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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Gallery: Exclusive photos as the Sounders clinch Western Conference Championship in style against Houston

For the second year running, the Seattle Sounders are the Western Conference Champions. And for the second year running, they will travel to Toronto for the MLS Cup Final. They won the title last year and will be looking to defend the cup in what should be another intriguing finale.

The Sounders seem to come alive in the playoffs. They didn’t enjoy the best of regular seasons but once again rallied when it mattered most and came into the postseason in good form. That form has only improved as they’ve yet to conceded in this season’s playoffs.

Last week’s 2-0 win in Houston was impressive. But they made sure of the job by winning 3-0 in Thursday night’s second-leg, taking the series 5-0 on aggregate.

Goals from Victor Rodriguez, Clint Dempsey and Will Bruin got the job done in style on Thursday, albeit against a shorthanded Dynamo side that once again finished the game with 10 men. But the added bonus for the Sounders was seeing Jordan Morris return to the field for the first time since September.

Check out exclusive photos from the Sounders Western Conference Championship win on Thursday, courtesy of MLSGB photographers Denise McCooey and Paul Kahl.

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MLS Playoffs Preview and Prediction: Seattle Sounders vs Houston Dynamo

2017 MLS Cup Playoffs – Western Conference Final (2nd Leg): Seattle Sounders vs Houston Dynamo

CenturyLink Field – Thursday, November 30 – 22:30 ET (03:30 GMT)

Match Odds: Seattle 3/4 – Draw 5/2 – Houston 7/2

Seattle Sounders vs Houston Dynamo: Preview

The Seattle Sounders welcome Houston Dynamo to CenturyLink Field on Thursday night for the second-leg of the 2017 Western Conference Final.

Many felt the Dynamo had nothing to lose heading into last week’s first-leg. But it seems whatever they did have to lose was lost on the night as the Sounders ran out 2-0 winners against a Houston side that had 10 men for more than an hour.

Jalil Anibaba’s 28th-minute red card left the Dynamo with a mountain to climb. Joe Willis may have saved the resulting penalty kick from Nicolas Lodeiro but they were already 1-0 down and that lead was doubled when Will Bruin fired in before halftime.

The Sounders had plenty more chances to put the game – and probably the tie – to bed but the Dynamo held on to somehow retain some form of optimistic hope ahead of Thursday’s second leg.

But make no mistake about it, Seattle have taken one giant stride into the MLS Cup Final. They have two crucial away goal and are well on track to have a chance at retaining their championship on December 9.

The Dynamo have to score at least two goals to have any chance at turning the tie around on Thursday night. But the Sounders have only conceded more than one goal at home on two occasions this season. And didn’t lose either of those games.

Seattle are unbeaten in 15 at home. They don’t need to attack Houston and should be able to wait for opportunities to attack on the counter. The odds of Houston advancing are slim but it should set up an exciting game as they have no choice but to go for it.

Seattle Sounders vs Houston Dynamo: Team News

The Seattle Sounders won’t be able to call on the services of powerful defender Roman Torres. The Panamanian is suspended as a result of yellow card accumulation but will be back for the MLS Cup Final, should Seattle advance. Stefan Frei missed the first leg with a hamstring strain and could return here, although his status isn’t yet confirmed. Brad Evans and Jordan Morris are ruled out with ongoing injury problems. Osvaldo Alonso is listed as questionable but could be in line to return.

The Dynamo will be without Jalil Anibaba, following his red card in last week’s first leg. Alberth Elis is also suspended as a result of yellow card accumulation. Tyler Deric is suspended as a result of off-field conduct. George Malki, AJ DeLaGarza and Memo Rodriguez remain their only injury absentees.

Seattle Sounders vs Houston Dynamo: Key Points

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

Houston Dynamo’s last five: W/W/D/W/L

Key Stat: Fortress – Seattle Sounders have won their last four home games (including playoffs) by a combined score of 12-0. It’s been almost seven months since they lost at CenturyLink Field.

Key Player: Clint Dempsey – The veteran attacker scored twice in the Western Conference Semifinal win over Vancouver at home and will be looking to help the hosts through here. He is playing with extra hunger after missing last season’s run to the title and will be looking to exploit a Houston defence that will undoubtedly leave gaps as they chase a comeback.

Seattle Sounders vs Houston Dynamo: Prediction

Seattle Sounders 2-1 Houston Dynamo – The Dynamo have to go for it. They have enough attacking options to hurt the Sounders backline, particularly given the absence of Roman Torres. But the problem is, the more they attack, the more open they will be to the Sounders’ ruthless attack. The likes of Lodeiro and Dempsey will be looking to be clinical and put the tie to bed. Expect both sides to score, but the Sounders are surely sailing through to the final.

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.

