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  1. Have a listen! You can listen to this, and all previous, episodes of the podcast on iTunes HERE. Or download it for your later listening delight HERE. We also have an iPhone app, so you can now add our podcast to your phone as an app. Visit the podcast's mobile site HERE and then at the bottom of the screen just click the "Quick Launch" icon and the podcast will be added to your home screen and appear as an app. And if that's not enough, we're on Stitcher Radio Network. Download the app and listen to the AFTN podcast on your device, along with over 20,000 other shows HERE. Or after all that, you could just listen on the player below!
  2. REPORT: Well that's it all over for another season. Vancouver Whitecaps playoff dreams and MLS Cup hopes came crashing to a halt at BC Place on Sunday evening after an electrifying atmosphere and start fizzled out. What started out as a night to remember, ended as a night to forget, as goals from Fanendo Adi and Diego Chara gave Portland Timbers a fairly comfortable 2-0 win over a Whitecaps side that seemed short of ideas and any real attacking threat after Kekuta Manneh limped off with an ankle injury after just 26 minutes. Manneh had looked to be the game changer for Vancouver in a fast-paced start. As it turns out, he was, but it was due to his injury. The Whitecaps failure to get an away goal down in Portland also proved costly, as did their continued inability to turn their numerous chances into goals. Whitecaps' talismanic captain Pedro Morales returned to the starting line-up, in the only Vancouver change from the first leg, with Diego Chara returning to Portland's starting eleven. Only one of them was to have a huge influence in the game. Sadly for the 'Caps, it was Chara. With the first goal crucial, Vancouver attacked from the off and it was an electrifying start to the match from both teams. Kekuta Manneh was amped up for this one and causing the Timbers a lot of early problems. The Gambian fired a low shot narrowly wide right in the 6th minute, then followed it up moments later by running at the Portland defence and crashing another low shot off the left post, bouncing off the back of Timbers' keeper Adam Kwarasey and past for a corner. Diego Valeri had Portland's best chance in the 14th minute, with a long range curler that went wide. Vancouver's early pressure and efforts had come to nothing. It's something we've seen all season, with mixed results by the end of it. The 'Caps were then dealt a blow midway through the half when Manneh slipped and went over on his ankle and had to be replaced by Mauro Rosales. With two attacking midfielders now on the pitch that may struggle to see the end of the match, Vancouver's depth was going to be tested. Then things took an ever worse turn for the 'Caps in the 31st minute when the Timbers took the lead. Diego Valeri received the ball out left, hit the byeline and cut the ball back to an open Adi, who made no mistake in firing high into the Vancouver net. It was now looking to be a massive uphill battle for the Whitecaps. The away goal initially stunned Vancouver and BC Place, but the Whitecaps regrouped and finished the half strongly, with Kwarasey forced to tip an Octavio Rivero header over from under his bar, a minute before the break. Vancouver tried to take the game to Portland at the start of the second and had a couple of penalty shouts that were given no time by referee Elfath. The Timbers were looking comfortable and the 'Caps seemed to have nothing left to throw at them. David Ousted had to act quickly to keep out a Portland free kick that came through a mass of players untouched with ten minutes remaining. Vancouver weren't looking like getting one goal, never mind the two they needed, but as they pushed for any kind of consolation, Portland hit a second four minutes into stoppage time, when Chara buried an Adi layoff. 2-0 Portland and a trip to Dallas for their second Western Conference Championship game in two years now awaits the Timbers. Vancouver now have time to rest, reflect on what was a fairly successful year, regroup and fill that massive need that still remains in the goalscoring department. It's been a great year taken as a whole, but a horrible ending. Focus on the former will certainly come, but right now, it's hard to shake the latter. With the right additions and changes though, 2016 could be even better. But the bar is now set very high. Hopefully the 'Caps can still reach and get over it. FINAL SCORE: Vancouver Whitecaps 2 - 0 Portland Timbers ATT: 27,837 VANCOUVER: David Ousted; Steven Beitashour (Robert Earnshaw 82), Tim Parker, Kendall Waston, Jordan Harvey; Matias Laba, Gershon Koffie (Darren Mattocks 63), Cristian Techera, Pedro Morales, Kekuta Manneh (Mauro Rosales 26); Octavio Rivero [subs Not Used: Paolo Tornaghi, Jordan Smith, Christian Dean, Russell Teibert] PORTLAND: Adam Kwarasey; Alvas Powell, Nat Borchers, Liam Ridgewell, Jorge Villafana (Norberto Paparatto 67); Diego Valeri (Jack Jewsbury 84), Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe; Dairon Asprilla, Fanendo Adi, Rodney Wallace (Lucas Melano 80) [subs Not Used: Jake Gleeson, Will Johnson, Taylor Peay, Maximiliano Urruti] REACTION: VANCOUVER WHITECAPS CARL ROBINSON Thoughts on the match changing when Kekuta Manneh came off: “Well, first of all I want to congratulate Portland, a credit to them for winning the game today, winning the two leg series. So, congratulations to them. It changed, dramatically. I think the kid started like a house on fire and put us in the ascendency with playing front football, and hit the two and have one or two half chances, then it changes. But when it’s not your day, it’s not your day and today, it wasn’t our day. We didn’t score a goal over two legs. When you don’t score a goal over two legs, unless you’re lucky and go to penalties and win, you’re not going to win a game of football, and that’s what happened.” On what the team needs to get that early decisive goal in games: “That’s a million dollar question. I think the reason strikers are paid so much money in this game is because they are able to put the ball into the back of the net and we haven’t been able to do that. Not just tonight, but for a number of games this year. That’s something I’ll have to go back to the drawing board with my staff in the offseason, and try and bring some more goals, because it’s ultimately cost us a little bit, especially tonight, and that’s something you have to take on the chin.” On whether he thinks he waited too long to make an offensive substitution: “No, because I made it at 58 minutes or so. I wanted to get a reaction out of the boys. I think they played very well in the first half. The game’s fine lines. Adi scores a good goal, probably we’re not set up properly off a throw in and pull back, he scores. You know, we had a chance last Sunday with Rivero on his left foot, but we don’t hit the target, he scores. In hindsight, you can say that a minute after he scored, maybe I should have changed it. But no, we give it a little bit. We changed the formation twice to try and get back into it. I think we could have been there another 90 minutes and not scored, it’s one of them.” On if not getting the away goal in Portland was key to the match: “I’ll never know, I suppose. As I said, they are disappointed today, disappointed for the guys in there, but really proud of them. They should come away from this season, we’ve achieved a lot of things at this football club and they should be proud of themselves. Disappointed, yes, we’ve missed an opportunity, a missed opportunity for us this year. But, we’re a young group of players and we’ll learn from it. As I said to you when I first walked in here, credit to Portland. They’re a good team.” On what the positives were this season: “I’m proud of them because they’ve achieved a number of firsts this year. The game is about proving people wrong and I’ve said that to you all along. If you don’t score a goal, you’ve got to continue to work hard to create chances to score goals. If you concede three goals, you’ve got to get back to basic defending probably. There’s a lot of positives, as I’ve said, they’re disappointed today because the fans out there were fantastic. What an atmosphere. I’m disappointed we couldn’t win the game for them. But that gives us a little taste and a sample of what we can do if we continue to build and continue to get positive results, because they supported us right until the 95th minute, which was great and I thank them for that.” KENDALL WASTON On a tough way to end the season: “We were expecting here at home [to] win the game. We’re disappointed because we worked very hard during all the season to get to the final, looking to make a lot of history here at the club. But I’m very proud of my teammates because even when we were down we were trying to look how we could have scored, but it’s hard because Portland is a very good team and they deserved to win.” On starting with energy before Kekuta Manneh went out injured: “This is about scoring. We couldn’t score, Portland got their opportunity and everything shut off there. But it’s very hard not to talk because you feel a little disappointed and sad, so I’m sorry.” On not scoring a goal: “Very hard because we were looking corner kicks, free kicks, all over the place how to score and we didn’t get the opportunity clearly to score. But the other team played very good and they tried to defend very well.” On disappointment of team not playing their best match: “Yes, a lot. Everybody tried their 100 per cent. But now we just have to congratulate Portland for the win, and now we’re just looking forward for the next year trying to reach this place and trying to get to the finals.” DAVID OUSTED Thoughts on the match: “Right now I’m very disappointed. Over 180 minutes we weren’t good enough. I’m proud of where we are and where we came to with this group, the growth we’ve shown throughout the year, but it’s a step short of where I wanted to go.” On having an early chance to get the go-ahead goal: “Obviously, we hit the post and Adam got it outside with, I think it was his neck. And obviously if that goes in it’s a different game. But like I say, all-in-all we don’t want to stand here and make excuses. Over 180 minutes I think Portland were the better team.” On the atmosphere: “We’ve had fantastic fans the whole year, and this is what we want as an organization, we want 27,000 here every time. We want at one point being able to open up this whole stadium. This is a step in the right direction, but like I say it’s a step short of where we wanted to go.” MAURO ROSALES On the performance v Portland: "We didn't perform as good as we played the last couple of games. It was a crucial game for us. This kind of game you have to step up with a different mentality, with a different approach to the games. Do your 110 percent every time. We had a good run during the season. When we should perform at higher levels, we didn't. Disappointed but proud of the team for how hard they've worked during the year." On the Whitecaps season: "I'm proud of the team. A lot of positive things, a lot of positive players coming up, doing a very good job. High levels all season for many of our players. We just wait for next year now." PORTLAND TIMBERS CALEB PORTER Thoughts on the win: “I think we managed both legs really well. We didn’t give up the away goal which led into this game. We knew they would want to come out, and yet we wanted to be aggressive as well. We went for the first goal, and we got it. It was something we worked on, in terms of getting in that left channel. It was a great goal. Then that meant now that we could manage the game with the ball, which we did second half. You saw the possession that we had and we were able to keep them from attacking by doing that, and keep them from playing the transition they like to play by slowing the tempo down with the ball. We were very patient and organized and they had a hard time breaking us down and then we found the counterattack, which I knew would be on as they tried to push because they needed two goals after we found the first one. So I thought it was very well managed overall.” On Norberto Paparatto having to sub in for injured Jorge Villafana: “They needed two goals, so they started just throwing numbers forward and putting guys in up top so it made sense to put Paparatto in and push Liam over to left back, he can sit in and we can play almost with three central defenders. So it made sense at that stage in the game. And then when they made their last move putting Earnshaw in, then we went to two holding mids, just to kind of give us an extra number defensively. But listen, it’s the players, it’s nothing to do with my moves or things I do. It’s them playing inside the lines. This team, they play for each other, they’re very hungry, and the last six games we’re unbeaten. The last six games we’ve been in playoff mode, we’ve been in massive pressure. For this group to play the football they’re playing, under massive pressure, is a really good sign. Four teams left, and three games to go, and we have two teams in our way.” On two weeks before the next match: “We need to recharge and recover from this game, we have time to do that. And then we need to get back to training, and keep getting better. I think we’re still scratching the surface of the level this team can play at. Today we did some things we haven’t done all year. So that’s exciting, because I think we can still, in the next couple of weeks, go to another level. " On facing FC Dallas: “Very good team, but we’ve been playing good teams late in the year. Like I said, we’ve been in playoff mode. I think that’s helped us. I think our experience in the playoffs helped us in this series. We’ve already won a playoff series versus Seattle [in] 2013. I think this is now our fourth win in the playoffs. The maturity we showed today, the professionalism we showed in managing this leg, and both legs, I thought was visible. Obviously Dallas is a good team, but we’ve been beating good teams. I know these guys will be up for it.” FANENDO ADI On his match-winning goal: “That was just something we practice at training. When I saw Diego [Valeri] on the ball, I knew he was going to cut it back. We talked about getting [Kendall] Waston out of the box and he followed the ball. I knew he was going to cut it back and I just stayed in position. The ball came and I hit it well.” On the Timbers attack clicking tonight: “It’s massive. It’s just understanding. We’ve trained and played a lot with these guys. You understand their movement and your movement as well. It’s just an understanding and it worked very well for us today.” On Diego Chara’s late goal: “That was a massive goal. It’s almost the same goal he got against, I think, FC Dallas. He won the ball and I was in position so he gave it to me. I just let [Kendall] Waston get to my side again and give the ball back to him and he did a great job finishing well.” On playing against Kendall Waston: “It’s always a good battle going up against such a good player. He’s big and he challenges you to be very focused to challenge balls against him. It was a great battle. I’m glad we came out victorious.” DIEGO CHARA On tonight’s win: “Our mentality tonight was to win. We tried to keep the ball and manage the tempo. We were effective with our chances. These were the real key for us.” On his late goal: “My role is to defend but sometimes I find space to attack, and tonight I did.” On facing FC Dallas: “FC Dallas are a good team. They have good players. The first leg will be at home and we need to win that.” On Fanendo Adi’s goal: “We’re confident in him because he can score. It was a great moment for him.” LIAM RIDGEWELL On tonight’s win: “Last time we were here, it was disappointing. They scored in the very last minute. It was very satisfying tonight. The boys played fantastic. I thought we deserved to win. I’m looking forward to the next game.” On Robert Earnshaw’s performance: “He tried his luck. Rob has always done that back home and since coming over here. I think we did well tonight as a team defensively. They couldn’t break us down. As soon as we got the first goal, we knew they had to get two. [Diego] Chara put the icing on the cake. It was fantastic.” On the team’s celebration after Diego Chara’s goal: “It was fantastic. The goal at the end certainly put the nail in the coffin. Everyone celebrating together was fantastic. That’s what we’ve been about over the last two and half months. Riding the wave, everyone together. We’re looking to do that next game.”
