on 37 minutes, much to the delight of the home crowd. The goal was Bernier’s second in four days after not scoring during the entirety of the regular season.

The second-half saw the game tighten up a bit but Montreal then capitalised on some lacklustre Columbus defending in the 77th minute as Johan Venegas cooly slotted in after just coming off the bench.

Columbus pressed for a late equaliser but were unable to add to their single away goal and now have to make sure they win their home game next weekend.

Kei Kamara really struggled to make an impact for Columbus and the Crew will have to find a way to get him more involved for next weekend’s match if they’re to advance to the next round.

The two sides will meet at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus next Sunday for the second leg. The winner will go on to face DC United or the New York Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference Final.

What did you make of Sunday’s game in Montreal? Did the Impact deserve to win?