New York Red Bulls take series advantage with vital win at DC United

The 2015 MLS Cup Playoff Conference Semifinals got underway at RFK Stadium on Sunday with Major League Soccer’s oldest rivals going head-to-head in the first leg of their key Eastern Conference semi.

It was the New York Red Bulls who prevailed, beating DC United in the first-leg of the conference semifinal for the second-straight season, but away from home this time around with a 1-0 victory also giving them a potentially crucial away goal.

It wasn’t a game that offered many clear chances but New York took their opportunity when Sacha Kljestan’s excellent free-kick was headed in by an unmarked Dax McCarty at the back post.

The goal came from one of the Red Bulls’ nine shots on target and they were probably deserved winners, especially if looking at chance creation.

DC United finished the match without registering a single shot on target. While another worry for head coach Ben Olsen will be the fact that their passing accuracy was just 55%.

DC United vs New England Revolution Ben Olsen

They came into the game off the back of Wednesday’s 2-1 home win over New England but the whole team looked fatigued from that match, despite a bright opening to the game.

The result saw the Red Bulls win away at DC for the first time in MLS Playoff history. They have beaten their Atlantic Cup rivals in each of the last three meetings at Red Bull Arena and look to have one foot in the Eastern Conference final.

The return leg will be played at Red Bull Arena next Sunday. The winner of the tie over the two legs will face either Montreal Impact or Columbus Crew in the Eastern final.

What did you make of Sunday’s game? Did the Red Bulls deserve to win? Can DC still make it through?

 

 

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MLS Playoff Preview and Prediction: DC United vs New York Red Bulls

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

Venue: RFK Stadium – Sunday, November 1 – 15:00 ET (20:00 GMT)

Match Odds: DC United 9/5 – Draw 13/5 – New York Red Bulls 13/10

Match Preview

DC United and New York Red Bulls clash at RFK Stadium on Sunday in the first leg of the MLS Eastern Conference semifinal.

The match-up between these two sides sees a repeat of last season’s tie at this same stage, although DC will play the first-leg at home this time around due to their lower seeding.

DC secured their place in the semifinal by bouncing back from a crushing 5-0 defeat away at Columbus on the last day of the regular season to beat New England Revolution 2-1 in the Eastern Conference knockout round.

Ben Olsen will be delighted with his side’s strong reaction, which secured a third win in four games and keeps alive their hopes of winning an MLS Cup for the first time since 2004.

DC United vs New England Revolution

Revenge will be in the air at RFK Stadium after the Red Bulls knocked DC out of the competition a year ago, with a 3-2 aggregate score over the two legs.

The New York Red Bulls will be refreshed and full of confidence after they’ve enjoyed a week off to relish the fact they’re Supporters’ Shield winners for the second time in three years.

Jesse Marsch has inspired his team to an excellent season but must now ensure the players maintain their focus if they are to sustain a serious challenge at winning the 2015 MLS Cup.

The Red Bulls fell short in 2014 after a conference final defeat, but the platform to go all the way is now in place and they just need to continue their impressive form of 12 wins in their last 17 games (D1, L4).

Photo: Denise McCooey

DC United failed to beat New York Red Bulls in any of the three meetings between the two sides in the regular season (D1, L2), with the most recent clash ending in a 3-0 win for the Red Bulls in August, while the last encounter at RFK Stadium was a 2-2 draw in April.

Team News

DC United will be without Chris Korb (knee), Davy Arnaud (concussion) and Jared Jeffrey (facial fracture) who are all injured. Bobby Boswell will miss the match as a result of a one-game ban issued by the league for an off the ball incident against New England on Thursday.

New York Red Bulls defender Chris Duvall remains out (leg), while Roy Miller (knee) and Anatole Abang (hamstring) are also struggling with injuries.

Key Points

DC United’s last five: L/W/W/L/W

New York Red Bulls’ last five: W/W/L/W/W

Key Stat: New York Red Bulls were the highest goalscorers in the MLS regular season with 62, so they’ll be looking to continue scoring freely and get that all important away goal.

Key Player: Chris Rolfe – An obvious choice, but he is crucial to DC United. He’s their top goalscorer this season, with 11 goals in all competitions. Rolfe also scored a late winner against New England Revolution in the knockout round.

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Score Prediction

DC United 1-1 New York Red Bulls – DC have been strong at home with just 3 defeats all season, so it’s a tough ask for the Red Bulls to win the game. However, they should have enough to get an away goal and secure a draw – a result that would put them in the driving seat for the second leg.

MLS Playoff Preview and Prediction: Portland Timbers vs Vancouver Whitecaps

Competition: MLS Playoffs (Western Conference Semifinal First Leg) – Portland Timbers vs. Vancouver Whitecaps

Venue: Providence Park – Sunday, November 1 – 17:00 ET (22:00 GMT)

Match Odds: Portland 1/1 – Draw 12/5 – Vancouver 11/4

Match Preview

Portland Timbers host the Vancouver Whitecaps in the Cascadia rivals’ first ever MLS Playoff clash on Sunday night in their Western Conference semifinal first leg.

Portland had to go the distance on Thursday night as they beat Sporting Kansas City in the knockout round in a game that went all the way to penalties, with all 22 players taking a spot-kick before Portland made it through, thanks to goalkeeper Adam Larsen Kwarasey’s heroics.