  3. Have a listen! You can listen to this, and all previous, episodes of the podcast on iTunes HERE. Or download it for your later listening delight HERE. We also have an iPhone app, so you can now add our podcast to your phone as an app. Visit the podcast's mobile site HERE and then at the bottom of the screen just click the "Quick Launch" icon and the podcast will be added to your home screen and appear as an app. And if that's not enough, we're on Stitcher Radio Network. Download the app and listen to the AFTN podcast on your device, along with over 20,000 other shows HERE. Or after all that, you could just listen on the player below!
  4. Have a listen! You can listen to this, and all previous, episodes of the podcast on iTunes HERE. Or download it for your later listening delight HERE. We also have an iPhone app, so you can now add our podcast to your phone as an app. Visit the podcast's mobile site HERE and then at the bottom of the screen just click the "Quick Launch" icon and the podcast will be added to your home screen and appear as an app. And if that's not enough, we're on Stitcher Radio Network. Download the app and listen to the AFTN podcast on your device, along with over 20,000 other shows HERE. Or after all that, you could just listen on the player below!
  5. REPORT: Delicately poised. That's perhaps the best phrase to sum up the current standing of the all-Cascadian Western Conference semi-final between Vancouver Whitecaps and Portland Timbers. There were no goals at Providence Park on Sunday but both teams had their chances. The 'Caps could have been two up at half-time. The Timbers could have had it all square at 2-2 by full time. Those away goals would have set Vancouver up nicely. Instead it's goalless and all to play for next Sunday at BC Place. Carl Robinson went with an unchanged Vancouver line-up from the team that secured their first round bye in last week's 3-0 win over Houston. Portland served up a shock, with Thursday's shoot-out hero, goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey, missing out through a late injury. Diego Chara also sat out for Caleb Porter's side. It was a frenetic opening spell, with both teams piling forward in attacks. Portland had the best of the early chances when Tim Parker failed to deal with a low cross in from the left but Lucas Melano shot weakly at David Ousted in the 7th minute, when he should have done better. Vancouver's best chance came eight minutes before the half, when a quick break from Gershon Koffie ended with a Kekuta Manneh cross into the box but Octavio Rivero rushed at his shot, when he had time, and blasted wildly over. Inbetween those chances there hadn't really been any goalmouth action in what had been a fast paced half. The 'Caps had another excellent opportunity to open the scoring moments later but Koffie squandered the good build up play. It surprisingly took until the 44th minute for the first yellow card to come, but then with two in a minute, one for each side, the fear was that the floodgates were now open in that aspect. Whatever Caleb Porter said to Portland at the half, it worked and they came out all guns blazing and with their tails up to start the second half, launching wave after wave of attacks. The Whitecaps defence was certainly bending, but not breaking and Kendall Waston did well to scramble the ball away in the 54th minute, after Fanendo Adi had been played in but Ousted was out quick to knock the ball clear. Manneh forced an easy save at the near post in the 71st minute, after a build up that felt like it had 100 passes. Portland responded with Diego Valeri forcing a stunning one hand save from Ousted from a free kick, 25 yards out. With the Timbers continuing to push on a slick pitch, the 'Caps survived some scrambles in their box, as they struggled to get out from being penned in deep. The game became end to end and Ousted had to get down to a low Urruti shot late on, but it was a fairly easy save for the Dane. Urruti came within inches of grabbing a late winner for the Timbers in the last minute, when he was slipped in but could only look on in agony as he crashed his shot off the right hand post. A close call and a lucky escape for Vancouver. Referee Allen Chapman showed balls of steel to blow for full time after the Timbers had won a corner, but it kept the game all square. Probably a fair result and setting up what has the potential to be a truly epic battle in Vancouver next Sunday. FINAL SCORE: Portland Timbers 0 - 0 Vancouver Whitecaps ATT: 21,144 PORTLAND: Jake Gleeson; Alvas Powell, Nat Borchers, Liam Ridgewell, Jorge Villafana; Jack Jewsbury, Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri; Rodney Wallace, Lucas Melano (Dairon Asprilla 61), Fanendo Adi (Maxi Urruti 71) [subs Not Used: Andrew Weber, Taylor Peay, Norberto Paparatto, Will Johnson, George Fochive] VANCOUVER: David Ousted; Steven Beitashour, Tim Parker, Kendall Waston, Jordan Harvey; Matias Laba, Russell Teibert, Cristian Techera, Gershon Koffie (Mauro Rosales 63), Kekuta Manneh (Pedro Morales 77); Octavio Rivero (Darren Mattocks 88) [subs Not Used: Paolo Tornaghi, Jordan Smith, Christian Dean, Deybi Flores] REACTION: VANCOUVER WHITECAPS CARL ROBINSON On if he was nervous in the match and if he’s happy with the draw: “That’s not nervous compared to Thursday night where I sat in the stands watching Portland and [sporting] Kansas City. That was very calm. We came into the game with a game plan. We knew what we wanted to do. I think we executed it perfectly. In the first half I thought we were very, very good up until the final third. We missed our chances. I think we should have been ahead in the first half. In the second half, as expected, they’re going to change slightly. They came out and were probably the more aggressive team. Obviously we rode our luck in the last minute, but I think we deserve it.” On if he’s disappointed in not getting a goal on the road: “Of course. Everyone wants [a goal]. I’m sure they want a home goal as well. The mindset now changes to next week’s game at BC Place and they are important away goals, we know that, but we had two great chances in the first half and we didn’t take them. Nothing you can do. You have to get back to work.” On if either team has an advantage heading into the next game: “I just think it’s just one game of football. It’s come down to final ends again. We talked about final ends today in the game whether we went ahead in the first half then they [get] it at the end. It’s which players perform on the day. [These are] two good teams. I said in that in the build up to the game. I’ll rely on my players turning out and Caleb will rely on his players turning up. It should be an exciting game.” On if his game plan will be affected if Portland scores first at BC Place: “No. We just have to win the game. If we win the game of football at home in our backyard then we are through. If they get an away goal then they know they have the slight advantage there but we will rest up and be ready for next week as well.” On goalkeeper David Ousted’s performance: “He’s been brilliant. He’s been brilliant all season for me. Obviously, he’s taken over the captaincy since Pedro [Morales] has been out the team. I remember him making a great save from Diego Valeri. Super free kick and obviously he gets a bit of luck at the end. Sometimes you need luck in this game as we all know.” On if Pedro Morales can be expected to play next Sunday: “Certainly hope so. You see the quality he has when he comes on. Mauro Rosales as well. We’ve missed these players. You want your good players in your team. The guys who have been playing have done fantastically well for us. It’ll set up nicely, give them a week of full training and I’m sure he’ll be ready to go.” On if midfielder Kekuta Manneh could have done better today: “No. I think he worked his socks off for the team. With all attacking players I’m sure they’re always judged by the journalists by goals and assists but as a coach you see the outside work that they do. He put a great shift in. He had one or two chances to do better in the final third which I’m sure he’ll admit but if it doesn’t come off for you in the attacking third you have to put a shift in or you don’t play.” On defender Kendall Waston’s performance: “Again, I think the word is monster again. Him and Tim Parker had their hands full, we know that. [Timbers forward] Maxi [urruti] comes on with his little movements and things like that. The back six of the team were fantastic today. As I said, you get your reward in this game if you put the work in and we certainly put a lot of work in today. We got our award in the first leg but we’re at halftime. There’s a lot to play for and it should set up nicely for next week.” On if midfielder Gershon Koffie is a number 10 player: “No he’s not but you change formations as managers and you try and get other players on the field because you want your players to perform. He has done a great job for me today in that role. Is it his ideal role? No and he’ll be the first to admit that but it’s not about individuals, it’s about the team and getting a result like this today.” On his decision to put midfielder Pedro Morales in the game: “It’s important he gets some football and gets some minutes in a competitive match under his belt. We’re thinking about playing him next week and bringing him off the bench was an option for me. Had to do it because I think Portland had the upper hand at that time and the game was starting to open up a little bit and I thought maybe we could execute our final passes. He brought calmness to our play which he does because he’s a top player.” On Portland’s shot that hit the post: “Sometimes it’s out of your hands. You just hope it’s not down to a mistake or a bad decision or things like that. We’ll take the post.” KENDALL WASTON On the overall match: “It was a hard match because this is a final and nobody wants to give anything. First half I think that we had some opportunities that we could have scored but this is soccer, just like them in the second half they made some good stops. I think now everything leads us to the second match that I think it’s going to be harder.” On if he was relieved when the shot went off the post in the 89th minute: “For sure. Nobody wants to let their team score. All those things count and I think today we had a good performance. We want to do things correctly and Portland was at home with their crowd and I think they had a great game as well.” On goalkeeper David Ousted’s performance: “Awesome. I think he’s the best goalkeeper in MLS. Every game he stands there and tries to get a clean sheet and today he helped us a lot.” On if he’s disappointed with not scoring on the road: “Disappointing is when you play and you don’t try your best. I think today we tried our best. Octavio [Rivero] and our other forwards were trying to score. Nobody wanted to kick the ball outside. The main thing is that we have team spirit, we have faith that the team is going to compete and hopefully next game we can win at home.” On having midfielder Pedro Morales return tonight: “[it was] great because we know that Pedro helps us a lot. He was working hard in his recovery and now everyone I think is available. It’s going to be a great battle during the week to see who is going to be the 11 starters.” PEDRO MORALES On making his return to the field: “I feel very happy. I have been waiting for this moment for maybe two months and not playing too much. Today I played 50 minutes and I feel OK. It’s a great result to come back home at BC Place. We have a big chance in the house now. [We] just [need to] keep the same work in the week and just prepare for the big game next week.” On if playing today sets him up to play at least a half next Sunday: “I don’t know. I’ll try yes. I need to train good this week and then it just depends on where you fit the team. I just need to work.” On if he felt any pain out there: “No. This is the reason I played. I don’t feel pain now. It’s the reason I’m very happy to come back and play. Now I’ve been working my way back for the team and just next week is a big game.” On the key to getting a goal next week: “Play hard. Take the ball. They have very good players and it’s a big, big game. [it] may be the last game for us or for Portland. You need to compete 100 percent. Now it’s a great opportunity to score and take a goal [at home]” On goalkeeper David Ousted’s performance: “[it was] very good. I think this year David’s had a good season for the team. For us, he’s a very good player. I think the best in the MLS. Just keep the same work now and wait for this game.” On if he thought his season was over after the last injury: “The last injury I thought maybe San Jose [would be] my last game this year but the team, the staff just gave me so much support. Now I feel OK, just keeping the same work every day and just wait for the last game now.” On who has the advantage going into the second game: “Maybe [us]. We need the support at BC Place. [There might be] maybe more than 25,000 people [at the stadium]. It’s very important for us. We’re very excited for this game and now we have a big chance for a win for the city, as a family for the club.” DAVID OUSTED On if one team has an advantage going into the next game: “Hopefully we have the advantage of being home at BC Place. Hopefully we go home now and make sure that we get that goal to lure them out a little bit.” On if there’s more pressure knowing they’ll need to score two goals if Portland gets one: “There’s pressure all the time. There’s pressure as well of keeping a clean sheet and keeping them off the scoreboard. I don’t think more than usual. We’ll assess that game and go in and try and win it.” On what he saw in Diego Valeri’s free kick: “I saw it pretty clear. I saw when it was going past the wall and I’ve seen him a few times. He likes that corner and is fantastic at putting it there so I needed a little bit extra to get there.” On how his team performed tonight: “I thought we did well. I thought it was a professional showing of what we needed to do, be defensively sound and make sure they didn’t get that goal so we needed to chase. I thought we did well. Obviously we would have loved to get that away goal but it wasn’t to be today. Now we go back to BC Place and try and win it.” On knowing that Portland wouldn’t show their exhaustion from a long match on Thursday: “We knew that coming in here was going to be tough. We knew that their crowd was going to give them that little bit of extra. [Did they have] tired legs? Yes, maybe a little bit but they were going on adrenaline and their crowd .We knew it was going to be tough and I’m delighted with the result we take away from here.” On defender Kendall Waston’s performance: “Kendall showed what he has been showing all year, that he’s so strong in the air. He does very well defensively. With the other three guys in the back four there, they’re very solid. Kendall has been showing it all year and we need him to keep showing it in this playoff run here.” PORTLAND TIMBERS CALEB PORTER On his team’s performance today: “I thought their effort was outstanding. We played a game on Thursday, 120 minutes, to go through what we went through physically and emotionally and to turn around and play like we played today, put ourselves in a position to win the game. We got a couple chances, those didn’t fall, but we were outstanding defensively. Obviously we were the team that was on the ball more. I'm real proud of the guys for that. In saying that, Vancouver they showed tonight why they were the best defensive team in the league. Their goalkeeper Ousted was outstanding, [Kendall] Waston’s a beast and they are a good team. So I thought even though there wasn’t a goal, if you know the game, it was a really good game to watch. It puts us in a good spot. Obviously not as good as if we would have won 1-0, but they didn’t get the away goal. So if we score one goal, they have to score two. If we score two goals, they have to score three. It will make for a very interesting second leg. We’ve won seven games on the road and we’ve been very hot on the road recently and we’ve scored goals on the road. It puts us in a good position to go and play for the win.” On Jake Gleeson’s performance: “I thought he was great today. We want that out of our young players when they get the opportunity to be able to step in. We’ve had several in that position this year and they’ve all done a really good job. He didn’t have a ton to do, but what he did have to manage I think he looked very comfy.” On if the pressure is back on Vancouver: “It was a defensive battle. We knew it would be. Usually the first legs are tight because they always set up the next game, but you saw they went for attacking subs at the end. I think the reason is they wanted that away goal. They didn’t get it. Unfortunately we didn’t find the goal either, but now that we go on the road