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: Timbers inflict MLS Playoff penalty pain to eliminate Sounders

The Portland Timbers are heading to the Western Conference Final. They edged past the Seattle Sounders over two legs , managing to survive a spirited Seattle comeback, getting the better of the Sounders in the MLS Cup Playoffs for just the second time in history.

The Sounders won 3-2 on the night at CenturyLink Field in the second leg but fell on penalties 4-2 in the shootout. Seattle’s season is over. Portland are moving on to face either Real Salt Lake or Sporting Kansas City.

Following Portland’s 2-1 comeback win in the first-leg of the series, the pressure was always going to be on the Sounders to get a result in front of their home fans. But the opening hour of the second leg was an ill-tempered battle.

Raul Ruidiaz sparked the game into life with the opening goal on 68 minutes, putting the Sounders ahead in the tie on away goals. But Sebastian Blanco put the Timbers back into the driving seat ten minutes later.

It was Ruidiaz who saved the Sounders from exiting after 90 minutes as he fired in a dramatic 93rd minute goal to make the game 2-1 on the night and 3-3 on aggregate. Extra-time then begun perfectly for Portland, as Dairon Asprilla scored just three minutes into ET.

But Seattle fought back yet again, with Nicolas Lodeiro firing in from the spot in the 7th minute of extra-time to once again level the tie on aggregate. No more goals would be scored, sending the game into penalties.

Seattle’s Will Bruin hit the post, while Osvaldo Alonso saw his shot saved by Portland goalkeeper Jeff Attinella. Stefan Frei saved Liam Ridgewell’s penalty, to briefly keep Sounders hopes alive, but Asprilla was the man who ended Seattle’s season. He tucked his penalty away, claiming a series win for Portland.

Check out exclusive photos from Thursday’s game below, courtesy of MLSGB photographers Denise McCooey and Paul Kahl.

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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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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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In Pictures: Seattle Sounders leave it late to lock in Knockout Round bye for 2018 MLS Playoffs

The Seattle Sounders kept momentum going as they left it late to beat San Jose Earthquakes 2-1 at CenturyLink Field on MLS Decision Day. A Raul Ruidiaz brace was enough to earn three more points, securing a Knockout Round bye in the Western Conference.

Seattle’s incredible end-of-season run has seen them lock in yet another playoff campaign. And they’ll head into their Western Conference semifinal in full confidence, given the way they stuck together to beat the Quakes on Sunday.

Chad Marshall’s own goal had dampened the mood around CenturyLink Field but Seattle stuck together and kept the pressure on San Jose’s goal. It paid off. Ruidiaz equalised in the 79th minute and then secured the win in dramatic style in the third minute of stoppage time.

Check out exclusive photos from Sunday’s game below, courtesy of MLSGB photographers Denise McCooey and Paul Kahl.

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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.”

In Pictures: Sounders put four past the Rapids in dominant performance

After two-straight losses, Seattle Sounders FC rebounded at home with a dominant 4-0 win over Colorado Rapids on Saturday. Seattle was aggressive from the opening whistle and were rewarded with two goals from Raul Ruidiaz, a penalty kick goal and two assists from Nico Lodeiro, as well as a final goal from Victor Rodriguez to seal the win.

“It was a home game. It was a game we needed to win so we messaged [the team] all week about having a comeback performance from the last two,” said Brian Schmetzer when asked about the aggressive start. “And again I give all credit to those guys in the locker room. That’s a pretty experienced group of players and we had a couple bad results but that team knows how to win.”

Colorado did their best to weather the early attacks from Seattle but after conceding in the 22nd minute there looked to be little hope of a comeback for the visitors. Although taking six shots in the first half, Colorado finished with eight shots total and only Tommy Smith’s header on the 50th minute was kept on target.

Overall it was a strong performance all around from Sounders but the play of Lodeiro stood out amongst the rest. Both of his assists to Ruidiaz were a direct result of Lodeiro giving the extra effort to keep the play alive and find his teammate for the goal while leading all players with a staggering 114 touches.

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No goal was more important though than the goal from Rodriguez who was visibly relieved after scoring. “I needed this goal because I’ve had a hard season…” said Rodriguez. “It’s very important for me, for my daughter, for my family. They are my ‘Super Always’ and this goal is for them.”

There was also high praise from Schmetzer of Ruidiaz’s play and integration with the team as the Peruvian has scored five goals in 11 matches as a Sounder. When asked about the relationship between Lodeiro and Ruidiaz, Schmetzer highlighted that it’s not just Lodeiro who Ruidiaz has partnered well with.

