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

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

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

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

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

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In Pictures: Sounders down Dynamo 4-1 with impressive team performance

Any fears of Seattle Sounders FC regressing to their early season scoring woes with Raul Ruidiaz off with the Peruvian National Team were quickly erased by his replacement Will Bruin in the 18th minute as Seattle opened the scoring against visitors Houston Dynamo en route to a 4-1 victory.

With the Dynamo needing to win to keep their playoff hopes alive, Houston played aggressively and allowed the game to be an open and end-to-end affair. Unfortunately for the Dynamo, it was the Sounders who took advantage of the extra space and dominated much of the match despite losing the overall possession battle.

What stood out the most in the match was the incisive, accurate passing of Seattle especially in Houston’s end of the field as they were able to pass circles around the defense at times and set up some of the most stunning goals of Seattle’s season.

“When the players are engaged and the coaching is at a high level you get moments like this where the team really kinda comes together and they play well,” said coach Brian Schmetzer after the match. “I think the last two games I think we’ve played well, we’ve had some good moments and we’ll try and continue those.”

While Bruin’s opener was a beautiful finish with his weaker left foot, the second goal on a counter-attack was even more impressive as Nico Lodeiro made a near end-to-end run with the ball, drawing five defenders before finding Cristian Roldan wide open inside the box for the finish.

The second half was punctuated by a Victor Rodriguez brace as Seattle continued press the defense and create chances with their passing. Bruin made a very clever dummy on Kelvin Leerdam’s low cross into the box allowing Rodriguez to get a shot away that took a fortunate deflection for his first goal.

The second was the result of Sounders taking advantage of the Houston defense over committing men to the ball, allowing Seattle to make quick passes between defenders into open space. Handwalla Bwana, moments after coming into the match, would ultimately get the assist on the goal as he split two defenders with his short pass to Rodriguez who was then one-on-one with the keeper from about eight yards out.

With the convincing lead, Schmetzer elected to use his substitutions to bring Henry Wingo and Alex Roldan into the match in an attempt to get the young players some extra minutes knowing that Seattle will need to rotate the lineup some with a short turnaround between matches in Orlando and then Houston.

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The changes seemed to unsettle the Seattle defense and allowed Houston to pull back one goal in the 87th minute but by then the match was well out of reach and while the team was disappointed to give up the clean sheet, it was still an impressive performance that puts Seattle on the cusp of their 10th consecutive postseason appearance, which would tie the MLS record.

Perhaps just as important for Seattle is that the win also eliminates Houston from playoff contention and could provide the Sounders with a confidence boost knowing that all of the three teams they will face the rest of the regular season are already out of the playoffs.

Still don’t expect Seattle to overlook those opponents as Bruin said after the match, “midweek game, cross-country in Orlando, a team that you know guys are going to be playing for jobs so that’s always a tough environment to go play in… so we’re going to need to up our game to be able to get a good result.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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In pictures: Confident Sounders embarrass Galaxy 5-0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sounders win third straight with 3-1 victory over NYCFC to continue playoff push

Seattle Sounders FC made it sixstraight unbeaten on a beautiful Sunday afternoon at CenturyLink Field, knocking off New York City FC by a score of 3-1. Goals from Cristian Roldan, Gustav Svensson, and Harry Shipp helped to cap off a stretch of three games in nine days with maximum points from all three matches.

In both of his starts for Seattle, Raul Ruidiaz has shown his ability to draw defenders and create space for his teammates and has made the club much more dangerous in the attacking third. His first goal for the club in the midweek fixture in San Jose gave Seattle their first win at Avaya Stadium and only their second win in San Jose since joining MLS in 2009. On Sunday his presence and work rate in front of goal created the space that allowed his teammates to find scoring opportunities.

Making the most of those opportunities was Harry Shipp who finished the day with a goal and an assist. Shipp looked as confident on Sunday as he has all season, constantly winning the ball in the midfield with his work rate and making precise, dangerous passes to his teammates to stretch the NYC defence.

“The most proud I am is since I started playing again, we’ve been winning games and for me that’s what I take pride in,” said Shipp. “It’s not the goals, it’s not the assists, it’s about winning games.”

For the first time since the signing of Ruidiaz, coach Brian Schmetzer gave us a glimpse of what the team looks like with both Ruidiaz and Will Bruin on the field in a 4-4-2 and was coy when asked afterwards how much that formation factors into his plans for the rest of the season. If anything having both Bruin and Ruidiaz on the field at the same time gives Seattle a striker pairing that is able to be strong in holding the ball high up the field while also having the speed to get behind their opponents back line.

Even in this stretch of sixstraight unbeaten the Sounders feel like they still have improvements to make. Cristian Roldan after the match said, “The incredible thing about this [run] is we’re not playing well. We’re grinding out games, we’re winning these games because we’re playing good defense and we’re scoring one or two goals. And that’s the scary part.” Roldan specifically pointed to the first 30 minutes of the match where he felt the team needed to improve saying the team needs to be better in possession, create more chances and be less predictable in attack.

The Sounders next test will be Saturday, August 4th against Minnesota United who have been extremely dangerous since adding Darwin Quintero from Liga MX side Club America. Since joining the club Quintero has scored nine goals in 17 matches and turned Minnesota into playoff contenders. It’s going to be a challenging road test for the Sounders, especially for the centrebacks as they try and contain Quintero for 90 minutes.

Confidence is certainly growing for Sounders though as they fight to make the playoffs yet again. Schmetzer said, “We’ve discussed this a lot that we put ourselves in a really big hole and so we need to collect points. I don’t care where we collect them, how we collect them, we need to collect points because this team deserves to be in the playoffs… It’s just a question of can we dig ourselves out, can we get enough points to get in.”

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