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: Sounders down Dynamo 4-1 with impressive team performance

Any fears of Seattle Sounders FC regressing to their early season scoring woes with Raul Ruidiaz off with the Peruvian National Team were quickly erased by his replacement Will Bruin in the 18th minute as Seattle opened the scoring against visitors Houston Dynamo en route to a 4-1 victory.

With the Dynamo needing to win to keep their playoff hopes alive, Houston played aggressively and allowed the game to be an open and end-to-end affair. Unfortunately for the Dynamo, it was the Sounders who took advantage of the extra space and dominated much of the match despite losing the overall possession battle.

What stood out the most in the match was the incisive, accurate passing of Seattle especially in Houston’s end of the field as they were able to pass circles around the defense at times and set up some of the most stunning goals of Seattle’s season.

“When the players are engaged and the coaching is at a high level you get moments like this where the team really kinda comes together and they play well,” said coach Brian Schmetzer after the match. “I think the last two games I think we’ve played well, we’ve had some good moments and we’ll try and continue those.”

While Bruin’s opener was a beautiful finish with his weaker left foot, the second goal on a counter-attack was even more impressive as Nico Lodeiro made a near end-to-end run with the ball, drawing five defenders before finding Cristian Roldan wide open inside the box for the finish.

The second half was punctuated by a Victor Rodriguez brace as Seattle continued press the defense and create chances with their passing. Bruin made a very clever dummy on Kelvin Leerdam’s low cross into the box allowing Rodriguez to get a shot away that took a fortunate deflection for his first goal.

The second was the result of Sounders taking advantage of the Houston defense over committing men to the ball, allowing Seattle to make quick passes between defenders into open space. Handwalla Bwana, moments after coming into the match, would ultimately get the assist on the goal as he split two defenders with his short pass to Rodriguez who was then one-on-one with the keeper from about eight yards out.

With the convincing lead, Schmetzer elected to use his substitutions to bring Henry Wingo and Alex Roldan into the match in an attempt to get the young players some extra minutes knowing that Seattle will need to rotate the lineup some with a short turnaround between matches in Orlando and then Houston.

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The changes seemed to unsettle the Seattle defense and allowed Houston to pull back one goal in the 87th minute but by then the match was well out of reach and while the team was disappointed to give up the clean sheet, it was still an impressive performance that puts Seattle on the cusp of their 10th consecutive postseason appearance, which would tie the MLS record.

Perhaps just as important for Seattle is that the win also eliminates Houston from playoff contention and could provide the Sounders with a confidence boost knowing that all of the three teams they will face the rest of the regular season are already out of the playoffs.

Still don’t expect Seattle to overlook those opponents as Bruin said after the match, “midweek game, cross-country in Orlando, a team that you know guys are going to be playing for jobs so that’s always a tough environment to go play in… so we’re going to need to up our game to be able to get a good result.”

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.

In pictures: Sounders keep streak alive with 1-0 win at Portland

The Seattle Sounders are rolling. They set a club record by making it seven wins on the bounce on Sunday, beating Cascadia rivals Portland Timbers 1-0 at Providence Park.

The game’s only goal came via an own goal, with Portland’s Julio Cascante the unfortunate victim of the game-deciding moment. Seattle weren’t the better side for most of the game but they got the result they needed.

Seattle hadn’t won in the Rose City since August 2014 but they made the most of their opportunity on the night and moved in front of Portland in the Western Conference. The Sounders are now fifth, while the Timbers dropped out of the playoff spots and into seventh.

Check out exclusive photos from the match below, courtesy of MLSGB photographer Denise McCooey.

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In pictures: Atlanta United forced to settle for a point in 1-1 draw with Seattle Sounders

Atlanta United couldn’t reward their record crowd of 72,243 with a win, as Seattle Sounders battled to earn a 1-1 draw at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday night.

Atlanta will rue missed opportunities in what was a fiery contest between the two sides. The Sounders will be happy with the road point as they look to build some momentum ahead of their traditional late-season surge towards the playoffs.

