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MLS Week in Review: Playoff Edition – Play-In Round

The first two matches of the 2013 MLS Cup Playoffs have taken place to determine which teams will move onto the post-season proper, setting up this weekend’s conference semifinal first legs.

Both matches resulted in shutout home wins with five goals scored – one from the penalty spot, while nine yellow cards shown and four reds – one accumulative.

Before diving into the results, the goal of the round:[PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]

The pick of the bunch was undoubtedly Will Bruin’s opener for Houston over Montreal, precipitated by Rico Clark’s deft back-heel set up.

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Seattle 2 – Colorado 0

The playoffs kicked off on Wednesday with the Western Conference play-in match where fourth-placed Seattle hosted fifth-seed Colorado.

Neither side entered in particularly strong form – the host having gone winless through seven and the visitors losing (and going goal-less through) their last three on the road; Seattle were emboldened by the fact that they had won eight of the twelve all-time meetings and had never lost at home to Colorado.

It took just three minutes for the Sounders to find their first chance on goal, coming through Adam Moffat, who found himself in space on the left-side of the box, only for Clint Irwin to parry his shot well.

Colorado struggled to string passes together on the wet and bouncy surface, while Oscar Pareja’s decision to field German Mera and shuffle his back-line rather than go unchanged, looked puzzling when the rusty centre-back misread a bouncing ball, leaving it to his keeper, only for Lamar Neagle to steal in and nod forward - Irwin got enough to push the threat wide.

The match looked to be turning into a physical war of attrition when DeAndre Yedlin and Hendry Thomas took turns running into each other, but then Mera’s rust and the lack of cohesion in the reformatted Colorado lineup proved costly:

Brad Evans sparked the play that led to his goal in the 28th minute by playing up to Clint Dempsey on the right-side of the pitch. Dempsey exchanged passes with Eddie Johnson, moving from right to left, before laying a ball out wide to Leo Gonzalez on the left.

The left-back’s cross into the middle was cleared by Mera, but fell kindly to Evans, who had continued into the box, controlled the ball on his chest above the right-post and hit a right-footed half-volley to the bottom left-side of the goal.

The ease with which Seattle swept through the Colorado midfield, Mera’s poor-placement of his clearing header, and Deshorn Brown falling asleep, failing to track Evans deep led to the opening goal.

Brown was more involved shortly thereafter when he went up for an aerial challenge with Yedlin; the Seattle full-back caught the Colorado rookie high with a stray arm before landing awkwardly and rolling his ankle – both would require treatment and Yedlin would not return for the second half.

Colorado’s best chance came in first half stoppage-time when Martin Rivero volleyed a shot from the top of the box straight at Michael Gspurning after a half-cleared free-kick.

The Sounders came out for the second half energized by their best half in months and nearly crafted another, prompting Rapids keeper, Irwin, to range out of his box to confront Dempsey as he bore down on goal, knocking over the forward and seeing yellow for his troubles. Marc Burch would smack the ensuing free-kick off the bar.

Colorado responded with Brown troubling Gspurning with a curling shot, but then nearly conceded a penalty kick when Mera and Drew Moor each appeared to handle a goal-bound Neagle shot.

With the match fizzling out, Gspurning ensured a tense finale when he inexplicably misread the bounce of a long ball and handled outside his area, earning himself a red card in the process.

The Seattle wall would block the free-kick and Thomas would squirrel his header from the ensuing corner, sparing Gspurning and his replacement, Marcus Hahnemman, any unnecessary blushes.

Time ticked down, the board showed five minutes of extra time, and Dempsey wasted a chance to seal the result, shooting off-target on a break in the 91st.

Two minutes later any chance of a Colorado comeback was neutered when Johnson added a vital second goal:

Mera again played a role, sending an aimless header up the right flank, Edson Buddle could only flick it in-field, where Osvaldo Alonso collected the loose ball. The Cuban destroyer rolled up to Dempsey, who threaded a ball inside the full-back for Eddie cutting in from the right. Johnson nutmegged Mera as he cut past him, opened up his body and side-footed with his right-boot past Irwin at the short-side to kill off the contest.

Seattle end that seven-game winless run and progress to the Western Conference Semifinals where they will face Cascadia rivals, Portland – the series begins on Saturday.