knowing that we are a good road team and knowing we just have to win the game. We can even draw as long as we score a goal.” On moving Darlington Nagbe deeper in the second half: “Second half we wanted to get more possession and I think we did that. I think it helped us control the game better. The reason was getting him on the ball, bringing him deep to help build attacks. I haven’t seen his numbers today but I bet they are pretty high in terms of his pass completions. Overall we didn’t find the goal but we certainly were the team that controlled the majority of the play. They were dangerous on the counter a couple of times, but other than set pieces and counters they didn’t have much. I thought again it was two very good defensive teams and that showed today. So I’m not surprised that I was 0-0. I actually thought it would be 1-0, either way. I thought there was a goal in there and I thought it was going to be us. You saw at the end of the game we were pushing. I looked like we would find it Maxi had the chance. A bit unfortunate, but maybe it evened things out from Thursday with the post hurting us instead of helping us this game.” On the importance of depth and performance from players off the bench: “Really important. Hopefully we are in the playoffs all the way to the end because we had to play the extra game yellow card suspensions could play in. So we need those guys. Rodney’s [Wallace] on one, [Diego] Valeri’s on one, Ridgy’s [Liam Ridgewell] is on one and [George] Fochive, if you get one more than you’ll miss a game. So because of that, obviously, we need guys to be ready, but also you never know with injuries. As you go on in the playoffs you need to go to your bench at times. It’s big that we can put those guys in and they perform. They’ve performed really well now two straight games. We had planned to put those guys in in the second half. I thought they did give us a spark.” On keeping the team in a rhythm even though Chara remains out: “With Jack [Jewsbury] staying in and being in a rhythm I really liked the fact even though the fatigue factor was played up. I liked the fact that we were in a rhythm of playing. In the playoffs, sometimes even though you don’t have a ton of rest it’s better psychologically just to keep playing. I thought our guys looked comfortable. This is our second year in the playoffs and we’ve got three wins and this is Vancouver’s third year and they are still looking for that first win in the playoffs. So I think that experience will hopefully help us.” On how to keep the momentum and mindset going with a bit longer break between games: “I think we need to recharge. It couldn’t come at a better time. We knew obviously that it’s a two-leg series and we need to put ourselves in a position where we can have a week off – a week to prep, a week to recharge and go into the game fresh. I was surprised how fresh we looked, to be honest with you. I didn’t think it would be a big factor but it really didn’t look like it was a factor at all in the game. I was really pleased, I can’t ask for anything more out of the guys. Like I said, we put ourselves in position now where we have a week to really look at Vancouver, look at this game, prepare and come out flying. We are going to try to score goals. We are not going to sit back. Obviously we will be smart like we were today. But we play to win and we play to score goals. We are capable of scoring goals and if we score goals, now they have to get one more than us.” On decision to have Alvas Powell play a little bit more reined in: “There were little things that we felt playing 120 minutes Thursday there were some things that we needed to do to kind of manage the game. One of those things was to play a little bit more conservatively with our outside backs. Part of that is Vancouver as well with [Cristian] Techera and [Kekuta] Manneh, we knew they would look to hit us on counters and we didn’t want to get into a track meet in the game. This is one of the few times where that wouldn’t benefit us because obviously we had a lot of miles on the legs. So we played with Alvas [Powell] and Jorge [Villafaña] a little bit more conservatively to help manage the counter attack with their two wingers, but also to manage their legs. The other thing we did is stayed a little bit more compact, didn’t press as much. We wanted to keep our shape and we also talked about having possession just to control the tempo and in some ways, slow the game down a little bit." JAKE GLEESEON On when he knew he was going to start: “I got a text this morning from Adin [brown} just saying Adam [Kwarasey] isn’t feeling the best, so just be ready. As a backup, you always have to be ready, you don’t know when you’re going to go in. Just look at [Jon] Kempin the other night. So when I was walking in, Adam gave me a call and said ‘I’m heading home. I’m not feeling well.’ He was really sick. That’s when I really, officially found out I was playing, so it was a pretty exciting morning.” On comparing playing in the postseason with his start in Portland’s first MLS home game in 2011: “Obviously the first home game was a few years ago now, so it’s been a few years since I’ve been back out there. Once you’ve played at that level and go back, it’s like picking up where you left off. The chanting, the sounds, the stadium and all, are very familiar to me. I’ve been here so long. So it’s just like in any other game. You just go out there, keep your head down, but obviously a great experience to be back out there.” On hearing the reaction of the Timbers Army when he came out to warm up: “They give you a boost for sure. It’s like playing with an extra man or 21,000 extra men. They definitely give you that extra boost you need to get out there and do what you need to do. I’m a very calm person out there, so I don’t let it get to me too much. I like to stay focused, but it’s good. I like playing in front of them.” JACK JEWSBURY General thoughts on the match: “Kind of like we thought it would be, to be honest. We knew it was going to be tight. We knew they’re a great defensive team. We knew we weren’t going to get a ton of looks, but we got enough to get a goal. I thought the one of Maxi’s was in and I already started running down the left side to celebrate with him. So unfortunate that that one didn’t go in. We set ourselves up with a good opportunity now to move on. We’ve been a team that, on the road, has been very good. So we’re confident about next weekend.” On Jake Gleeson’s performance: “Jake’s a guy that got a ton of games with T2 and that’s what that’s all about. Getting reps for goalkeepers and backups that keeps them fresh. We’ve seen in training the last couple months that he’s been with us that he’s an exceptional young goalkeeper. We weren’t nervous at all about him stepping in. He did a great job tonight.” On if he was tired following the extra time and penalties against Sporting Kansas City: “For me to say not at all would probably be a lie. There were definitely moments where you have to catch that second wind, but the reality is at this time of year, it’s the playoffs. So everything gets thrown out the window in terms of being tired. We had two days off almost where we could regroup and get our bodies back to normal. It wasn’t that much different from a midweek hard training that we’d have on Wednesday. Obviously not 120 minutes long and the emotions that were in the Kansas City game, but overall I thought we looked very fresh. Sometimes that can be at your benefit when you’re on a good run like we are with four wins. We’re just looking forward to a few days off here. Relax a little bit and then get back to work for next Sunday.” On the importance of keeping a clean sheet with the away goals rule in play: “Obviously it’s important when road goals come into play. We thought late in the game that we could continue to push. They were going to be OK with a tie, but I think, even with some of their substitutions, you could tell that they were still trying to push for that road goal.” DIEGO VALERI General thoughts on the match: “We are happy with the performance but obviously not happy with the result. We deserved more, but it is what it is. We had some chances in the second half to score and we didn’t. But we’re in a good position. I think we were the better team on the field today, even if we played 120 minutes on Thursday. I’m happy with the performance. I think the team played really well.” On keeping a clean sheet and the away goal advantage heading to Vancouver: “It’s always very important because in this style of tournament, the clean sheet is very important. It’s good. Now we’re in a good position to score a goal there and force them to score two goals.” On the benefit of a full week of rest ahead of the second leg: “It’s good. It’s good because we have couple guys with some knocks, some problems. We need to rest. Tomorrow is a day off, so we will rest. It’s good. We have to watch the game to see what we need to fix and keep working.” On Jake Gleeson’s performance: “Amazing. I think he looked very mature. He’s a great ‘keeper and I’m very happy for him.” On the difficulty breaking down Vancouver: “I think because they defend with a lot of people, they put a lot of numbers behind the ball. I think we controlled the game. It was good because we were patient and we found some chances, very clear chances to score. We were a little bit unlucky. I had the free kick, Maxi’s chance and a couple more. I liked the way we played.”
  6. Until next time, have a great soccer! @OfftheWoodworkx @KevLaramee http://www.afrokanlife.com/category/sports/ http://canadiansoccernews.com http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/off-the-woodwork/id898309206?mt=2 http://www.stitcher.com/podcast/off-the-woodworkx Sports Podcasting Network http://itunes.apple.com/ca/podcast/otw-studios/id1018126433 http://feeds.feedburner.com/otwstudios Support Kevin and SPN http://patreon.com/kevinlaramee http://kevinlaramee.com
  7. Have a listen! You can listen to this, and all previous, episodes of the podcast on iTunes HERE. Or download it for your later listening delight HERE. We also have an iPhone app, so you can now add our podcast to your phone as an app. Visit the podcast's mobile site HERE and then at the bottom of the screen just click the "Quick Launch" icon and the podcast will be added to your home screen and appear as an app. And if that's not enough, we're on Stitcher Radio Network. Download the app and listen to the AFTN podcast on your device, along with over 20,000 other shows HERE. Or after all that, you could just listen on the player below!
  8. Until next time, have a great soccer! @TwoSolitudesPod @24thminute @KevLaramee http://itunes.apple.com/ca/podcast/two-solitudes-soccer-podcast/id833616975?mt=2 http://www.stitcher.com/podcast/the-two-solitudes-mls-podcast http://feeds.feedburner.com/twosolitudespod Sports Podcasting Network http://itunes.apple.com/ca/podcast/otw-studios/id1018126433 http://feeds.feedburner.com/otwstudios http://canadiansoccernews.com http://kevinlaramee.com Support SPN http://patreon.com/kevinlaramee
  9. Heading into this bye weekend on the back of the disappointing, but not too unexpected, 2-0 loss at the now newly crowned 2015 Western Conference champions FC Dallas, Vancouver's hold on their third spot in the table looked precarious to say the least. Both Sporting KC and Seattle Sounders had the chance to jump over Vancouver, sending them plummeting to 5th in the West and in danger of missing out on a home playoff game. Both faced tough, but very winnable, road games against teams below them in the table but fighting for their playoff lives. San Jose kicked the weekend off the way the 'Caps wanted it on Friday night with a tense 1-0 win over KC. Houston blew a one goal lead in a 1-1 draw with Seattle on Sunday, ending the Dynamo's playoff hopes for this year but keeping the Whitecaps in third. Remarkable, but even more so, Portland went to LA and did what only the 'Caps have done in the Galaxy's last 37 games there - win. Actually, just saying win doesn't do it justice. They came out for the second half a goal down then somehow scored five on the way to a massive 5-2 victory that moved them up to joint third with Vancouver, but below them on the first three tiebreakers. So what can we take from all that? Are LA and KC on the slide and out of form? Have Portland hit their stride at the right time? Are Dallas the team to beat? Can Seattle hilariously miss out altogether? Will Vancouver get not only that sought after home playoff date but a first round bye? Can we throw any more questions in there? Probably, but we won't. There's still one game to be played before the final round of matches next Sunday, as Sporting KC host Colorado on Wednesday. Kansas City have slumped to sixth place in the West after the weekend's results, edging San Jose by a point. By the end of Wednesday night they'll either be third, fifth or sixth and Vancouver will either be third or fourth. Colorado are currently sitting bottom of the West and second bottom of MLS. You have to feel they'll be happy to lose their last two matches (they travel to Portland on Sunday) and secure the second pick in the 2016 SuperDraft. That would leave KC and LA tied on 51 points and meeting each other in Kansas City on Sunday. It's quite the perfect scenario for MLS in their first ever "Decision Day". After farcical circumstances of recent seasons that have seen teams kicking off the day after their rivals and knowing exactly what they needed to do, Decision Day made total sense and we welcomed it fully. All of the five remaining Eastern Conference games kick off at 2pm PT. The Western ones at 4pm. Get your trannys at the ready! That's transistor radios to avoid any confusion and the need to hit up Davie Street prior to the match. It was a risk for MLS. It could have backfired big time if there wasn't much left to play for. A damp squib. I'm sure they would have preferred the Conference champions to still be up for grabs, but instead they have (probably) the wonderful scenario of 2nd v 3rd match ups in both the East and West, with a first round bye on the line (based on KC beating Colorado). It couldn't have been scripted much better and it may help two Canadian sides big time in the process. In the East, DC (51 points) travel to Columbus (50 points). A win for either side sees them clinch a first round bye. A draw though opens the door up for Toronto! If there is no winner between DC and Columbus, and Toronto can beat Montreal, then remarkably, TFC grab second place. A draw between the two Canadian sides at Stade Saputo give Toronto a home playoff game but if the Impact win, they claim one instead. Exciting, but who really cares about the Eastern Conference?! The West is where it's at. So we finally come to the Whitecaps. All we know 100% right now is that a win for Vancouver over Houston next Sunday gives the Whitecaps their highest ever points total in MLS, their most ever wins in MLS, their highest ever finish in the Western Conference, the number one seeding in next year's Voyageurs Cup, and best of all, their first ever home playoff match. It's like last season's final game of the season against Colorado with less pressure in terms of them already having their playoff place, but more pressure in what it could mean for the club in terms of postseason difficulty. What's the odds on another Kendall Waston winner? So there's the certainty. Now the flights of fancy. Vancouver could still finish anywhere from second in the West to sixth! For the latter to happen the 'Caps need to lose to the Dynamo and see every other result go against them. With the opposition those teams below them face, those other games could certainly go that way. And if the 'Caps were to fall to fifth or sixth, we don't have to look back very far as to the games that have cost them. Hopefully it won't come to that. A draw would give the 'Caps 51 points and could also see them finish anywhere from second to sixth, or third to sixth if KC get anything from their game against Colorado. But with a win, Vancouver will finish at least fourth. They could finish second. Here's the ifs and buts. The best case scenario is that no matter what KC do against Colorado, if they draw with LA, the 'Caps finish second, by at least a point. First round bye baby! The next best case is if KC lose or draw against Colorado and then beat LA. Same second place finish for Vancouver. If KC beat Colorado and beat LA, they will finish second over Vancouver by one point and the 'Caps will finish third, possibly with a home game against Seattle. If LA beat KC, they will finish second and the 'Caps will finish third. So many permutations. No wonder Carl Robinson has to count them all out on his fingers above! All of the above is based on the Whitecaps winning of course. Then it's all down to Kansas as to what happens next. Time to dig out my ruby slippers and get clicking.
