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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Wayne Rooney and DC have playoffs in sight ahead of pivotal clash with Montreal

DC United’s upturn in form has been stunning since former England captain Wayne Rooney crossed the Atlantic to bolster their offensive ranks. The all-time leading England and Man Utd goal scorer joined a DC side sitting bottom of the Eastern Conference, with a miserable record when it came to goals, shots on target and chances created. But he has dragged them up to seventh in the standings and was instrumental once again as they drew 3-3 with conference leaders New York Red Bulls at the weekend. DC United now stand on the brink of a playoff spot and they will bid to further those claims when they take on Montreal Impact on Saturday.

Montreal are currently in sixth place, four points clear of DC United, but Rooney and co have a game in hand. Win at the weekend and they will close the gap to just one point, with a fair amount of games left in the season. The top six teams go through to the playoffs, and it would be exciting to see Rooney taking on the best in the league, so fans hope he can produce more magic.

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Check out a BetDSI review and check their odds and you will see that DC United are the favourites to pick up the win. With Rooney in the team, anything looks possible. He has five goals and seven assists in 12 starts, including the most incredible play of the season. DC United were drawing 3-3 with Orlando City and they won a corner deep into injury time, so the goalkeeper went up for it. But the ball was cleared and Orlando’s forward was in possession with an empty net gaping in front of him. However, Rooney burst back with phenomenal pace, delivered an inch perfect slide tackle, won the ball cleanly, carried it up the pitch and blazed a long ball directly onto Luciano Acosta’s head, allowing the diminutive forward to nod in the winner.

Rooney followed that up with a well-taken brace in a 4-1 victory over Portland in their following game, and he has scored in his last two matches. He is pulling the strings with aplomb, and Acosta’s performances have improved greatly since teaming up with the former Everton and Man Utd star. His arrival gave the entire team a lift, and they have not lost in four games now.

Yet Montreal Impact are also in great form, so it should prove to be a cracking game. Last time out, they travelled to fifth placed Philadelphia Union and earned a thrilling 4-1 victory courtesy of Alejandro Silva Gonzalez’s brace and further strikes from Saphir Taider and Quincy Amarikwa. That followed a 3-0 win over Red Bulls, in which former Arsenal and Man City right-back Bacary Sagna was on target. Evan Bush has arguably been the best goalkeeper in the league this season, and they too are surging with confidence.

The last meeting between these teams finished 1-1 in August, and DC United have not beaten Montreal since 2015. Yet after a testing few years there is finally optimism around this club, thanks to Rooney’s arrival and their subsequent upswing in form. If they want to finish in the top six and surge into the playoffs they need to win games like this in front of their home fans. They have the quality and the momentum to pull it off. But Montreal know that victory will leave them heavy favourites to seal the final playoff spot, so the stakes are extremely high. Both teams have been exceptional in front of goal lately, so we should be in for a high-scoring affair, full of chances and individual brilliance.

Sounders build form at the right time with playoff spot now in reach

It took two stoppage time goals in Minnesota for Seattle Sounders FC to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 win against Minnesota United, extending the Sounders’ unbeaten streak to seven on top of four straight wins. Seattle now sits on 29 points through 22 games and are eighth in the West, just four points behind Real Salt Lake.

The turn of form has resulted in 17 points for Sounders over their seven-game unbeaten run, more than doubling their point total of 12 through 15 games to start the season while climbing out of the cellar in the West.

Having never missed the playoffs since joining MLS in 2009, Sounders players have acknowledged the pressure on them to clinch their 10th-straight playoff berth and tie the LA Galaxy for the league record.

Looking at the past three seasons since MLS expanded the playoffs to six teams, the sixth seed in either conference has finished the season with an average around 46 points. With that in mind, Seattle will need to take at least 17 points through their last 12 games to be in contention for the final playoff position.

Luckily for Seattle, seven of the last 12 are at home and seven are against teams currently outside of the playoff picture.

