The first day of the 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs is in the books, with nip and tuck, goal-filled games in both the Eastern and Western conferences.
D.C. United 2 – 1 New England Revolution
In the early match, New England took the lead in the 15th minute through Juan Agudelo, who scored what might remain the playoffs’ most beautiful goal: a bicycle kick volley. After Agudelo’s bit of magic, it looked like DC might once again exit the postseason early, but thanks to a header from Chris Pontius just before halftime, the teams went in level at the break.
In the second half, United’s Chirs Rolfe fluffed a chance to take the lead from the penalty spot, hitting the post. But he would have his redemption, as excellent, slow build up play saw him receive a pass at the edge of the six-yard box in the 83rd minute, a pass which, this time, he dispatched into the back of the net, earning his team a 2-1 victory and a ticket into the Conference Semis.
The Revs’ woes were compounded at the game’s end, as Jermaine Jones was shown a straight red card after arguing with the referee over a handball that wasn’t given. D.C. United will face off against Supporters Shield winners New York Red Bulls in the next round.
Seattle Sounders 3 – 2 L.A. Galaxy
If without a bicycle kick, the game in Seattle was perhaps even more exciting. Seattle, who have been eliminated from the MLS Cup Playoffs by Los Angeles three times in the past five years, looked determined to win it from the first whistle, taking the lead in just the fifth minute when Clint Dempsey quickly dispatched a ball in the box that Galaxy keeper Donovan Ricketts had misjudged. And so began the seesaw.
Barely one minute later, Giovani dos Santos sent a pass into the box with a sleek outside of the foot pass, finding Gyasi Zardes, whose slightly heavy control sent it directly into the feet of Sebastian Lletget, who buried his shot and put the game even at 1-1.
This time, the game would remain tied for six minutes, before Nelson Valdez got himself on the end of a long free kick into the box, putting the home side up once more, 2-1.
But the teams were destined to hit halftime at a deadlock.
In the 22nd minute, Zardes received the ball at the edge of the area, and whipped a shot in toward goal. The U.S. international’s shot took a deflection, sending it into the net at the near post. It was in the 73rd minute that Erik Friberg would win the game, and once again, the Galaxy would have their seasoned veteran keeper to blame for the goal. After a poor headed clearance, Ricketts came forward to collect the ball, thought better of it, and slipped as he attempted to change direction. Off his line and out of position, he scrambled back toward his net, but couldn’t get into position in time to stop Friberg’s brilliant left-footed, half volley—a goal that was, whatever the keeper’s miscues, worthy of the winner.
Seattle will take on the West’s top seed, FC Dallas, in the Conference Semis.
Thursday, Oct. 29
7:00 ET Montreal Impact vs. Toronto FC
This all Canadian fixture is poised to be one to remember. Toronto FC travel to Montreal with a host of household names on their team sheet, including Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and perhaps most menacingly for Montreal, Golden Boot winner Sebastian Giovinco. Giovinco has been a revelation in Toronto this season, scoring 22 goals, and even earning himself a place back in the Italian national side through his unstoppable form. Altidore’s been no slouch, either, nabbing 13 goals himself—enough to be top scorer on many MLS clubs.
But despite the power of Toronto’s attack, the name on everyone’s lips, the striker on everyone’s minds in Montreal tonight will be the seemingly ageless Didier Drogba, who’s provided an epiphany of his own in Montreal since arriving in August. Drogba has been with the Impact for only two months, but in that time, he’s hurdled every other player on the team and established himself as Montreal’s top scorer with 11 goals in 11 games. Even more intimidating for the traveling fans, nine of those goals have come at home.
Prediction: In Montreal’s stands hangs a banner, loaned from Chelsea supporters, that reads “Drogba: Legend.” The man may be legendary, and he may produce some postseason magic for Impact fans tonight, but Toronto’s attacking trio of Altidore, Bradley and Giovinco may well prove too much for the home team. Look for Drogba to ignite his side in a moment of brilliance, perhaps two; and look for Toronto to nonetheless win the day.
Montreal Impact 1 – 3 Toronto FC
10:00 ET Portland Timbers vs. Sporting Kansas City
One month ago, the fortunes of the Timbers and SKC seemed very much at odds. Having defeated Philadelphia on penalties to capture the U.S. Open Cup, Kansas City were flying high, and looked sure to march into the playoffs, perhaps even with a bye into the second round. The Timbers, by contrast, were on the outside looking in—or rather, up—at the teams in playoff positions, close to qualification, but by no means shoo-ins.
Then October happened.
The Timbers went on a tear, winning four consecutive matches (five if you count their last match in September), and closing out the season with dramatic 5-2 and 4-1 victories over L.A. and Colorado respectively. Kansas City, on the other hand, skidded almost to a halt, losing three straight games, and only just salvaging their playoff qualification by beating LA on the last day of the regular season.
As October draws to a close, these two teams will meet at Providence Park in Portland, one hoping to continue their run of form, the other hoping to rediscover their grace from earlier in the year.
Prediction: The Timbers Army’s “North End Noise” will be at maximum volume—which is no mean decibel count—as SKC come to town tonight. Graham Zusi & Co. will come to Portland with everything to play for, but between the Timber’s fantastic form and their massive support at home, it likely won’t be enough.
The Timbers trio of Argentines—Diego Valeri, Max Urruti, and their newest addition, Lucas Melano—will be keen to make life miserable for the visitors. And with the stadium in full voice behind the Argentinian troika, I wouldn’t bet against them.
Portland Timbers 2 – 0 Sporting Kansas City