  10. Until next time, have a great soccer! @OfftheWoodworkx @KevLaramee http://www.afrokanlife.com/category/sports/ http://canadiansoccernews.com http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/off-the-woodwork/id898309206?mt=2 http://www.stitcher.com/podcast/off-the-woodworkx Sports Podcasting Network http://itunes.apple.com/ca/podcast/otw-studios/id1018126433 http://feeds.feedburner.com/otwstudios Support Kevin and SPN http://patreon.com/kevinlaramee http://kevinlaramee.com
  11. Until next time, have a great soccer! @TwoSolitudesPod @24thminute @KevLaramee http://itunes.apple.com/ca/podcast/two-solitudes-soccer-podcast/id833616975?mt=2 http://www.stitcher.com/podcast/the-two-solitudes-mls-podcast http://feeds.feedburner.com/twosolitudespod Sports Podcasting Network http://itunes.apple.com/ca/podcast/otw-studios/id1018126433 http://feeds.feedburner.com/otwstudios http://canadiansoccernews.com http://kevinlaramee.com Support SPN http://patreon.com/kevinlaramee
  12. Casting our eye over all the fixtures remaining for all the teams, we're going with Dallas to win the West on 57 points, with Sporting KC coming second on 55, LA third on 54 and then that's where it gets really interesting. By our reckoning, Vancouver and Seattle will be battling it out for 4th on 53 points and will face each other in the first round of the playoffs. Where that will be played is very well going to come down to goal difference and I think Seattle will shade that. We also think RSL will come good at just the right time and edge out Portland for 6th on goal difference. Accurate or total bollocks? You can let us know below, but we'll soon find out, and part of it will be played out tonight in Dallas. Banged up, beat up, out of form and looking for someone to step up and be the goalscoring hero, it's all about points and positioning now for the Whitecaps, a fact not missing from everyone at the club. "We're in at the moment, and that's the pleasing thing about it," 'Caps coach Carl Robinson told reporters at Vancouver airport on Monday. "With two games to go, we're in. Now we just need to regroup, refocus, get our minds right and see where we go from here. "The focus is to finish as high as we can. That's never changed from the first game of the season. There's different factors that affect that. Us and Dallas are two teams up the top that are competing. They want it as well as we do. They're healthy, we're not healthy. It is what it is. "We'll regroup. We know what we need to do. We'll go there and we'll try and be tough to beat, with the right mentality, because it is playoff mentality now. We've got two league games left but really the playoffs start now." Momentum, being in-form, confidence. Call it what you like, but the 'Caps are desperately needing to find some of it heading in to the playoffs. Last year, Vancouver headed into the postseason on the back of four wins and 13 points from their last five matches. We all know how horribly that ended up once the playoffs began, but it certainly makes for a better mindset than the current form of no wins in their last four and only two points and blown opportunities to show for their efforts. "Having made the playoffs already, our goal now is to get a couple of wins," is left back Jordan Harvey's take. "We don't want to just coast into the playoffs. We want to build some momentum. Going in [to Dallas], without a doubt, we're going for three points. Are we disappointed if we get a draw? Probably not, but the goal is to get three points and build momentum." Ravaged by injuries and players away on international duty, along with no wins in Dallas, or any other part of Texas for that matter, Vancouver coming away with anything tonight would be an amazing achievement. It would also likely secure them a best ever top four finish and the much sought after home playoff game. Not that simply going into Frisco and playing for a point is likely to be the 'Caps gameplan. That's not through Robinson's tactics but the mindset of his players. "I don't think we've got the type of players that can play there and try and get a point," Robinson admitted. "We've got players that will want to try and win games." As much as I'd bite your hand off for a point right now, it is better to go in looking for the win, as that makes it easier to try and fight back if you fall behind. Too often under Martin Rennie's teams did the 'Caps go in defensively, fall behind, then have no clue how to change things around. The other huge obstacle for the 'Caps right now is absences. Not so much the fringe players away internationally, but the series of injuries that has decimated the creativity of the team. Pedro Morales and Nicolas Mezquida haven't made the trip to Texas. Mauro Rosales and Cristian Techera have, but both are still nursing injuries and haven't trained since limping off during last week's 0-0 home draw with Dallas. The Whitecaps now face the dilemma of do you rush these players back to try and secure points and positioning or do you rest them and save them for the playoffs, possibly giving up a home playoff game as a result? "We have a couple of guys banged up and nicked up," rookie Tim Parker told AFTN. "We do want to get as many points as we can. I think we have the depth on the road to get points regardless, but I also think that it's important that we save some of the guys that we so that they don't injure themselves further." But even if things don't play out in Vancouver's favour and they have to start the playoffs away from BC Place, Parker has no fear or concerns. "We've been really good on the road this year," he added. "Of course we want to get a home playoff game for the fans but I don't think we're afraid if we get a road playoff game at all." Neither they should be, but with that last away win coming on August 1st, that previously amazing road form doesn't quite look as formidable as it did a few months ago. Let's just hope it doesn't even come to discussing that.
  13. It's been a relatively good season for both the Whitecaps U16s and U18s. Strange to say just relatively when both teams have qualified for the playoffs? Well after the way it started, especially for the U18s, it looked like it was going to be a romp! Instead a lot of squad upheaval and some key departures from the program hit the 'Caps hard and it took them a few games to recover, regroup and find out where the goals were to come from once again. The Under 18s started the season in amazing form. They were unbeaten with 11 straight wins to kick off the 2014/15 campaign, banging in 43 goals in the process, including an 8-0 victory over Nomads SC. Hat-tricks were the order of the day with Marco Bustos bagging a few and Dario Zanatta joining in the fun. Bustos, who was captain of the squad, scored 16 goals in his 12 appearances for the U18s before the Caps management decided that his time and development would be served better training full-time with the MLS squad that he would be joining in January. The 'Caps considered allowing Bustos to fly down to join the guys for the playoffs to aid his recovery from injury and boost the team but some last minute niggles look to have prevented that. Losing Bustos was a big loss to the team but it provided the chance for others to step up and Zanatta took on that role before he decided to leave the 'Caps and the Residency program to explore opportunities overseas in February. Losing those two key players left a void, along with losing Kianz Froese, who was now with the MLS squad too, and some others who departed for non-footballing reasons. The 'Caps struggled at first. There were a lot of draws and the goals dried up a little, before the team started to hit their stride again and finished the season with three wins out of their last four games. The U18s dip in form saw them go from the number one ranked team in all of the USSDA to finishing 4th in a very strong Northwest Division of the Western Conference, ending the season with a record of 19 wins, 8 draws and 5 defeats, for a Point Per Game record of 2.03. To give you an idea of how tight the Division was, the second and third placed teams have a PPG of 2.06 and the 'Caps record gave them the 13th best record throughout the USSDA. But a wildcard place it was and that obviously meant the possibility of being drawn in alongside some of the top Academy teams. As it ended up, the 'Caps were drawn into Group A and kick off their playoff bid on Tuesday morning. They've been draw into a tough group alongside fellow MLS academy DC United, Shattuck-Saint Mary's and Oakwood Soccer Club. The good news for the 'Caps though is that none of their opponents won their Division. First up is Minnesota side Shattuck-Saint Mary's at 7am PT on Tuesday. The Faribault based side just missed out on top spot in the Mid-America Division of the Central Conference by 0.04 in the PPG stakes to Chicago Fire U18s. Draws were their downfall, with 11 on the season compared to just the three losses, but that was good enough to see them ranked 16th in the playoffs. With 59 goals scored and 33 conceded, the 'Caps will fancy their chances of getting off to a good start, but U18 coach Rich Fagan knows the excellent reputation of Shattuck-Saint Mary's in years gone by. "Shattucks have a really good pedigree and a really good history of always being kind of around that top 16 of the USSDA," Fagan told AFTN. "We play them first and I imagine that will be a really difficult game for us." A tough start and there's no rest for the U18s either, who are back in action at 7am PT the next day when they take on Oakwood Soccer Club. Oakwood play out of Portland, Connecticut (who knew?!) and finished 3rd in the Northeast Division of the East Conference behind winners Montreal Impact. Their 10-8-8 record saw them finish with a 1.46 PPG and despite their ranking of 21 in the playoff pool, look to be the easiest opposition for the 'Caps this week. "Oakwood, who we'll play in our second game, I really don't know too much about," Fagan admitted. "We've never faced them before. On paper it maybe looks like an easier division, but again, don't really know too much at this point about them." Hopefully the 'Caps will have six points in the bag by the end of that one, with fellow MLS academy DC United the opponents in their final group game at 6am PT on Friday. DC finished runners-up to the talented New York Red Bulls U18s in the Atlantic Division of the East Conference. They're ranked 8th in the Playoff Pool and finished the season with a 18-6-2 record and 2.15 PPG. With 82 goals scored and 38 conceded from their 26 matches, 22 goal Eryk Williamson looks to be their big attacking danger. "DC United play in probably one of the toughest divisions in the entire USSDA," Fagan told us. "They finished in second place behind the Red Bulls, who we've played three times in the last four years. It's always our toughest match. They're always our toughest opponents and it's always been close games between those two. "I don't want to say that that'll be the toughest game, but I imagine it will be one of the hardest of the three." It'll certainly be a challenge for the U18s. There's no doubting their defensive strength but can they do enough in attack to break down these teams? We'll soon find out but there is definitely a confident air amongst the group. The same can be said for the U16s, who made it back to back Northwest Division championships after a dominant season that sees them seeded 7th in the playoffs. The upheaval in the U18s meant a lot of players had to make the step up early this season to play at the higher level, but it just shows the depth of talent coming through the Whitecaps Residency system right now that despite missing those players, those remaining and those who were brought in stepped up and continued to strong play of the U16s all season long. The team finished the season with 20 wins, 7 draws and just 5 losses from their 32 matches, with a PPG record of 2.09. With 79 goals scored and only 34 against, the 'Caps were a scoring powerhouse, with Daniel Sagno (16 goals), Amanda Glorie (13) and Terran Campbell (11), leading the way. They recorded two 7-0 victories, one against Colorado Rush at home in November and away to Santa Cruz Breakers in May. The 'Caps U16s ended the season with four clean sheets in their final five matches and are heading into the playoffs looking to follow up on their group win at this stage last year. The U16s also kick off their playoff campaign on Tuesday, this time at the rather more toasty 1.30pm PT (which is 4.30pm local time). That in itself will be tough, but a number of the 'Caps players on both squads have played down there before and they were all training in Burnaby playing with jackets on in the hot temperatures we've had here the past few weeks, followed by saunas! First up for the U16's is Atlanta side Concorde Fire. The Fire didn't initially qualify for the playoffs after finishing 7th in the Southeast Division of the East Conference and one place outside the wildcard pool. But they're in now! How? No idea. Can't find it anywhere! Concorde finished the season 16-12-8, scoring 66 goals and conceding 64. They shouldn't pose too much of a problem for the freescoring 'Caps. Once the Fire have been extinguished, the 'Caps are out for some revenge on Wednesday when they face Chicago Magic PSG, again at 1.30pm PT. The Magic beat the 'Caps U16s 2-1 at the quarter-final stage last season, in a controversial home match for Vancouver that had to be played south of the border in Bellingham due to passport issues for the Chicago side and featured some dodgy refereeing calls. Chicago Magic finished 4th in the Mid-America Division of the Central Conference this season with a 12-6-9 record and 42 goals for and 32 against. That sees them as the 5th wildcard team, so the 'Caps are favourites to get that revenge. The final group game is on Friday at 8.15am, so at least they'll have it a bit cooler when they take on Arsenal. The Californian Gunners finished runners up to the LA Galaxy in the Southwest Division of the West Conference with a 21-12-6 record. The Norco based side banged in 57 goals and conceded 34, ending up with 15th placed ranking in the playoff mix. The 'Caps already know the danger that Arsenal can be, with the Californians serving up the 'Caps first defeat of the season in October and that 1-0 away loss was to be the only match the U16's lost in their first 14 games. On paper, the U16's look to have a fairly easy group. But as we've said numerous times before, football's played on grass (or turf!) and not paper. You don't want to take anything for granted but at the same time, this group of players should have the self-confidence and belief that they have what it takes to advance to the quarter-finals for the second year running. "I think we have to stress that to the players," U16 head coach Adam Day told AFTN. "There's always anxiety and nerves and excitement going in to it, but we have to try and eliminate that and really look at the black and white facts. "We are the best team in the group and we're the best team for a reason. We have to believe in all the hard work we've done on and off the field and really go there and make a statement and send a message to everybody else." But Day stressed that there's a difference between going into the playoffs in confident mood and take any team for granted. "We're under no illusions," he continued. "We're not going to take anybody lightly because anything can happen over the course of 90 minutes, but we should feel confident in what we do because we feel we're one of the best, if not THE best, in North America and it's down to us to prove it. That's not a pressure to the guys, it's a reality of what we expect from them." And those expectations of just how well the Whitecaps teams will do in this year's Academy playoffs runs high throughout the club. Watching the week play out with much interest from afar, with be the Whitecaps' MLS coach Carl Robinson. Robinson has always shown a lot of interest in the 'Caps Residency program since coming to Vancouver as assistant coach in 2012. You'd expect nothing less, of course, from a coach who loves to play and develop young players. So how does he view the chances of both sides this time around, and just what would it mean to the club for one or both of them to come home with the Championship trophy in July? "It's very important," Robinson told AFTN. "I sat down with the parents of the 14s, 16s and 18s on Tuesday night to discuss the progress of the club moving forward. We talk about young players being given opportunities and I said to them I can stand here and say we will give your son a chance and if I never played young players in my first team then they'd probably look straight through me. "I said the proof is in the pudding and the pudding is right there in front of us in that we've got homegrown Residency players in our first team MLS squad. We don't need to say it, we're showing it and we're doing it and we want your son, providing he's ready, to be the next one to come through." "The Academy finals are huge. It sets a marker for us. I firmly believe that we can go and do very well there. I believe we can go and win it. Why not? Because in any tournament you enter you want to go on and win. But it will show the strength of the program because if we want to attract the best young players, we've got to show we're playing young players but we've got to show we're successful as well. It's a great stepping stone for us if we can go on and win it."