It was the visitors who took the lead, right on the stroke of half-time. Harry Shipp’s shot was blocked by Franco Escobar but after going to Video Review, referee Baldomero Toledo pointed to the penalty spot.

Nicolas Lodeiro converted and Seattle went into half-time 1-0 up. But it wouldn’t stay that way for very long. Atlanta United came out fighting in the second-half and got the equaliser in the 48th minute.

Josef Martinez was able to beat Kim Kee-Hee to Julian Gressel’s floated cross and steered his header over Stefan Frei. But that was the last time Atlanta were able to get the better of the Sounders goalkeeper.

Frei came up big to keep the score at 1-1 and earned his side a valuable point. Seattle had to play the final half an hour with ten men after Jordan McCrary was sent off, but Atlanta couldn’t capitalise.

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

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In pictures: NYCFC keep up 100% home record as Orlando City suffer fourth-straight loss

New York City FC handed Orlando City their four consecutive defeat, winning 3-0 at Yankee Stadium on Saturday night. The visitors squandered a great chance to level the game from the penalty spot but missed that golden opportunity as their miserable run continues.

NYCFC’s victory made it six wins from six at home this season. The result saw them move into second place in the Eastern Conference, two points behind Atlanta United.

Ismael Tajouri-Shradi scored a brace to help the hosts to victory, with Maxi Moralez adding a late third to rubber stamp the result. But the biggest moment of the game came just after the second-half began, with the score at 1-0. Orlando were awarded a penalty when Alex Callens pulled down Chris Mueller inside the box. Sacha Kljestan stepped up but saw his penalty strike the post.

For Orlando City, that moment summed up their form of late as another concerning result leaves them clinging on to their playoff spot. They are still sixth in the East but are at risk of dropping further down the table after taking no points from a possible 12.

The Lions have suffered four-straight losses – all to Eastern Conference rivals – so Jason Kreis knows he need to turn their form around very quickly. They travel to Vancouver to take on the Whitecaps next weekend, while NYCFC host Atlanta United in a crucial clash at the top of the East.

Check out exclusive photos from Saturday’s game below, courtesy of Ashley Marshall:

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In pictures: Timbers strike late to earn victory in 100th clash against Sounders

Portland Timbers emerged victorious in the 100th meeting with Cascadia rivals Seattle Sounders on Sunday night. It was a cagey game with just three total shots on target, but Sebastian Blanco’s late goal sealed three important points for the home side.

Seattle set up to frustrate their fierce rivals, with Brian Schmetzer opting for a 5-4-1 formation at Providence Park. That plan worked for 86 minutes until Blanco lifted the winner over Stefan Frei to the delight of the home crowd.

The result moved Portland up to fourth in the West. They have now kept three-straight clean sheets and look to be going from strength-to-strength under Giovanni Savarese. Their next challenge comes in the shape of LAFC on Saturday evening.

Seattle still find themselves at the bottom of the Western Conference. The 2-1 win at Toronto FC was impressive but they will be disappointed to have lost Sunday’s derby clash, especially so late on. They have only scored seven goals in nine games and need to pick up soon.

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

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In pictures: Sounders fail to score in disappointing draw with 10-man Columbus

It was a disappointing return home to CenturyLink Field for Seattle Sounders FC as they spent the majority of the match a man up but failed to score against Columbus Crew SC in a 0-0 draw.

The Sounders were dealt a fortunate hand 15 minutes in when Pedro Santos’s high boot caught the face of Alex Roldan, prompting head referee Hilario Grajeda to issue a straight red card after going to video review. Columbus responded in turn by substituting off Cristian Martinez for Alex Crognale and putting every man behind the ball while Seattle was in possession. Seattle struggled to break down the Columbus defence and resorted to trying to get the ball to wide positions to limited success and the attack consistently faltered in the final third.

When Seattle stole possession from Columbus, the counter-attack lacked impetus and the Crew were back with everyone behind the ball before the Sounders could get into a dangerous position. “You have to try and be more quick with the ball and find the middle of the field more quick,” said Osvaldo Alonso. “Pass the ball and try to find the forward. We played good defence and we tried to score and it didn’t happen.”