Gallery: Exclusive images as Houston stun Portland to advance to Western Conference Final

The Houston Dynamo stunned the Portland Timbers with a 2-1 comeback win at Providence Park on Sunday night. The 2015 MLS Cup champions were eliminated on their own turf, with the Dynamo advancing to the Western Conference Final, where they’ll face the Seattle Sounders.

This time last year, Houston were the worst side in the Western Conference. Now, they are just two legs away from the 2017 MLS Cup Final. Their turnaround has been remarkable and they fully deserved their win at Portland on Sunday.

Dairon Asprilla gave the hosts the lead on 39 minutes, blasting the ball high and beyond Joe Willis. Asprilla’s task was made significantly easier by an unfortunate slip from Dynamo defender Dylan Remick.

However, Remick would soon atone for his error. Just four minutes later he volleyed the Dynamo level. That goal left the Houston in control, due to their away goal. Portland needed one more but couldn’t find it.

Then, in the 77th minute Mauro Manotas struck from distance and beat Jeff Attinella to put the game beyond Portland’s reach. The Dynamo advanced against the odds, leaving Portland players and fans stunned at the fact their season ended in such fashion.

Houston will face the Seattle Sounders over two legs in the Western Conference final, with the winner advancing to MLS Cup to take on either Toronto FC or Columbus Crew SC.

Check out exclusive pictures from Sunday night’s game, courtesy of MLSGB Photographer Denise McCooey.

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MLS Playoffs Preview and Prediction: New York City FC vs Columbus Crew

2017 MLS Cup Playoffs – Eastern Conference Semifinal (Second-Leg): New York City FC vs Columbus Crew

Yankee Stadium – Sunday, November 5 – 17:00 ET (22:00 GMT)

Match Odds: NYCFC 7/10 – Draw 3/1 – Columbus 16/5

New York City FC vs Columbus Crew: Preview

New York City FC need something special to get past Columbus Crew SC in Sunday’s Eastern Conference Semifinal second leg. The Crew lead 4-1 after a thrilling first-leg tie at MAPFRE stadium and have one foot in the Conference Final.

NYCFC are on the verge of exiting the playoffs at the same stage as last year, in similarly crushing circumstances. They went out 7-0 on aggregate to Toronto last season. They’ve now played three MLS Cup Playoff games and lost all of them convincingly.

Patrick Vieira’s men have injury worries, which aren’t helping. But the main problem appears to be that the club and the squad aren’t ready for the intensity that comes with playing in the playoffs.

The positive for New York City is that they created chances in the first leg and could have had a few more goals. A 3-0 win would see them advance but they are unlikely to keep the Crew out, so they’re going to need a whole host of goals to have a chance.

Columbus will still be riding high following that emotionally-charged win in the first-leg. They came into the playoffs as underdogs but have already eliminated Atlanta and are one game away from making the Conference Final.

Gregg Berhalter has his side playing with confidence and playing for the fans, given the uncertainty that surrounds the team’s future. They will look to soak up the inevitable pressure from NYCFC before hitting them on the break. Expect goals.

New York City FC vs Columbus Crew: Team News

Gregg Berhalter is without four players for the trip to Yankee Stadium. Alex Crognale, Gaston Sauro, Connor Maloney and Ben Swanson are all ruled out. But an unchanged lineup is likely to be named. Hector Jimenez, Artur and Josh Williams are all one booking away from suspension.

New York City FC remain without long-term absentees Miguel Camargo and Maxime Chanot. Alexander Callens is suspended and won’t feature.

New York City FC vs Columbus Crew: Key Points

New York City FC last five: W/D/L/D/L

Columbus Crew’s last five: W/W/D/W/W

Key Stat: Columbus Crew have lost their last six consecutive road games in the MLS Cup Playoffs.

Key Player: David Villa – The NYCFC star got the potentially important away goal at MAPFRE Stadium. He has 23 goals in 32 total games this season and will be the man tasked with keeping NYCFC’s dreams alive.

New York City FC vs Columbus Crew: Prediction

New York City FC 3-2 Columbus Crew – NYCFC have yet to win a playoff game but doing so would give them something to build from. A big win could see them through against the odds, but it’s highly unlikely they’ll shut the Crew out. Columbus have goals in them and should manage to advance, although there should be drama on the way.

Gallery: Dempsey double fires Sounders past Whitecaps and into Conference Final

The Seattle Sounders have moved one step closer to retaining their MLS Cup title. The reigning champions outclassed the Vancouver Whitecaps in Thursday’s Western Conference Semifinal second-leg, winning 2-0 thanks to a Clint Dempsey brace.

The veteran attacker was playing his first playoff game in almost two years but rose to the occasion in fine style. The game was tense, as expected following the scoreless draw in the first leg at BC Place.

It was going to take a moment of magic to breakthrough and that’s exactly what the hosts provided just 10 minutes into the second-half. Five Sounders were involved in a fast and intricate passing move, which ended with Dempsey firing past Stefan Marinovic.