Here’s the Sounders’ schedule for the rest of the regular season:

  • August 12th, Home vs. FC Dallas
  • August 18th, Home vs. LA Galaxy
  • August 26th, Away vs. Portland
  • September 1st, Home vs. Kansas City
  • September 15th, Away vs. Vancouver
  • September 19th, Home vs. Philadelphia
  • September 23rd, Away vs. LA Galaxy
  • September 29th, Home vs. Colorado
  • October 8th, Home vs. Houston
  • October 17th, Away vs. Orlando
  • October 21st, Away vs. Houston
  • October 28th, Home vs. San Jose

Of those 12 matches, at least four should be wins for Sounders: San Jose, Home vs. Houston, Philadelphia, and Colorado. Away matches against Vancouver and Orlando are great chances for Sounders to take three points and although they have struggled to get results in Houston, recent form from the Dynamo makes that matchup seem favourable for Seattle.

If Seattle manages to win all seven of those games, they’d sit on 50 points which based off of recent history should be enough to make at least sixth in the West. That could be a tough ask though with short turnaround from Orlando to Houston making the two game road trip a bit more difficult to take maximum points.

The five remaining games, Dallas, LA home and away, Portland, and Kansas City, will be the biggest decider for Seattle. Dallas having lost at home against a struggling San Jose Earthquakes side looks to be a great chance for Sounders to get three points at home to help their playoff chances, especially with Seattle on their current unbeaten streak.

After taking over the team in 2016, Brian Schmetzer lead Sounders to a 8-2-3 record to end the season en route to winning MLS Cup. This time around Sounders need to end the year at 7-2-3 to safely make the playoffs which seems like an achievable goal based off their opponents but will still be a difficult task to achieve.

If Sounders can maintain their form, expect to see them playing in their tenth straight playoffs but should they slip, it would be a very disappointing season for a club with such consistently high aspirations.

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: Toronto FC vs Columbus Crew

2017 MLS Cup Playoffs – Eastern Conference Final (2nd Leg): Toronto FC vs Columbus Crew

BMO Field – Wednesday, November 29 – 19:30 ET (00:30 GMT)

Match Odds: Toronto 4/7 – Draw 4/1 – Columbus 3/1

Toronto FC vs Columbus Crew: Preview

The Eastern Conference Final second leg is finely poised as Toronto FC welcome Columbus Crew to BMO Field. The scoreless draw at MAPFRE Stadium a week ago means there has to be a goal for this one to be settled in normal time.

Toronto FC head coach Greg Vanney has been named MLS coach of the year. He will be looking for his side to progress here. But as the first leg proved, the two can be difficult to separate.

Their effective performance in the first leg has given them the ideal platform ahead of this game. Toronto are favourites to reach the MLS Cup Final, but they cannot take that for granted.

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Columbus Crew struggled to break Toronto down and were frustrated in the first leg. By failing to score they have missed a good opportunity to put TFC on the back foot.

But Crew SC know that they can actually reach the final without winning the game. A score draw will be enough to take them through.

Gregg Berhalter will need to have his side well drilled and prepared to deal with a much stronger Toronto. They cannot afford to try and sit back too much, but by the same token they cannot play with an overly expansive style.

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Toronto FC vs Columbus Crew: Team News

TFC welcome back Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore for the second leg. The squad is fresh with no injuries, so this should be Toronto in full force.

Columbus are with midfielder Artur through suspension. Connor Maloney, Gaston Sauro and Ben Swanson are all out, while Alex Crognale is a doubt.

Toronto FC vs Columbus Crew: Key Points

Toronto’s last five: W/D/W/L/D

Columbus Crew’s last five: D/W/W/L/D

Key Stat: 32 goals return – The return of Giovinco and Altidore means Toronto are in a strong position to advance to the MLS Cup Final. Their goal machines were missed last time out but considering their absentees the TFC side that drew the first leg did very well.

Key Player: Sebastian Giovinco  – Greg Vanney has called for the MLS MVP to come from his record-breaking Toronto side and it would be a surprise to see Giovinco honoured with the award. The Atomic Ant has had an extraordinary season and he will surely be key if his side are to progress to their second final in as many seasons.

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Toronto FC vs Columbus Crew: Prediction

Toronto FC 3-1 Columbus Crew – The Eastern Conference Final second leg is finely balanced. TFC’s returning duo will be expected to provide the goods and prove too much to handle for Columbus.

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.