The Timbers will now host the first leg of Sunday’s Western Conference semifinal with rivals Vancouver but have to hope fatigue doesn’t put the tie out of their reach before the second leg next week.

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Caleb Porter knows his side have a genuine chance of lifting a first MLS Cup this season but needs to keep his players grounded. Winning the home leg is vital in playoff football and that will be the priority on Sunday night.

Vancouver were able to enjoy a bye week and were therefore able to enjoy watching the knockout round. But all focus will now be on their playoff opener and a trip to Portland presents a stern test for a side that has not yet won in two previous MLS Playoff games.

The Whitecaps sealed second spot in the Western Conference with a 3-0 home win against Houston last Sunday and come into this match as 2015’s best away side in MLS. Although Sunday’s win was their first in six.

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They know an away goal could be so valuable and should therefore look to attack Portland on Sunday. That could lead to an open, entertaining game – something we’ve seen in all four 2015 playoff games to this point.

Portland failed to beat the Whitecaps in three attempts during the regular season. Vancouver won 2-1 at BC Place in March before 0-0 and 1-1 draws followed at Providence Park in May and July respectively. The Timbers have only lost once at home to Vancouver in the past six years.

Team News

Portland are likely to be without Will Johnson and Ben Zemanski once again here. Maximiliano Urruti was the late hero in extra-time on Thursday but will likely start on the bench again, with Fanendo Adi set to lead the line.

Vancouver Whitecaps have a number of injury worries ahead of their playoff opener. Ben McKendry and Caleb Clarke are definitely out. Cristian Techera and more worryingly, Pedro Morales are both doubts but should be cleared to play. Pa Modou Kah is available to face his former club after completing his one-game suspension on Sunday.

Key Points

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

Vancouver Whitecaps’ last five: D/D/L/L/W

Key Stat: Vancouver have conceded the fewest MLS goals of any side in 2015, with just 36 allowed and boast the best away record in the league.

Key Player: Adam Larsen Kwarasey – Portland’s playoff hero from Thursday night will need to put in another solid performance to give Portland a chance here against a Vancouver side that has fired an average of more than five shots per game – the third highest in MLS.

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Score Prediction

Portland Timbers 2-1 Vancouver Whitecaps – This is a huge game for Portland. Their playoff hopes likely hang on the result of this as they need to take a victory to Vancouver next week to have a real chance of progressing. The Whitecaps have only scored five goals in their last six outings but should find the net as Portland have struggled to keep clean sheets of late. Though the home side could just edge it by the odd goal to set up a thrilling second leg.

Playoff Preview and Prediction: Real Salt Lake vs LA Galaxy

Real Salt Lake and LA Galaxy will meet in a Western Conference heavyweight clash at the Rio Tinto Stadium in their playoff semi-final first leg on Saturday night.

Both sides share a vast experience of competing in the MLS Cup, so they’re certainly no strangers to the responsibility and pressure that comes with playoff matches.

Real Salt Lake were runners-up in the final last year following a penalty shootout defeat to Sporting Kansas City after they had tied the game 1-1 and have qualified for the MLS Cup playoffs every season since 2008.

They won the competition in 2009 when they beat LA Galaxy on penalties – their only MLS Cup title to date.

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Real Salt Lake will look to their home advantage to try and get themselves ahead in this tie as their form at the Rio Tinto Stadium has been excellent this year, with 11 wins and just the one defeat.

Real Salt Lake’s home form: Played 17 – Won 11 – Drawn 5 – Lost 1

LA Galaxy are the joint most successful team in the history of the MLS Cup alongside DC United with both sides having won four titles.

However, the Galaxy were dumped out of the competition at this stage last year by the same opponents, losing 2-1 on aggregate, so they will be looking to avoid a repeat performance.

They will also have to recover from their Supporters’ Shield disappointment after their 2-0 defeat against Seattle Sounders in the last game of the season saw them finish in second place, while the Sounders lifted the title.

They’ve struggled for consistency away from home and their last win on the road was a 3-0 win at Chivas USA on September 1, so the key will be to keep it tight on Saturday night.

LA Galaxy’s away form: Played 17 – Won 5 – Drawn 6 – Lost 6

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It’s crucial to still be alive in the tie when the second leg comes around, so neither side will want to hand the initiative to the opposition, so this should make for a tense but entertaining affair.

Key Player: Alvaro Saborio – Real Salt Lake’s Costa-Rican forward has been in fine form this season, having scored 8 goals from just 13 starts. He boasts the best goals-per-game ratio for the home side and if he plays a part, he could make the difference.

Key Stat: LA Galaxy have faced Real Salt Lake twice before in the MLS Cup and have been on the losing end both times:

  • 2013 – Western Conference semi-final – Real Salt Lake 2-1 LA Galaxy (aggregate score)
  • 2009 – MLS Cup Final – Real Salt Lake 1-1 LA Galaxy (Real Salt Lake won 5-4 on penalties)

Real Salt Lake’s last five: L/L/W/D/W

LA Galaxy’s last five: W/W/L/D/L

Prediction: Real Salt Lake 1 – 1 LA Galaxy