  14. TFC Fan 1: Hey, do you remember that time we made the playoffs? TFC Fan 2: No, that's ridiculous, what are you talking about? TFC Fan 1: Oh, yeah, that's right. ... I momentarily forgot that I support a historically unsuccessful team. Still we did win a few Voyageurs Cups! TFC Fan 2: Yeah, but that's easy. TFC Fan 1: So easy that the Vancouver Whitecaps have never done it in a decade of trying! TFC Fan 2: What do you mean? Surely that's impossible? TFC Fan 1: No, I'm not joking. They've actually never won. Even though there was a time it was literally only contested by two teams. TFC Fan 2: Huhn, that's funny, 'cause I'm sure I read an article by a Vancouver fan taking elaborate, unearned shots at TFC. TFC Fan 1: Yeah, it's one of those strange things. They seem to think that 5th place is a trophy. TFC Fan 2: Mountains are nice though! TFC Fan 1: Yeah, if you're into that. Happy New Year's everyone!
  15. With only four to choose from, just a single candidate this week and, despite his lack of popularity around these parts, takes the plaudits with his cracking left-footed curler to open the scoring in New York.On to the results… Results in Brief The round began in New York with the Red Bulls playing host to the Revolution in the Eastern Conference Finals. It had been sometime since either of these MLS originals had reached this stage of the playoffs, for New York they last graced it back in 2008, while for New England in had been one year more, last reaching this stage back in 2007 – the third of three-straight cup finals. Both sides arrived in good form, New York having progressed through the knockout round and past East leaders DC United – they lost the second leg, but had ridden their strong home form thus far, having won their last two and gone unbeaten in three at Red Bull Arena. Added to that general form, the hosts had won both meetings between the clubs this season and gone unbeaten through the last six. New England, however, were the form team in the league, unbeaten in seven overall, with just one loss in the last three months; countering the Red Bull home form, the Revs were unbeaten on their travels through four, having won the last two. With 1200 travelling fans in one corner of the ground and the spectre of the match being Thierry Henry’s final in MLS, play took off from the start and did not slow until the half-time whistle. The Revolution pressed with abandon, drawing a crucial early save from Luis Robles who got a strong hand to a Jermaine Jones header. The Red Bulls countered with a look of their own, a Peguy Luyindula run drawing a strong shoulder-barge from Jose Goncalves and shouts for a penalty from the New York faithful. But it was New England who would take the lead in the seventeenth minute. Jones played out wide to Teal Bunbury, who took on full-back Ambroise Oyongo, beating him to the inside to walk across the top of the box before unleashing a left-footed curler that nestled inside the far-post past a helpless Robles. Already a tense and furious match, the first of ten bookings would be shown in the 23rd minute to New England’s AJ Soares – from then on, no more than eleven minutes would pass between booking, and that pause was spread across half-time. Three minutes later Jones was lucky to avoid more strict sanction, when his horrendous scissor tackle took down Dax McCarty, drawing only a yellow. New York would equalize a minute after that, Bradley Wright-Phillips playing Johnny-on-the-spot in the 27th minute after Luyindula broke in down the left-side of the area; his initial rushed shot was saved, but from the ground his follow-up effort struck the bar, falling for Wright-Phillips, who may have been offside, to nod in the equalizer. The play had begun with a solid Ibrahim Sekagya tackle in midfield, allowing Oyongo to play up towards Henry, who sagely let the pass run into the path of the streaking Luyindula. It was Wright-Phillips’ fourth goal of the post-season, having continued his golden boot form, but his good luck would end there, woefully sending a free-header in first-half stoppage-time over the bar and then picking up a silly booking in the sixtieth minute for preventing Bobby Shuttleworth from rolling out a restart quickly that will see him miss the second leg with yellow card accumulation. There was no way the pace of the first half could continue and the match settled into a rhythm, appearing destined to end in a draw, that is until a late counterattack saw the Revolution slice open the Red Bull defenses in the 85th minute, handing the series advantage to the visitors. Chris Tierney’s touch launched the attack, finding Lee Nguyen who streaked up the middle of the pitch before playing wide right to Bunbury. Unselfishly, the goal-scorer played a ball for Jones, himself making a lung-bursting run to the left-post, managing to remain onside to tuck in the finish with a sliding left-foot. The 1-2 win, their first ever at Red Bull Arena and first in eleven matches in New York, would hand the Revolution the advantage as they return home for the second leg with a one-goal lead; their two away goals serving to enhance that lead with the away-goals rule in effect. They will progress with a win, a draw, or even a 0-1 loss. The Red Bulls will be without the services of the suspended Wright-Phillips, but Henry has announced his intention to play, despite the troublesome turf surface at Gillette Stadium. A few hours later, the Western Conference Finals would kick off with the Galaxy welcoming the Sounders to the StubHub Center in the outskirts of Los Angeles. Having met over the last two weeks of the season to determine which would win the Supporters Shield and take top spot in the West, these two were well-acquainted; the Sounders having drawn in LA and won 2-0 at home on the final weekend of the regular season, would earn both plaudits. Seattle may have been unbeaten through two, but the last two meetings in LA had ended square, while the Galaxy had not lost at home since opening day, a run of seventeen-straight matches. LA’s five-goal explosion against Salt Lake in the previous round masked the fact that it was their defense, and some heroic goalkeeping, that had got them to this stage of the playoffs. Given the rambunctious nature of the Eastern meeting, it was unlikely that this match would live up to the standard set by its counterpart and it was altogether a much more cautious affair. Understandably so, as Seattle were without the services of two first-choice players, midfield engine Osvaldo Alonso out with a hamstring issue and Lamar Neagle away to deal with a personal matter. One thing that did carry over was the prodigious use of yellow cards, though to a lesser degree, the first coming after just three minutes, when DeAndre Yedlin caught Robbie Keane in the face with a stray arm. The early chances came LA’s way, Keane failing to connect cleanly on a Stefan Ishizaki cross, Gyasi Zardes drawing a sharp save from Stefan Frei, who got down low to deny the effort, and then Keane again hooking an awkward attempt over the bar. Seattle did draw a fantastic double-save out of Jaime Penedo, the star of the first leg in Salt Lake, in the 20th minute, denying Obafemi Martins’ initial attempt and then staying big to block Clint Dempsey’s follow up. Penedo would be called upon again at the start of the second half, getting a strong hand on a deft Dempsey chipped attempt after the American international linked up with Martins, whose back-heel allowed him in down the right-side of the area. Frei was then tested, reacting quickly to prevent an own-goal off the knee of teammate Leonardo Gonzalez from an LA cross in the 52nd minute. Seconds later, Frei and the Sounders would not be so lucky, as a Marcelo Sarvas effort from the top of the box deflected off Chad Marshall, handcuffing the keeper to find the back of the net after AJ DeLaGarza’s pull back found the midfielder high. Seattle’s woes were nearly compounded on the hour mark, when Zach Scott blocked off a Keane run, prompting LA to call for his expulsion. Scott had picked up a booking in the 37th minute, catching Keane with a high forearm, but he would skate through further punishment, despite several more fouls as the match wound to an end. LA had repeated chances to increase their advantage, Ishizaki bending free-kick over the wall only to strike the bar, before connecting with a Keane cross at the back-post; Alan Gordon too sent his look over the bar with a late chance, but Seattle held firm, thanks largely to an outstanding performance from Defender of the Year candidate, Marshall, who pressured a hurried effort out of Gordon. The Galaxy will take the 1-0 advantage with them to Seattle, extending their playoff shutout streak to 270 minutes with a third-straight clean-sheet. On a similar note, the potent offense of the Sounders has scored just once through three playoff matches and been shut out in the last two; Alonso having gotten on the end of Marco Pappa free-kick back in the first leg against Dallas their sole tally of the post-season. Overheard A sampling of the most intriguing quotes from the round: Thierry Henry committed to playing on the dreaded turf in the New England area, relaying one of the reasons why he has not thus far: “I’m playing. You happy? The only thing is if … my Achilles don’t last, then I will be on holiday if we don’t go through. I’m sure guys wouldn’t care if I can walk or not after that. That’s just the way it is.” New York’s Bradley Wright-Phillips with a rather shocking admission post-match: “I didn't know the rules of the yellow card accumulation. I’m angry, obviously. I'm angry. Stupid yellow card and now I have to pay.” LA was not pleased with the official’s decision to keep both sides at even strength. Robbie Rogers offered: “I was surprised after Scott got the yellow card, that he had, like, five more fouls. I mean, it's an absolute joke. [He stayed] because they didn't want guys to get a red." Landon Donovan too chimed in on that turn of events, adding a touch of foreshadow for the return leg: “The officials made it clear that no one's getting sent off. So we have to make sure we're aware of that next weekend, and we'll play with that in mind, and I'm sure they will, too. It's going to be even more physical, and that's OK. We can play that way.” Even Seattle boss, Sigi Schmid reflected on that good fortune: “I thought we benefited a little bit [from the referee’s decisions]. In most games, I think that referee would have pulled that yellow, so I'm not going to pretend I didn’t see that. … Yeah, we were fortunate that Zach stayed on the field.” See It Live A selection of the finest moments of the weekend, beginning with several of the best saves: Luis Robles on Jermaine Jones; Bobby Shuttleworth on Dax McCarty; Stefan Frei on Gyasi Zardes; and Jaime Penedo on Clint Dempsey. There has been much debate about players calling for a card, but to see Bruce Arena making the motion from the sideline when Zach Scott blocked off Robbie Keane’s run was something else. There was a plethora of travelling fans at both matches, adding to the atmosphere, including a nice exchange between Jay Heaps and the New England fans post-match. Meanwhile, Jones responded to the accusations that New England were divers with this tweet – shots fired indeed. Controversy Jermaine Jones was lucky to stay on the pitch after his high scissor tackle on Dax McCarty. While there were hints off offside on goals from both and .Upcoming Fixtures The second legs are set to be played next weekend with the East wrapping up on Saturday as New England takes their advantage home to the turf outside of Boston, while the West will come to a conclusion on Sunday with Seattle looking to overturn LA back home. Saturday: New England-New York. Sunday: Seattle-Los Angeles. All video & quotes courtesy of MLSsoccer.com 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
  16. A trio of nominees, beginning with New England’s , who capped off their impressive series win over Columbus with a cracking finish roofed high into the net. Up next was LA’s , who opened the scoring in the Galaxy’s win after a nice build-up that spread Salt Lake’s defenses wide open. And finally another Galaxy goal, the fourth of the night, with capping off yet another sweeping move with a strong finish.On to the results… Results in Brief New York advances 3-2 on aggregate The weekend began on Saturday with the first Eastern Conference clash between feted Atlantic Cup rivals DC and New York. The Red Bulls entered with the advantage, having won the first leg 2-0 at home, but weighed down by the fact that DC had eliminated them in their previous four playoff encounters. Further buoying DC’s hopes of a comeback, was that the home side had won the last five meetings between the two, including two recent DC wins at home, but just two teams in MLS history had ever overcome a two-goal deficit from the first leg. A tight opening half hour in which DC looked to press the play, the first real moment of import came in the 33rd minute when a Bradley Wright-Phillips effort appeared the strike the out-stretched hand of Bobby Boswell, but the referee waived play on. Without Luis Silva, who could not recover from his hamstring strain in time, DC were lacking in their much-relied upon midfield build-up, choosing instead to launch long attacks to little success. They would finally find the much-needed opener in the 37th minute when Fabian Espindola switched the ball out wide left to Taylor Kemp, who hit a perfectly-shaped ball in between the New York centre-backs for Nick DeLeon to get on the end with a header down and past Luis Robles. Wright-Phillips would be denied an equalizer by a fine save from Bill Hamid five minutes later and United’s late pressure in search of a second goal would come to naught. That intensity would continue with the restart, Espindola flashing a header wide of the post having gotten goal-side of Jamison Olave, who was otherwise excellent in his return to the Red Bull lineup. But a bit of Thierry Henry magic in the 57th minute would throw a spanner into the hopes of a United comeback. Taking on Sean Franklin down the left before picking out Peguy Luyindula the near-post for a tidy right-footed finish across to the far-side of goal, Henry had initially been found after Dax McCarty begun the attack with a ball up to Wright-Phillips, who in turn found Henry out wide - video replays showed that the ball was nearly allowed to run out of play before the New York captain got in his cross; such thin margins between success and failure. Stung, but not yet defeated, DC would press more, their hopes further boosted when Roy Miller, a defender not unfamiliar with playoff nightmares, was shown a straight red card in the 78th minute for catching Franklin on the shoulder with a high, pointless boot. DC continued to search, but New York held firm, seeing out the remaining twelve minutes of regulation time, only for the fourth official’s board to signal they would have to protect against a further five minutes of stoppage time. Needing to score four to overturn the result – and the weighty away goal – it proved to be a task too far, despite Franklin securing some consolation and a wild finish with his goal in the 91st minute, smashing in a left-footed blast after Steve Birnbaum headed down a ball from wide. Robles got a piece, but could not prevent it trickling over the line. But it was too little too late and New York would progress past DC by a 3-2 aggregate, despite losing 2-1 on the night. They will host the first leg of the Eastern Conference Final when play resumes, making their first appearance that deep in the post-season since 2008’s run to the Cup; of course, they would have to wait until Sunday to find out who their opponents would be. For DC, an undesirable end to a