The ‘Caps never really threatened to get back into the game. At 1-0 down, they needed just the one goal to put themselves in the driving seat. But they were unable to find the goal and were punished late on as Dempsey sealed the win.

A short corner led to a fine Victor Rodriguez cross, which Dempsey tapped in at the back post. He had two. The Sounders were through. Vancouver will be disappointed they failed to score in either leg, but they can still look back on what was a promising season.

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

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MLS Playoffs Preview and Prediction: Seattle Sounders vs Vancouver Whitecaps

2017 MLS Cup Playoffs – Western Conference Semifinal (2nd Leg): Seattle Sounders vs Vancouver Whitecaps

CenturyLink Field – Thursday, November 2 – 22:30 ET (02:30 GMT)

Match Odds: Seattle 8/15 – Draw 3/1 – Vancouver 9/2

Seattle Sounders vs Vancouver Whitecaps: Preview

The Seattle Sounders meet Cascadia rivals Vancouver Whitecaps for the second leg of their Western Conference Semifinal on Thursday night. The first leg ended in a fairly uneventful 0-0 draw. That result does set up for what should be a thrilling night here though.

The scenarios are fairly simple. A Seattle win inside 90 minutes will send them into the Western Conference Final. Another scoreless draw would take the game to extra-time and maybe penalties. A score draw or Vancouver win would send them through.

Both sets of fans have reason for optimism. Both teams have the quality to win Thursday’s meeting. And their previous meetings this season suggest there is nothing to pick between the two.

Seattle are the slight favourites as they have home-field advantage. They won all three home postseason games on their way to their MLS Cup title last year and haven’t lost a home playoff game since 2013.

They will be going out to win. A Vancouver goal would pile the pressure on the hosts but they know they have enough to get past the Whitecaps, having beaten them 3-0 at CenturyLink Field just over a month ago.

It’s been almost five months since the Sounders lost a home game. They have won three on the spin in front of their own fans, scoring 10 and conceding none in that stretch. They need to keep that going if they are to advance.

The Whitecaps might arrive with a more cautious game plan. They will be looking to counter and steal an away goal early to put themselves in the driving seat.

They have done well at CenturyLink Field in recent seasons too, despite the hostility from the home support. The Whitecaps have won four of the last six MLS meetings between the two sides at the stadium. Although they have dropped the most recent two without scoring.

These two went 1-1-1 through their three regular season meetings in 2017. That was followed by a 0-0 draw in the first-leg of this semi. So expect this to be close, hard-fought but most of all, entertaining.

Seattle Sounders vs Vancouver Whitecaps: Team News

Clint Dempsey is available for the Sounders again as he returns from suspension. Osvaldo Alonso and Gustav Svensson could be in line to start, after both came off the bench in the first-leg draw at BC Place. However, Jordan Morris and Brad Evans are out. Victor Rodriguez is listed as ‘questionable’.

Vancouver have a couple of significant injury worries of their own. David Edgar and Matias Laba are ruled out with long-term injuries. While Yordy Reyna and Cristian Techera might have to start on the bench as both are carrying knocks.

Seattle Sounders vs Vancouver Whitecaps: Key Points

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

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

Key Stat: The Vancouver Whitecaps have never won an away game in the MLS Cup Playoffs (0-2-1). Their only draw was a 0-0 tie at Portland in 2015.

Key Player: Clint Dempsey – He’s back from suspension and should be raring to go on such a huge night. This will be his 10th game against the Whitecaps but he only has one career goal against them. However, that did come in the 3-0 win in late September. If anyone is going to provide the difference, it’s likely to be Dempsey.

Seattle Sounders vs Vancouver Whitecaps: Prediction

Seattle Sounders 2-1 Vancouver Whitecaps – This one should be close but it’s hard to look past the Sounders. The Whitecaps have never won an away game in the playoffs, while the Sounders tend to produce their best in front of their home crowd. An early goal would open the tie right up but we see the hosts prevailing by the odd goal on the night.

Gallery: Exclusive photos from Sunday’s playoff draw between the Whitecaps and Sounders

The 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs have already reached the Conference Semifinal stage. It all kicked off on Sunday as Cascadia rivals Vancouver Whitecaps and Seattle Sounders battled out at BC Place for what was a cagey first leg.

The game ended scoreless but that sets up a fascinating second leg at CenturyLink Field on Thursday night. It was the first ever playoff matchup between the two rivals and lacked none of the usual intensity and aggression.

But both sides cancelled each other out over the 90 minutes. There was just one shot on target in total from either side. That’s the lowest tally ever recored in an MLS Playoff game.

Despite the lack of goals, there was reason for both sides to remain confident of reaching the Conference Final. Vancouver travel to Seattle on Thursday needing a goal to pile pressure on the hosts. The Sounders have home-field advantage to try and see them through.

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

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