“The relationship between Raul and Nico, Raul and Victor, Raul and Ozzie [Alonso], Raul and Cristian [Roldan]… and there’s been a lot of history in MLS of mid-season signings not really catching on so I think we’ve done a good job, I think the front office has done a really good job in getting us a player who does actually fit in.”

Next up for Sounders is a visit from Houston Dynamo on Monday, October 8th as Seattle now sitting in 4th place in the West looks to solidify a playoff position with just four matches remaining.

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: Confident Sounders embarrass Galaxy 5-0

After out classing FC Dallas at home on Sunday, Seattle Sounders FC demolished LA Galaxy 5-0 in a match that never seemed in doubt for the Rave Green.

In front of 44,213 at CenturyLink Field, Chad Marshall opened the scoring in the third minute with his second goal in as many games. Harry Shipp doubled the lead before halftime and Seattle continued their domination into the second half with an own goal from former Sounder Servando Carrasco and goals from Cristian Roldan and Raul Ruidiaz rounding out the scoring.

The result set the Sounders club record for biggest margin of victory and tied the Galaxy club record for worst loss.

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It was as confident of a performance as we’ve seen from Seattle, now unbeaten in nine and having won their last six, and the fluidity in their ball movement and and off ball runs has been at the forefront of their success.

The build-up to Seattle’s fourth goal was a perfect encapsulation of that confidence and ball movement as Nico Lodeiro and Harry Shipp pass back-and-forth around several Galaxy defenders before slipping Shipp into space behind the defense.

From there Shipp is able to pick out Roldan in a pocket of space between four defenders for the first touch shot into the far corner.

Seattle were not without flaws though and almost allowed the Galaxy back into the match late in the first half as Sebastian Lletget had space at the top of the box to take a shot but skied it high over the bar.

“Our team has started strong the first 20 to 25 minutes of games here recently and we let our foot off the gas a little bit and I think we let them back in,” said Brian Schmetzer post-match.

“We made a couple of corrections at halftime, tried to get some adjustments made and I think that team, again that team did what they were supposed to do, did what they had to do to put the game out of reach and all credit goes to them.”

Although the Galaxy were without five of their regular starters including Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Romain Alessandrini, and both Gio and Jonathan dos Santos, there really isn’t much excuse for the several poor turnovers, two of which lead to Seattle goals.

The own goal by Carrasco feels like a perfect microcosm of the Galaxy’s day as first Jørgen Skjelvik slips in his own box trying to shield a through ball away from Lodeiro only for the ensuing cross back towards Ruidiaz to bounce right off the feet of the recovering Carrasco and slowly trickle over the goal line.

Seattle will likely have a more difficult time on the road next week as they head South on I-5 to take on hated rivals Portland Timbers. Portland has taken both matches between the two sides so far this season, first a 1-0 win in Portland before getting their first ever regular season win in Seattle since joining MLS with a 3-2 battle in late June.

With an unbalanced Cascadia Cup schedule this year though, Seattle sits atop the Cascadia standings as each team has a win and a loss after playing two matches thanks to the first meeting between Seattle and Portland not being included in the 2018 series.

In Pictures: Vancouver head to Portland and snap 15-game streak in Cascadia Cup clash

The Portland Timbers’ 15-game streak is over. Of all the teams to end their unbeaten run, they would not have wanted it to be Cascadia rivals; Vancouver Whitecaps. But that’s the way it ended as the Whitecaps ran out 2-1 in what was a dramatic night at Providence Park.

Portland were awarded two penalties on the night but couldn’t keep their unbeaten run going. The result means they have been handed their first home loss of 2018. For the Whitecaps, it keeps their playoff push alive following a draw at New York City FC before Saturday’s game. They are now two points outside of the playoffs in the West.

The Whitecaps took the lead in the 14th minute, with Kei Kamara heading in from Kendall Waston’s pass to silence the home crowd. But Waston was then at fault as he brought down Diego Valeri in the box in the 40th minute, with the Timbers being awarded a spot-kick.

But Valeri missed the penalty, dragging his shot wide. And just moments later, the visitors doubled their lead. Brek Shea crossed in and Cristian Techera headed in Vancouver’s second, just a couple of minutes before half-time. The missed penalty and second Vancouver goal sucked the life out of Portland before the break.

The Timbers did come out fighting though and Valeri made up for his first-half penalty miss when he slotted in from the spot on 71 minutes. Portland pressed, looking for the equaliser to extend their unbeaten run to 16 but couldn’t find the goal. Vancouver held on, for what could prove to be three vital points come the end of the season.

Check out exclusive photos from Saturday’s Cascadia Cup clash below, courtesy of MLSGB photographer, Denise McCooey.

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