magical season, becoming the third-straight top seed in the conference to drop out at the first hurdle, while a red card to Espindola after the final whistle means the explosive Argentine will be unavailable for the start of 2015. New England advances 7-3 on aggregate Just who would be facing off against New York would be decided in Sunday’s first match with the Revolution hosting the Crew, though, given the 2-4 New England win in Columbus last weekend, it was pretty much already decided. Riding a three-game winning streak and unbeaten in their last nine, New England not only had a two-goal lead and four away ones in their back-pocket, but had also won their last nine matches at Gillette Stadium. For their part, Columbus had won their last two away games, but faced with the monumental task ahead, the stark reality that they had never even beat New England in six playoff matches did not bode particularly well. Further limiting their challenge, the Crew would be without the talismanic Federico Higuain, as well as short of the offensive talents of Aaron Schoenfeld and Bernardo Anor, drafting Hector Jimenez, who spent the majority of the season at the left-back, into Higuain’s central role. Desperate, the Crew would take the game to the Revolution through the opening phases, but were unable to find a breakthrough – Bobby Shuttleworth twice denying Jairo Arrieta in the opening 35 minutes. Charlie Davies would see the Revs best early chance, but Steve Clark was equal to the task. Any hopes of a dramatic and historic comeback were dashed when Lee Nguyen opened the scoring in the 43rd minute, placing a right-footer from the top of the area in after his late run was picked out by Teal Bunbury, who had swapped flanks with Kelyn Rowe to push up the left and find space to attack the Crew. Nguyen is in scintillating form, scoring in a sixth-straight match, but when Columbus studied the tape there would be plenty of recriminations: the defense held off and Tony Tchani failing to track the run of the ever-dangerous Nguyen. Rattled, Columbus nearly conceded a second shortly thereafter, collecting themselves in time to find an injury-time chance, when Shuttleworth again denied Arrieta, pushing his header over the bar. New England could sense the frailty and came out for the second half intent on putting away the series, drawing consecutive saves from Clark, before finally catching Columbus up-field to double their lead on the counter. Most interestingly, it was captain and centre-back Jose Goncalves who nabbed that goal in the 55th minute, racing up the left to join Davies in the attack, receiving the squared pass and placing a bouncing effort towards the left-side of goal, his left-footer just barely eluding Clark to find the twine. Columbus’ afternoon went from bad to worse in the 61st minute when Ethan Finlay was harshly shown a straight-red card for catching Shuttleworth in the face with a trailing boot as the two both went for a loose ball in the box. Finlay had every right to attempt to win the challenge and the red card would rightly, though inconsequentially, be rescinded by the Independent Review Panel. Tchani made amends for his earlier error, netting the lone Columbus goal of the game in the 69th minute, rising up highest over some half-hearted New England defending to direct a header towards the top right corner from a Justin Meram delivery. But Bunbury would reinstate the two-goal lead in the 77th, racing onto a slipped Daigo Kobayashi ball down the left-side of the area to smash high past Clark at the near-post. Meram would be sent off as well, seeing a second yellow card in the 85th minute, reducing Columbus to nine men and joining Finlay for an early shower; the rest of the team would follow shortly thereafter. Winning 3-1 on the day and taking the series 7-3 on aggregate, the Revolution storm into the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2007, where they will face New York - should be a heck of a series. LA advances 5-0 on aggregate The Eastern Conference all decided, the action swapped over the West for what should have been a stunning encounter, the two sides, Los Angeles and Salt Lake, delicately poised after a scoreless draw in the first leg. LA may have been unbeaten in the last four meetings, seeing out a rope-a-dope performance thanks largely to the heroics of goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, but Salt Lake had it all to play for on the night. Tipping the balance in their direction Salt Lake had not conceded in 403 minutes of play, collecting clean-sheets in their last four matches, while LA had not scored in their last two playoff matches, both against Salt Lake. But hidden underneath that vulnerable façade was one of the best teams in MLS and a rather explosive attack; particularly at home, where the Galaxy had not lost since opening day, a span of sixteen matches, of note, that loss came to Salt Lake back in March. That which took over four-hundred minutes to build came crashing down inside of ten, when Los Angeles grabbed the first in the tenth minute through Landon Donovan. Stretching the field wide to open up the Salt Lake defenses, Juninho picked out Stefan Ishizaki, inserted into the starting lineup for that very purpose, wide on the left. He held up play, waiting for reinforcements before squaring to Marcelo Sarvas who dinked a ball over the back-line for the streaking run of AJ DeLaGarza, who in turn found Donovan sneaking in off the back-shoulder of Tony Beltran to redirect the opener in past Nick Rimando. The Galaxy would add a second ten minutes later, this time scoring through Robbie Keane, who cleverly – and barely – managed to get back onside from an offside position to touch in a squared ball from Donovan after Juninho played him in down the left-side of the area. Stunned, Salt Lake was battered by an LA attack that came in waves, Donovan whisking a shot over the bar and Rimando being called upon in the 43rd minute to deny Gyasi Zardes with a strong kick-save when the young forward stole in down the left-side of the box. Having reached half-time down by just two, Salt Lake hoped to regroup and make a contest out of the match, but Los Angeles had different ideas, all but killing off the match with a third in the 54th minute, Donovan again the goal-scorer having beaten Rimando to a long threaded ball from Keane towards the left, rounding the keeper and depositing his second of the night with a left-footer into the open net. If that lead were not enough, Sarvas added a fourth in the 63rd minute, finishing off another stunning build with a right-footer from the top of the area. Juninho once more initiated the attack playing forward to Zardes, who back-heeled into the path of Robbie Rogers on the left. The full-back cut in-field, playing a ball towards Sarvas that the midfielder left to Keane, who unselfishly played a return ball off the dummy. The humiliation was complete in the 72nd minute, when Donovan completed his hat-trick – the first in the playoffs of his illustrious career and just the third all-time – thanks to a Keane ball lifted over the back-line, springing Donovan, whose right-footed touch found its way under Rimando for the fifth LA goal of the night. The Galaxy would advance to the Western Conference Final in good spirits, having equaled their best all-time playoff margin of victory, while simultaneously handing regular-foes Salt Lake their worst ever post-season defeat. A humbling that will cause much consternation in Utah with several months to consider what went wrong. Seattle advances on away goals after 1-1 aggregate score-line But LA would have to wait until Monday night to find out who they would be meeting in the next round, as Seattle and Dallas took to the pitch in Seattle. Both teams entered in solid form, Seattle unbeaten in three and Dallas two. Dallas had not lost to Seattle in the last two meetings, but the Sounders had won the last four at home and had that precious away goal to their advantage. It was a cautious start, each wary of committing numbers forward, lest they be caught out by the pace of the opposition. Fabian Castillo found the first real chance of the match, working his way in from the right, only to rush his shot, slicing wide of the far post in the ninth minute. The first of a series of penalty shouts would come a minute later, when Brad Evans went down in a shoulder-to-shoulder battle with Dallas right-back, Moises Hernandez – the referee, the vastly experienced Baldomero Toledo, barely acknowledged the incident. Dallas would have call of their own overlooked in the nineteenth minute, when Zach Scott bit into Castillo, forcing him to the ground, but play continued once more. The Sounders would press for the remainder of the first half. Marco Pappa’s sneaky quick free-kick caught out Chris Seitz, but Blas Perez in the wall was alert, deflecting the threat away. Chad Marshall would get on the end of a corner kick, directing a header towards goal, but Michel was well-placed on the line to clear away the danger. And a final chance before the half-time whistle fell to Clint Dempsey, linking up with Obafemi Martins to craft a shot, but Seitz was equal to the challenge. Seattle were dealt a serious blow when Osvaldo Alonso was forced off the pitch with an apparent hamstring strain – a devastating loss if unavailable in two weeks time – and Dempsey saw his penalty shout waived away as he tried to tip-toe his way past a pair of defenders before hitting the deck. Dallas would regroup and press for that much-needed goal through the final fifteen minutes, a score-less draw would suit Seattle, having nabbed that away goal in Dallas last weekend. One final penalty shout, with Scott this time tripping up Andres Escobar, appeared to interest Toledo, who zoomed towards the infraction, as he usually does before pointing to the spot, only to let play go on – very much uncharacteristic restraint from the veteran and oft-controversial official. The visitors would throw everything forward, switching to a three-man back-line and piling on forward after forward, but they could not find that elusive goal and Seattle would become the first team to progress via the recently-instated away goals rule and the first Supporters Shield winners to progress in three years, while keeping their hopes of a treble – Supporters Shield, Open Cup, and MLS Cup – alive. Dallas could hold their heads high, putting in a spirited effort, only to run out of time in the end. CanCon Tesho Akindele was the lone Canadian – patience – to see the pitch in the latest spell of playoff action, starting a third-consecutive post-season match for FC Dallas in their scoreless draw at Seattle, dropping out on the away goals rule having drawn the first leg 1-1 at home. From the right-side of the midfield, the Calgary, Alberta-born Akindele was energetic all night, but showed moments of rookie indecision at key times, attempting to find space that would not come, looking for clean shots rather than playing by instinct. A solid defensive look from Seattle did little to help him in his search for a second career playoff goal. His best chance came early when Blas Perez touched in towards him above the left-post, but Akindele could not get off the shot, attempting to touch past Chad Marshall resulting in a corner kick. He then had space to make a marauding run up the left, but could not corral the pass on the slick surface, instead seeing it roll out for a Seattle throw-in. He did manage one shot, sending his right-footed effort rising over the bar from the left-corner of the box and once more could not quite get his feet right to turn on a Je-Vaughan Watson ball in from the right, attempting to swivel on a diagonal run late. A solid first year in MLS under his belt, all that remains for Akindele is the Rookie of the Year decision, as both Harrison Shipp in Chicago and Steve Birnbaum in DC challenge him for the silverware. Fingers crossed and… Overheard Juicy comments were at a minimum: teams that had lost were in no mood to make jokes, while winners knew full well that the quest was only beginning. That said, there were two very decent insights with Omar Gonzalez revealing the extra dimension to the Galaxy’s huge win and Jeff Cassar lauding his tormentors. Gonzalez: “Just before the game started, we were walking out and he [Donovan] was like, 'I don't want this to be my last game.' I told him it's not going to be. From the opening whistle, he was on, we kept spraying balls to his side, and he was collecting them and making magic happen.” Can any one stop LA? Cassar: “We got stretched out and ran across a team that was fantastic. We could never regain control of the ball; there was just too much time and space for LA, and our possession just wasn’t there. We were giving the ball away too often and too early, and it was just setting them off. Against LA, if you’re not good with the ball, they’re going to make you pay. We paid a lot.” See It Live It was very nice to see some 1200+ travelling New York supporters make the trip to DC to cheer on their Red Bulls; more of that please. Plenty of fine saves throughout the four matches: Bill Hamid on Bradley Wright-Phillips; Bobby Shuttleworth on Jairo Arrieta; Steve Clark on Charlie Davies; Nick Rimando on Gyasi Zardes; Michel’s goal-line clearance on Chad Marshall and Chris Seitz comes up huge on Clint Dempsey. Plus Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready playing a Jimi Hendrix-style national anthem in Seattle was most enjoyable for this former-axeman. Controversy A slew of controversial incidents as well: More than a few penalty shouts including Bobby Boswell’s handball and at least four in Seattle, with Moises Hernandez barging Brad Evans off the ball, Zach Scott upending Fabian Castillo, Clint Dempsey betting blocked out by both Je-Vaughan Watson and Zach Loyd, and Scott again, this time on Andres Escobar. There was some concern that the before Thierry Henry could set up Peguy Luyindula, while Robbie Keane’s alertness in was tricky, phases of play being one of those very difficult to explain offside challenges.Then there was Roy Miller’s red card, which was a tad harsh, though he would have been off with a yellow anyways. Fabian Espindola probably earned his, though the video offers little by way of analysis, and Ethan Finlay’s red was undeserved – as noted, it was rescinded, but that does little to give Columbus much of a chance at a comeback (not that one was likely at the time). And what about Charlie Davies flinging himself clumsily into Michael Parkhurst – it could have been a bone-breaker, but Parkhurst got his studs out of the turf just in time. For those where video was unavailable, check out for further discussion.Upcoming Fixtures A week’s hiatus, as the playoffs pause for the FIFA International break, before returning in two weeks’ time for the conference finals on November 23rd when two very interesting series begin. Sunday: New York-New England; Los Angeles-Seattle. All video & quotes courtesy of MLSsoccer.com 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
