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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Advertisements

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

Union stun Sounders, ending win streak with late winner

What looked at first to be a prime opportunity for Seattle Sounders FC to get their 10th straight win against Philadelphia Union on their home turf turned into a shocking loss as a Stefan Frei mistake in the 93rd minute of the match lead to a winner for Fafa Picault and the Union.

Early in the match Sounders looked like they’d take an early lead, putting dangerous crosses through the Union box and creating a number of chances but couldn’t find the back of the net, hitting the woodwork twice and having other shots trickle just wide of the target.

The Union grew into the match after the first 30 minutes and played physical defense to slow down Seattle’s attack. The physical play took a toll on the Sounders as first Raul Ruidiaz came off with an ankle injury in the 29th minute before being replaced by Will Bruin in the 34th and Chad Marshall would come off at the half after suffering a head injury in the 24th minute.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Seattle would get more chances in the second half, out shooting the Union 10 to 4, but couldn’t find a way past Union ‘keeper, Andre Blake, as several dangerous crosses through the box failed to result in a goal.

Philadelphia thought they had opened the scoring in the 65th minute as Cory Burke got in behind the Seattle defense and beat Frei near post but the goal was overturned after video review showed Burke to be offside, but the momentum had shifted in the Union’s favor.

It looked as though the Sounders had caught another break in the in the 89th minute when Jack Elliott received his second yellow card of the match meaning Seattle would have seven minutes with stoppage time to get a winner while a man up but instead it was the Union who would get the goal.

As Frei tried to play a back-pass short, he misjudged the pass and instead found Picault who went between Frei’s legs to give the Union a surprising lead that they wouldn’t relinquish.

While it would be easy to blame the Seattle goalkeeper for the loss, Frei was spectacular for the majority of the match including a point-blank save on Elliot in the 32nd minute.

With their winning streak ended at nine, Seattle will look to rebound as they head to Los Angeles to face the LA Galaxy on Sunday in what could be an important match for both club’s playoff aspirations.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.