While they had limited chances in the second half, the best chances of the game came from Columbus when down a man. Gyasi Zardes had an early look that he pushed just wide of goal in the 22nd minute and in the 36th helped to create a chance for Milton Valenzuela that ended up over the bar from inside the six yard box.

With the lion share of possession and 17 shots taken to Columbus’s five, Seattle controlled much of the match but still struggled to test goalkeeper Zach Steffen. Columbus was defensively sound, putting as many men as possible in the 18 yard box to make it more difficult for Seattle to break them down. The Sounders lacked the creativity to get in between the defensive line of Columbus and spent most of their attacks probing the back four but not stretching them. “We’re disappointed in the result. It’s not good enough. I’ll make sure that we watch this tape and we work on attacking movements to try and break that final line and be a little more creative,” said coach Brian Schmetzer.

“You know we moved the ball too slow. I mean the few times when they did get into our end of the field and we won possession of the ball we need to sprint, we need to get down the field before they get a chance to get bunkered in. So we will look at that and the coaching staff will train that to make sure that we create more good opportunities.”

“I think everybody in the stadium knew we were gonna get it and push it wide and try to cross it,” said Will Bruin. “You got to find other ways to create chances and you know we just haven’t been able to do it.

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“We got to be willing to take chances. We gotta get some creativity, some flair, we got to move the ball quicker, like I said we got to pass and move we got to try things. I think we’re too caught up with playing the simple pass and you know, ‘I’m not gonna make the mistake I’m just gonna move it to the next guy.’ And you’re not gonna score like that its so easy to defend and thats a prime example tonight.

“We need to find a solution to this because if you can’t tell I’m pretty frustrated right now. We’re gonna look at film tomorrow and I mean I hope we look at ways to exploit Toronto and ways we can attack them… I just hope we can generate some goals.”

Seattle’s busy week continues as they travel to defending champions Toronto FC on Wednesday before returning to the West Coast to take on local rivals Portland Timbers on Sunday.

In pictures: LAFC open Banc of California Stadium with dramatic late win over Sounders

LAFC 1-0 Seattle Sounders – A historic day for Los Angeles FC ended in Hollywood style as Laurent Ciman struck a 93rd-minute winner to lead the hosts to a 1-0 win over Seattle Sounders.

LAFC fans have waited a long time to watch their team play at home and they made the occasion a special one. Their support was rewarded with almost the final kick of the game, with the hosts moving back into 2nd place in the West, just two points behind Sporting Kansas City.

Seattle will be incredibly frustrated to have lost 1-0 to the expansion side for the second time this season. They did create chances, with Steven Beitashour’s goal line clearance in the first-half proving to be a pivotal moment. The defeat leaves Seattle rock bottom of the West with just four points from six games.

Check out exclusive photos from Sunday’s historic game below, courtesy of Denise McCooey, John May and Hazel May.

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In pictures: Whitecaps snap losing streak to pick up much-needed home win over Real Salt Lake

Vancouver Whitecaps picked up a much-needed win on Friday night, beating Real Salt Lake 2-0 at BC Place Stadium to end a three-game losing streak. The Whitecaps had now won at home since opening day so the fans inside BC Place will have been delighted to see their team march to three points.

Real Salt Lake will be frustrated not to have scored for the second consecutive road game. They have now lost three-straight away games and have one point from a possible 12 on the road in 2018.

The game had to wait until the 75th minute for the opening goal and it didn’t come without drama. Cristian Techera scored from the penalty spot to give Vancouver the lead after Nick Besler brought down Nicolas Mezquida. But Techera celebrated by taking his jersey off, earning himself a second yellow card as a result, and was sent off before the game restarted. Techera had been booked just minutes before the penalty incident, so his moment of madness in the celebrations cost him.

Fortunately it didn’t cost the Whitecaps. They added a second goal a couple of minutes after Techera saw red, with Alphonso Davies making a trademark run down the left before putting it on a plate for Anthony Blondell. Davies only played 28 minutes but made a difference to the hosts attacking intensity and got a deserved assist.

Check out exclusive photos from Friday’s game below, courtesy of MLSGB photographer Simon Fearn.

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