Sigi Schmid reflected post-match, “It’s been a long time since we won a game; we get reminded of that all the time. For us to win a game is just a good feeling. It’s always been our belief that when we get our people on the field, we are a team that can win games. For us it’s a win over a team that embarrassed us the last time. It’s not just a win; it’s the way we played as well.”

The loss eliminated Colorado from the post-season, though they can look to the absence of influential midfielder Dillon Powers – recovering from concussion-symptoms – and the need to hold Vicente Sanchez in reserve until the hour mark – he was revealed to be nursing a broken bone in his shoulder post-match – as partial reasons.

Pareja backed his team, “This stadium, against one of the toughest teams in the league, with this atmosphere, to perform the way that they did today, with that energy and that level of commitment with the game, I’m proud of what the boys have done during this season. I feel bad for them because I know they wanted to advance, but that’s the game,” but did not conceal his disappointment, “My philosophy is about every day and every game. I don’t plan anything. I want to win every game, whether it’s in the season, whether it’s in the playoffs or the offseason and that’s the way I feel, that’s the way I play the game. If you ask me today, I feel terrible. I’m not happy, obviously. I can see great things that happened in the season, but we are competitors here and obviously there is some bitter in this result. But I say we keep moving forward and there's nothing else we can do.”

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Houston 3 – Montreal 0

On Thursday in the East, the other play-in match featured two teams headed in opposite directions.

Houston, late-season risers that they are, entered the match having lost just one of their last seven matches, taking fourteen of 21 available points to thrust into the playoffs, while Montreal backed in, winning one of their last eight and losing six.

The Impact looked lively at the start, with Collen Warner’s fleet-footed run through the middle in the second minute leading to a Marco Di Vaio chance – he was, however, ruled offside.

The first goal would change the outlook of the match after a mere sixteen minutes:

Houston cycled the ball from right to left before Corey Ashe played in-field to Will Bruin. Bruin rolled a pass up to Ricardo Clark, which Matteo Ferrari stretched to intercept, but missed, allowing Clark to collect on the left-side of the arc and press to the right, appearing to take on Nelson Rivas only to back-heel a pass into the space vacated by Ferrari and into the path of Bruin.

Bruin took a touch then smashed a right-footer high to the right-side of goal past Troy Perkins to open the scoring and firmly put the home team in the driver’s seat.

Eleven minutes later Houston put their foot on the throats of their guests, when Hernan Bernardello rashly lunged in on Oscar Boniek Garcia, facing down three defenders, a foot inside the Montreal box, handing over a penalty kick.

Garcia took the attempt himself, stepping up right-footed and sending Perkins diving to his left, before finishing a low drive to the keeper’s right, if not entirely tucked into the corner.

Down two goals and failing to click, desperation began to set in.

Montreal first got physical – with Rivas perhaps lucky to only see yellow for his forearm to the face of Giles Barnes – and then looked for a breakthrough, but Tally Hall was equal to a Di Vaio chance after Justin Mapp, their lone bright spot, slipped the Italian striker down the right.

The second half wrought changes for Montreal, making all three of their substitutes within seventeen minutes of the restart, in the hope of spurring some forward momentum, but a second yellow card and subsequent red to Rivas – who was making his first appearance of the season – quelled those hopes of a comeback.

Rivas went up for an aerial challenge with Bruin and once again raised his arms, catching the forward in the head, and was dismissed in the 70th minute.

Two minutes later Bruin had his second of the match:

Bruin powered a headed pass for himself from the centre-circle, forcing a footrace between himself and Ferrari, outpacing and powering the defender down the left, before cutting across the recovering Jeb Brovsky, rounding Perkins at the top of the area and right-footing into the open net.

Down three goals and a man, with Ferrari slowed by an apparent hamstring issues having overexerted himself in the attempt to bring down Bruin, Montreal could muster little and Houston were content to remove their starters and see out the result.

The dying match sparked in the 88th minute when Kofi Sarkodie shielded a ball in the right-corner from Andres Romero, who was whistled for a shove in the back. In frustration, Romero kicked out at the ball between the defenders legs, catching more than a fair chunk of Sarkodie, and drawing a crowd.

Romero would see red, as would Di Vaio, who appeared to repeatedly try and claw Ashe’s neck – Ashe saw yellow for inserting himself into the incident from afar.

