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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Sounders looking like a complete package ahead of 2018 MLS Playoffs

The Seattle Sounders had a dominant performance at home against Houston Dynamo, winning by a final score of 4-1. It was one of their most complete performances of the year and put Seattle on the cusp of their 10th-straight playoff appearance while also eliminating Houston at the same time. Of all of the Sounders’ goals, it was the fourth that stood out the most. A Seattle throw-in started a 13-pass sequence that ended in a simple finish for Victor Rodriguez’s second goal of the match.

The goal sequence begins with a throw in on the right side of the pitch for Seattle after Handwalla Bwana subs on for Kelvin Leerdam. As the ball goes back for Kim Kee-Hee a pocket of space opens up for Bwana and Nico Lodeiro to operate in.

As the ball goes to Cristian Roldan, Bwana and Lodeiro check to the ball, pulling defenders with them before making a break upfield. Roldan elects not to play the ball up the sideline and instead begins to switch the field by passing the ball to Ozzie Alonso who uses his first touch to leave the ball for Jordy Delem.

With the off-ball movement of Bwana and Lodeiro drawing defenders to the right side, the left side of the field is now wide open for Seattle. Seeing this, Delem passes the ball to Nouhou on the wing and while his pass isn’t far enough in front of Nouhou, it’s accurate enough for Nouhou to move up the field into the empty space.At the same time Lodeiro is moving to the opposite side of the field to support Nouhou and Rodriguez.

At this point Lodeiro’s movement has drawn a centre-back towards him making the Houston back four defend one-on-one with Seattle. The passing triangle created by Nouhou, Rodriguez and Lodeiro is crucial to the Sounders breaking open the Dynamo defense and the positioning of Alonso gives his teammates an extra outlet while simultaneously drawing Boniek Garcia towards him and away from Lodeiro.

 

While this is developing, Will Bruin is threatening a run off the back of Leonardo, forcing the Dynamo defender to stick with the Sounders forward and leaving DaMarcus Beasley alone to mark Bwana who has continued his run up the right sideline.

From this position, Nouhou leaves the ball for Rodriguez who then runs a give-and-go with Lodeiro to beat one defender and then force Garcia to choose between stepping towards Rodriguez to stop the ball or to stay with Alonso. Garcia decides to step to the ball allowing Rodriguez a free passing lane to Alonso. Meanwhile, Bruin is being dragged down by Leonardo while drawing the other centre-back’s attention as well. This allows Rodriguez to continue his run into open space after the pass.

 

Once the ball gets to Alonso, both of the Dynamo centre-backs are too close together, forcing them to scramble to Rodriguez and leaving Beasley with no choice but to leave Bwana to try and stop the pass onto the oncoming Rodriguez. Bwana at this point has probably pinched too far into the centre of the field but does well to get wide again as the pass from Alonso comes to Rodriguez.

 

As Rodriguez receives the ball he recognizes that with Beasley sliding over to defend him, Bwana is now open and uses his first touch to pass the ball off.  

 

Bwana does well to let the ball come across his body, pulling both Beasley and Leonardo towards him while Rodriguez is patient enough to let the defenders pass by him before making his run to goal. Bwana could take the shot for himself but instead cuts the ball back inside.

Bwana makes the final pass perfectly between Beasley and Leonardo as Rodriguez slips behind the pair off Beasley’s back shoulder. At this point Rodriguez is one-on-one with goalkeeper Joe Willis and his first touch puts the ball into the side netting for Seattle’s fourth goal of the match and Rodriguez’s brace.

If Seattle is able to continue playing to the same level they did against Houston they will be in a fantastic position to make a deep playoff run and possibly return to MLS Cup for the third straight year.

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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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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