  17. In chronological order, up first is Kansas City’s , who finished off a quick counter thanks largely to a beautifully incisive pass from teammate Benny Feilhaber, laying him in behind Jamison Olave. The second nomination goes to New England’s , who once more displayed his dead-ball skill, bending a left-footer over the wall and into the top corner in Columbus. And finally, New York’s who continued his goal-scoring form into the post-season, bringing his tally to thirty on the year from Thierry Henry’s jaw-dropping back-heel setup.On to the results… Results in Brief The post-season began on Wednesday night with Dallas hosting Vancouver in the Western Conference Knockout Round. The odds were stacked against the Whitecaps, as the home side had not lost in the last seven encounters between the two, while Dallas had never lost at home in the all-time series. A tense and physical half-hour gave way to the opening goal in the 40th minute, when Vancouver’s centre-backs were both caught stepping to the ball high up the pitch, allowing fit-again Mauro Diaz, taking up his play-maker’s role, to slide a pass over to Tesho Akindele surging down the right. The rookie took the chance, sending a right-footed effort towards the far-side of goal. Fortunately for him, the shot took a slight deflection off the out-stretched leg of the recovering O’Brien to nestle inside the left-post and give the hosts the advantage. Vancouver refused to go down without a fight - Mauro Rosales rattling the crossbar with a free-kick shortly after the restart - despite their talisman, Pedro Morales, struggling to find his rhythm; he would be removed before the hour mark, to be replaced by Kekuta Manneh. Shortly thereafter, the Whitecaps would find their breakthrough, a Rosales free-kick into the box was partially cleared to Manneh deep, his low drive was blocked, falling kindly to Erik Hurtado, who saw his right-footed response deflect off the leg of Victor Ulloa to sneak its way past Chris Seitz in goal. But it would not be the visitor’s night and a controversial handball decision whistled on Kendall Waston in the 82nd minute would end their cup aspirations. A harmless ball into the area was missed by Gershon Koffie’s headed clearing attempt, falling onto the unsuspecting Waston, unarguably hitting his hand. Whether it was intentional, or any advantage was accrued, is a matter for debate, either way, the referee pointed to the spot, and after some lengthy protestations, Michel dispatched the attempt in the 84th minute, forcefully placing his left-footer to the keeper’s right, having sent David Ousted guessing the other way. Whitecap disappointment was palpable, and the remaining moments saw the tensions raised. Sebastian Fernandez, the most visibly aggrieved Vancouver player, got in the face of Andres Escobar after a foul, drawing Diaz, who had previously been substituted, back on to the pitch – an act the disciplinary committee would frown upon (he was forced to sit Dallas’ weekend fixture with a one game suspension) – and a trio of bookings to the two aggressors and Diaz. His protestations would continue after the final whistle, earning a red card for his troubles, while the 2-1 win would see Dallas moving on to the conference semifinals, with a Sunday date at home against Seattle. The Eastern bracket got underway the following day in New York, with the Red Bulls hosting defending MLS Cup champions, Sporting KC, who plummeted from the upper echelons of the conference to the final playoff spot as a long, injury-riddled season finally caught up with one of the opening day favourites. And the task would not get any easier. All season, New York had been dominant at home, having lost just three times, winning ten and drawing a further four; their seven-game home winning streak ended by a rampant Columbus side in their final home match of the regular season. Added to that, New York had stolen a 0-2 win in Kansas City in the final match of the schedule, winning a second-straight against Sporting and stretching their unbeaten run against KC to four. Small consolation to the visitors was that they had managed to take points from three of their last four trips to Harrison. The two combatants would exchange half-chances through the opening half, Tim Cahill ballooning a look at goal over the bar early and an Aurelien Collin goal-bound header cancelled out by the offside flag. It was the visitors who took the lead eight minutes after the restart, Benny Feilhaber picking the pocket of Eric Alexander in the centre-circle before surging towards goal and placing a wonderful ball into the path of Dom Dwyer, who struck a left-footer past Luis Robles to the left-side of goal. New York would nearly respond minutes later when Thierry Henry’s header needing tipping over the bar from Eric Kronberg. Kevin Ellis looked to pad the advantage in the 71st, tucking in a Paulo Nagamura pull-back, only for the officials to deem that the ball had trickled over the end-line before the final pass was made. And Henry would have another look, blazing a Cahill knock-down over the bar, as he could not quite get over the ball enough to keep his effort on goal. With the clock ticking down, New York would finally equalize in the 77th minute in a team-build that sliced open a tiring Kansas City. Dax McCarty collected a ball in the centre-circle, slotting a forward pass towards Peguy Luyindula, who alertly spotted the run of Henry, stabbing a ball down the left-side of the area for his friend and teammate. Henry then found Bradley Wright-Phillips with a pull-back, his right-footer deflected off of Matt Besler before trickling over the goal-line beyond the reach of a scrambling Kronberg. Both sides appeared braced for a session of extra time. That is until a miss-hit cross from Ambroise Oyongo fell menacingly into the KC box, catching their defenders napping by the absurdity of its threat. Luyindula again had plucked the strings, playing Oyongo down the right, but when his cross sailed bizarrely up, not a soul amongst the Sporting back-line reacted, allowing Wright-Phillips, the most dangerous goal-scorer on the pitch, to get on the end unchallenged, flicking his header on and down to the far-post, nestling inside for the winner. The 2-1 win would see the New York advance through a playoff round for the first time since 2011, having fallen out at the first hurdle the last two seasons, setting up a clash with Atlantic rivals DC United, while prematurely ending KC’s title defense. With the knockout rounds played, and the final eight sorted, the conference semifinals got under way on Saturday afternoon with an Eastern Conference match between Columbus and New England, third place hosting second. Both teams arrived in high spirits, the Crew had won their last six at home, ending the season on a run of three-straight victories, having lost just once in their final eight matches. The Revolution too were looking good, winners of their last two, unbeaten in five, and having taken points from their last three away fixtures. Sampling their first playoff action since 2011, the nerves were evident from the early action, as a poor clearance from usually-solid goalkeeper Steve Clark handed the visitors a golden chance inside of six minutes, but Charlie Davies could not steer Teal Bunbury’s ball towards goal with a dragged back-heel attempt. Clark would be called upon for a huge save in the 17th minute, denying Andrew Farrell’s drive after Lee Nguyen’s silky buildup set up the New England right-back. The tension was evident, some minor afters leading to a yellow card for centre-back Jose Goncalves, who first drew the ire of Tony Tchani, before exchanging words with a second Crew player, Ethan Finlay, having held up a restart by refusing to relinquish the ball. Justin Meram would miss out on giving the hosts the lead in the 29th minute when his right-footer rattled off the underside of the bar after Waylon Francis laid him in with a long pass, exposing a weakness in the New England defenses. But it was the Revolution who took the lead in the 34th minute when Davies made amends for his earlier miss, stretching out to get on the end of a right-sided Kelyn Rowe free-kick with a diving header at the back-post. Six minutes after the restart, the Crew hopes were further dashed, when New England nabbed a second away goal through Chris Tierney, stepping up to a dangerous free-kick, sending his left-footer curling over the wall and into the right-side of the goal from some 22 yards out. Meram would pull one back for the hosts in the 64th, right-footing in a powerful shot, pouncing on a loose ball in the box after Wil Trapp’s squared ball for Federico Higuain was redirected towards him by Scott Caldwell’s intervention. But Nguyen would add a third six minutes later and Davies a fourth, his second of the night, in the 78th minute. Nguyen broke towards goal from half and when not pressed, picked his spot, drifting towards the right on Tyson Wahl before sneaking a low, right-footed shot low to the left-side of goal. Similarly, Davies was allowed to run at the Crew defenses, slashing from left to right before smashing a right-footer in off the inside of the right-post. Having conceded four away goals, Columbus’ hopes of progressing to the conference finals looked dim, but a stoppage-time penalty kick converted by Higuain after Finlay’s cross had been handled by Goncalves gave them a life-line, needing a three-goal win to overturn the result next weekend. Despite the near-insurmountable ask, the confidence of Higuain, chipping his spot kick straight down the middle Panenka-style, was an indication that an offensive side like Columbus should never be discounted – they will have some wrongs to right come the second leg with their first home playoff match in five years having ended in such dispiriting fashion. With the 2-4 result, New England put themselves into a strong position to move on the face the winners of the DC-New York series for the Eastern crown, but no doubt Columbus will have other ideas A six-goal explosion can never be expected when the playoffs come around; teams are understandably reserved, knowing that each mistake is magnified with elimination a whisker away. Close fought matches and heroic defensive performances, on the other hand, are the order of the day, such as was put forth in the high-profile encounter in the West. Salt Lake, who were making their seventh-straight playoff appearance, entered in good form, unbeaten in their last three and having kept clean-sheets throughout, but it was their impressive home-form, having won the last six and not been beaten in ten, that they would need to overpower a familiar foe – the LA Galaxy, themselves making a sixth-straight playoff appearance. The two were meeting in the post-season for the third time in the last four seasons, but due to a quirk of the schedule, they had not met since playing twice in the opening month of the season. After a few questionable off-side decisions – at least one each way with Joao Plata whistled on a break and a Gyasi Zardes’ strike in the 37th ruled out with the raising of a linesman’s flag – the match settled into a pattern, with Salt Lake driving forward and LA doing all they could to stop them. In fact, were it not for a stunning performance from Jaime Penedo, the hosts would have taken an advantage into the second leg, drawing several fine saves from the Galaxy keeper, particularly in the second half where a strong arm blocked a deflected Plata strike, San Penedo then rushed out to quash another Plata look after Alvaro Saborio had played him in clear, before clawing a Javier Morales corner kick off the goal-line when nearly caught out straight from the delivery that was propelled by the fierce, swirling winds, and finally tipping a Morales effort over the bar in the final minute of regulation. But as it stood, the Galaxy were able to see out the score-less draw in a professional manner, ensuring they would return home next weekend with the series finely balanced. Sunday’s action began back in the East with a tasty Atlantic Cup matchup between New York and conference toppers DC United, looking to translate their strong rebound season into playoff success. DC had risen from the worst team in the league in 2013 to first in the East and though they closed the year with a six-match unbeaten run, their quality had lessened, dropping points to the likes of Chicago and Montreal. New York were facing a challenge of their own, playing a third match in eight days and facing a DC side that they had not progressed past in the last four playoff encounters, but secure in the knowledge that the home side had won the last four encounters between the two. The hosts would take the initiative, nearly opening the scoring after eighteen minutes, only for the offside flag to deny Bradley Wright-Phillips his third goal of the playoffs – that would have to wait until later. DC would pass up a glorious chance of their own when Nick DeLeon’s ball in from the left skipped past the attempted clearance of Jamison Olave towards Fabian Espindola, who could not react quickly enough to the unexpected opportunity, which bounced off him and into the hands of a relieved Luis Robles. The breakthrough would finally come in the 40th minute when Lloyd Sam played up to Thierry Henry on the right-side of the area. The Frenchman sagely put a back-heel back into the heart of the box, where it was left by Peguy Luyindula, falling to Wright-Phillips unmarked at the left post for a strong right-footed finish. Bill Hamid would be called upon to keep the match tight, making a spectacular double-save on Sam and then Wright-Phillips in the 67th minute and then blocking a rasping shot from Wright-Phillips in the 71st. But he could not come to his side’s rescue in the 73rd minute, when New York grabbed their second, putting a stranglehold on the series. Again Henry was involved in the build, laying a perfect ball down the right-channel for Luyindula, who slipped a right-footed finish under the sprawling keeper. Wright-Phillips would nearly add a third minute later when his deflected shot handcuffed Hamid, only to trickle mercifully wide of the right-post. United would have one final chance to close the gap in the 88th minute when a free-kick fell to DeLeon at the back-post, but his delay allowed Olave to come over to block the shot. The 2-0 win put the Red Bulls firmly in the driver’s seat – in the last ten seasons of MLS only two teams have returned home to overcome two-goal deficits from the opening leg – but if any side is capable of doing so, it is this season’s DC. The return of Chris Rolfe from his broken forearm and rumours of Luis Silva perhaps being available for the weekend will boost their spirits, while there is little likelihood that they will have two such quiet matches in a row. The weekend’s closer switched back to the West, where Supporters Shield winners, Seattle, opened their playoff campaign with an away fixture in Dallas. Fresh off their first playoff win since 2010 – the year they reached the MLS Cup Final in Toronto – Dallas were eager to continue that run. Having won three of their last four and secure in the knowledge that the home-side had won the last two encounters between the two. Dallas would miss the services of Mauro Diaz, who picked up a needless one-game suspension for entering the field of play to get involved in a minor fracas having been substituted against Vancouver on Wednesday. Despite the absence of their game-changer, Dallas would take the lead in the 34th minute from the penalty spot, after a wonderful, tricky run from Andres Escobar drew Marco Pappa into a rash challenge in the box, tripping up the Dallas attacker. Michel, as he had against Vancouver, calmly stepped to the spot, ignoring Seattle’s delaying-tactics, to slot his left-footer to the keeper’s left; Stefan Frei read it correctly, but was too late to reach the well-struck penalty. Dallas nearly doubled their advantage shortly after, catching Seattle out with a bit of set-piece trickery, but Escobar was flagged, incorrectly, for an offside – Frei made the save on Castillo regardless. Seattle had a chance of their own before the first half whistle blew, Obafemi Martins sending a drive on goal that Raul Fernandez could only push up in the air, requiring a goal-mouth clearance from Matt Hedges with Clint Dempsey lurking menacingly. The Sounders would find their goal shortly after the restart, Osvaldo Alonso getting on the end of a 54th minute free-kick from Marco Pappa. Deep on the right, Pappa sent a