An indignant end to the match and Montreal’s season.

The solid win sees Houston through to the Eastern Conference Semifinals, where they will tangle with New York, starting on Sunday.

Dominic Kinnear lauded his charges, “All credit to the guys, they’ve been fantastic. They go from Sunday to Thursday, a little bit of travel, and to put on a performance like that is something to be inspired by as we head into the next round.”

Playing their best when it matters most – that’s the Houston way.

Montreal’s season comes to close – though they stopped playing a few months ago – on a sour note.

Marco Schallibaum was distraught with the outcome, “I’m very disappointed, because we wanted to make it 2-1. That way, we could have turned the game around, but we couldn’t. It’s been this way for weeks. If we don’t score, we don’t have a chance.

"We are really disappointed that we weren't able to reach the next round. We needed to go all out but today just wasn't our day. We started the game well, in the first 15 minutes, before they scored their goal, but we were unable to come back after that. The cards we received do not put the club in the best light."

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The were no Canadians involved in this play-in round, though both Patrice Bernier and Wandrille Lefevre were on the bench for the Impact.


Patrice Bernier kept it classy with his post-match tweet:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p>Merci à tous nos fans! Vous avez été grandiose cette saison. <a href="https://twitter.com/search?q=%23imfc&src=hash">#imfc</a></p>— Patrice Bernier (@pbernier10) <a href="https://twitter.com/pbernier10/statuses/396117321648832513">November 1, 2013</a></blockquote>
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While other players around MLS were less kind in their assessment of the end:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p>First commercial after the game ends? "Don't Cross The Line"...</p>— AJ DeLaGarza (@AJD_20) <a href="https://twitter.com/AJD_20/statuses/396102744211062785">November 1, 2013</a></blockquote>
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Tally Hall was a little disappointed in the lack of numbers that came out to support the Dynamo on Halloween night, “It was a pretty good game. I think there were a lot of fans who had a good time, and, looking back I bet there’ll be a whole lot more fans that wish they had gone to this game. And hopefully they make the correct decision this weekend.”

Kinnear stepped in to smooth over that possible rift, “The electricity in the air was still very vibrant, the communication between the players and the fans was playoff-like, the ‘ole’s’ were fantastic. For me, I thank every single fan that came out and obviously we have a couple of days to pass on the word and hope we have this place rocking on Sunday and absolutely full.”

The official attendance for the match was 10 476.

See It Live

Wasn’t really a whole lot worth pointing out:

In the West, the physio who came out to attend to Deshorn Brown dropped a pill bottle on the player as he knelt down to check on him; Oscar Pareja kindly took Eddie Johnson by the wrist moments before half-time to point something out – the two have a relationship from their days at Dallas, so it was all friendly enough – and referee, Silviu Petrescu executed a neat block on a dangerous Colorado pass, ending a potential attack.

Out East, the only thing funny about that match was Hassoun Camara’s bull-charge move on Bobby Boswell during a free-kick, falling down, then thrusting his head into the defender’s midsection to try and force him away from the ball.


A good amount of controversy, considering it was only two matches.

Should Seattle have had a penalty kick for the handball by German Mera?

Did Clint Irwin deserve more than a yellow for his foul on Dempsey?

And what was Michael Gspurning thinking with catching that ball?

Did Nelson Rivas’ deserve a red card for his first yellow?

And was the second worthy of a sending off?

What got into Andres Romero and Marco Di Vaio at the end?

Opinion Poll

Should Schallibaum go? And will the league throw the book at the Impact for their ungraceful exit?

Upcoming Fixtures

The playoffs begin in earnest on Saturday and Sunday with the away legs of the Conference Semifinals.

Saturday: New England-Kansas City; Seattle-Portland. Sunday: Houston-New York; Los Angeles-Salt Lake.

A mouth-watering collection of fixtures: New England’s vivacious attack against KC’s smothering defense; a Pacific Northwest derby; perpetual contenders Houston against regular stumblers New York and then there is a rematch of the 2009 MLS Cup, the match that sparked the Salt Lake era.

Should be good.

Each week James takes a look at the league as a whole.

You can follow James on twitter @grawsee or read more of his writing at Partially Obstructed View