searching ball towards the back-post, where Alonso ran off the back of Castillo get a flick on the service, tucking it past Fernandez. Knowing full well that now was the time to put Seattle behind, before returning to the Pacific Northwest for the second leg, Dallas pressed their advantage, testing Frei repeatedly – most notably when Michel attempted to bend in a look straight from a corner kick, but the Seattle keeper was alert to the danger – but a second goal would not come. After the 1-1 draw, the series switches to Seattle, where the Sounders will look to press their home advantage to become the first Supporters Shield winner to advance past the first round in the last three seasons. CanCon With just Tesho Akindele representing Canada in the playoffs – Russell Teibert and Sam Adekugbe were unused substitutes on the bench for Vancouver – there will be no separate Canadian Content post. Akindele returned to the Dallas starting lineup for the knockout round against Vancouver, taking up the right-side of the midfield, though regularly swapping with Fabian Castillo on the left. He scored the game’s opening goal, , which took a fortunate redirection off Andy O’Brien to tuck inside the far-post.Come Sunday, the Calgary, Alberta-native retained his spot in the starting eleven, swapping over the left as Castillo moved centrally and Andres Escobar took up the right, at least nominally, as the three were very fluid in their positioning. Offensively, Akindele was more than a match for DeAndre Yedlin in the physical department, regularly getting the better of the Seattle right-back, but could not seem to make the final play that was required. He tried to square a ball for Castillo in the 7th minute on a break, but could not; he was then unable to latch onto a loose ball to break in down the middle and saw his run down the left onto a Moises Hernandez ball cut out by Zach Scott; Seattle’s defensive core were thick and stingy on the night. On the other side of the ball, Akindele put in a solid shift, tracking deep to prevent Brad Evans from getting in a potential troublesome cross on one occasion. Overheard A selection of the best quips of the week, starting with referee Mark Geiger’s written response to the pool reporter’s question regarding the handball call on Kendall Waston: “Waston deliberately handled the ball, hence the PK was called.” Thereby proving why it is that sporting bodies are so reticent to allow officials to speak for themselves. There is no way that that handball can be called ‘deliberate’ or ‘intentional’; that is a bold declaration, the sort of mind-reading witchcraft that frustrates the uneducated (in the laws of the game) masses. If he wants to say regardless of intent an advantage was accrued by the handball or something to that effect then fine, so be it. But to double down on his already controversial call with such a bald-faced slap is verging on offensive. For his part, Waston released this tweet after Vancouver’s elimination, a classy move from the defender, who had he not joined so late in the season would be in the running for newcomer of the year – what a difference he has made to the Whitecaps. Mike Petke is tired of fielding the will-he, won’t-he talk of Thierry Henry’s retirement plans: “I have to get it tattooed on my head. I have no clue what Thierry’s going to do. I’m not thinking about… No, I’m not thinking about that at all. I’ve said it enough already. Thierry, I think, could play for two more years, whether it be here, whether it be back in England, wherever he decides to play. His contract is up, but I don’t know what he’s going to do. Having said that, I guess if I looked deep down inside myself, in a quiet room in yoga class, and I meditate, and I say “wow, I guess this could be Thierry’s last game” then yes, I’m very happy for him.” Petke’s half-time interview on the weekend was pretty spectacular as well, pausing to shout “It’s got to be better” at the ref as he walked by and then responding to a question with a laugh before storming off – classic stuff there. Luis Robles had some thoughts of his own on the subject: “I have a good idea. I think everyone here has a good idea. Ultimately he’s the one that’s going to make the decision, so he could just be bluffing.” Bruce Arena with a rather zen approach to referees: “[Officiating] is what it is. It’s been like that all year. It’s not going to change in the playoffs.” Salt Lake’s Jeff Cassar took another, slightly more positive angle: “Listen it was a tough game out there. The conditions were tough, everyone was extremely aggressive. Of course I can say that there were a few different calls that I wanted. But at the end of the day, he didn’t give any penalty kicks, he didn’t give any red cards and let the guys on the field at least dictate that.” See It Live Some of the more entertaining sights of the round included Mauro Diaz re-entering the field of play after being substituted to get involved in a spat of handbags against Vancouver; a tifo in New York heralding Bradley Wright-Phillips’ accomplishments this season; while Jamison Olave’s defensive presence was immense in both Red Bull matches, coming up with this huge goal-saving block on Dom Dwyer and engaging in a series heavy-weight battles with Eddie Johnson against DC on the weekend. A flurry of brilliant saves this round from Eric Kronberg on Thierry Henry; Steve Clark on Andrew Farrell; San Penedo coming up big for LA on Joao Plata, twice, and Javier Morales late; and finally, Bill Hamid’s superb double-save against New York. Controversy On the whole the officials were rather reserved, managing the match well. But the handball call on Kendall Waston will go down in the Vancouver annals as a travesty. There was little doubt about Jose Goncalves’ handball, or Marco Pappa’s senseless tackle. Several close off-side calls were also a factor – Joao Plata’s break was cut short by a flag, while Gyasi Zardes unjustly saw his goal ruled out for an offside. Dallas too suffered that same fate, a flag robbing them of a rather spectacular training ground set-piece – though Stefan Frei ultimately made the save anyways. Sebastian Fernandez got the only red card, for getting in the face of the official post-match, but there were a few crunching tackles that may have seen further punishment were it not the post-season. Tim Cahill’s tackle on Benny Feilhaber was nasty – he didn’t even get a yellow for his efforts, while Ambroise Oyongo did get booked for this tackle on Sean Franklin. Upcoming Fixtures The Conference Semifinals (or MLS Cup Quarterfinals, depending on one’s point of view) resume on Saturday with the conclusion of the DC-New York series. Sunday sees New England-Columbus and LA-Salt Lake come to an end, while fans will have to wait until Monday for the Seattle-Dallas decider. Don’t forget, extra time and penalty kicks are a possibility, so be sure to allow a little more time on the PVR, just in case. Attendance was a little disappointing this round, especially in Columbus where only nine-thousand attended their loss against New England – it is always tricky to mobilize spectators on such short notice – but the atmospheres were generally very good; hopefully the return legs ramp it up a bit. Saturday: DC-New York. Sunday: New England-Columbus; Los Angeles-Salt Lake. Monday: Seattle-Dallas. All video & quotes courtesy of MLSsoccer.com 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
  18. Carl Robinson made three changes from the team that started Saturday's crucial win over Colorado. Gershon Koffie returned to the starting line up for the first time in weeks, to play alongside Matias Laba in the two man defensive shield, with Russell Teibert dropping to the bench. Erik Hurtado also returned after feeling ill on the morning of the Rapids match and seeing Darren Mattocks get the start. The big change came in the defence, with Steven Beitashour's hamstring injury forcing Robinson to choose which young full back he wanted to go with, and Ethen Sampson got the nod on the right. Vancouver started with their tails up and enjoyed some early possession but Dallas soon started to look the more dominant side in the middle of the park, with the Whitecaps not looking their usual cohesive selves and passes were going astray. There was also very little offensive presence by either team. A lot of huffing but very little puffing, particularly from Vancouver, who were reduced to long range shots, some of which were giving Chris Seitz a seemingly problem to handle. Just as it was looking like the teams would go in scoreless, which would certainly have been part of Vancouver's gameplan, Dallas took the lead in the 40th minute after a mix up between the usually reliable Andy O'Brien and Kendall Waston allowed Mauro Diaz to nip the ball past them and head towards goal on a two on one break. Diaz played the ball outside to Tesho Akindele, who took a touch before burying low past David Ousted for the opening goal. A costly mistake that ended Vancouver's 432 minutes without conceding a goal and saw the hosts go in with a vital one goal advantage. The Whitecaps also had the added headache of having both Pedro Morales and Koffie pick up first half bookings and walking a tightrope in such a volatile atmosphere. The pressure was now on Vancouver to perform and show their playoff metal. The Whitecaps came out for the second half in a much higher tempo and Sebastian Fernandez won a free kick in the opening minute when he was barged to the ground by Walker Zimmerman. Mauro Rosales stepped up and crashed the free kick off the Dallas bar from nearly 30 yards out. Vancouver were forced to replace their talismanic captain Pedro Morales just before the hour mark, and the switch for Kekuta Manneh proved to be a game changer. The young Gambian immediately caused problems for the Dallas defence and his run into the box won a corner for the Caps just past the hour mark. Morales' kick was flicked on, leading to a mad scramble in the home side's box before the ball broke to Manneh and his low shot squirmed under Seitz and hit the post and out for another corner. The Caps' were definitely in the ascendency now, and they got the reward their pressure and play deserved in the 64th minute. Manneh was in the thick of things again when his shot from outside the box deflected into the path of Hurtado and the young striker make room and saw his own shot take a slight deflection as it beat Seitz and nestled into the bottom right corner of the net to tie things up. Vancouver now sensed blood and Manneh was showing what a big game player he is, and he curled an effort inches wide in the 70th minute. But just as it looked liked the Whitecaps had the game for the taking, Dallas won a penalty with eight minutes remaining when Kendall Waston was adjudged to have handled the ball in the box, although the big Costa Rican knew little about it. Michel stepped and the Brazilian sent Ousted the wrong way to give Dallas back the lead. The game then threatened to boil over in the closing minutes as the hatred between the teams came to the fore. The Whitecaps pushed hard for those final moments but without creating any clear cut chances and as Vancouver pushed forward, Fabian Castillo saw a late effort saved, although referee Geiger gave a goal kick. Dallas held on for the win after six minutes of stoppage time and as the final whistle blew, Sebastian Fernandez made a beeline for Geiger and was shown a red card, as several Vancouver players gathered around the ref. It was a tough way to end their season, but the Whitecaps can hold their heads up high after a season that saw them produce much more than many expected. In the end, it was both their first half performance and the referee that saw their playoff hopes ended. How they bounce back from this next season will be interesting to watch. March can't come quick enough. FINAL SCORE: FC Dallas 2 - 1 Vancouver Whitecaps ATT:10,279 DALLAS: Chris Seitz; Zach Loyd, Matt Hedges, Walker Zimmerman, Je-Vaughn Watson; Fabian Castillo, Michel, Victor Ulloa (Kellyn Acosta 76), Mauro Diaz (Andres Escobar); Tesho Akindele, Blas Perez (Ryan Hollingshead 90) [subs Not Used: Jesse Gonzalez, Moises Hernandez, Jair Benitez, David Texeira] VANCOUVER: David Ousted; Ethen Sampson, Andy O’Brien, Kendall Waston, Jordan Harvey; Matias Laba, Gershon Koffie (Nicolas Mezquida 87); Mauro Rosales, Pedro Morales (Kekuta Manneh 58), Sebastian Fernández; Erik Hurtado (Darren Mattocks 78) [subs Not Used: Paolo Tornaghi, Sam Adekugbe, Johnny Leveron, Russell Teibert] [Postgame reaction to follow Thursday]
  19. Now no-one at the Whitecaps really wants to look that far ahead, at least publically. It's understandable. Call it jinxing things, call it taking it one game at a time and not wanting to be left eating crow. It's just the mentality that coaches and players always have. That's been the mantra the past month, where it was five cup finals, then four, then ultimately one. The Caps ended that spell with four shiny trophies and a replay! But it's hard not to look ahead at what could come after Dallas. A very winnable tie against Seattle, then you're just two games away from an actual Cup final. Carl Robinson's truly believes it's anyone's championship for the taking right now and there's no reason why the Whitecaps shouldn't be the ones to lift the trophy come December. He's fully aware of just what it would mean to the club to get past Dallas to kick everything off. "[There's a] fantastic mentality in that group of players that I've got," Robinson told reporters at Vancouver airport on Monday before flying down on a charter flight to Dallas. "A great camaraderie, spirit. It's the fun part now. It's a totally different season. Everyone's got a chance to win the MLS Cup and we're one of ten teams that has. We'll look forward to it but we know that it's hard work ahead, but it's a challenge that we'll go and meet full on. "Getting to the playoffs is good, but we don't stop there. We go ahead now and if we can get over this hurdle, and it's a very, very tough hurdle, what a game we've got. A battle against our rivals." The prospect of a playoff game against Seattle hangs heavily on the horizon. Seattle v Portland last season was an epic encounter that got Cascadia buzzing. The Caps want their part of that and for Jordan Harvey, it would be the ultimate playoff experience. "That's about as big as it gets for me," Harvey told AFTN on Monday. "Having a semi-final against your rival that's a bus ride away, I think that would huge. A freeway series! I grew up watching those in baseball with the Anaheim Angels and Dodgers. It would be fun." Andy O'Brien agrees with Harvey but still doesn't want to look too far ahead until the job in hand in Texas is taken care of. "The club has been crying out for a playoff game at home," O'Brien admitted. "There's a potential to create that on Sunday should we get through, but we've got to respect Dallas." "We've had the experience of being in the playoffs before, in LA. It's a game that we're looking forward to. I think we go there in more confident mood than we did do two years ago in a same position." The Caps have built some tasty feuds, possibly a better word than rivalries, with teams like Dallas and Real Salt Lake this season. While that may make for an entertaining battle, on and off the pitch, there's still nothing bigger and better for Caps' fans, players and pundits alike than to stick it to a Cascadian rival, and especially the self absorbed Seattle Sounders. Russell Teibert has been at the Caps long enough to experience epic playoff battles with Portland in the D2 days, but a MLS clash with Seattle would be on a much more immense scale. For him, being in the playoffs should see every player raise his game though, no matter whether it's a Cascadian or Conference rival they're facing. "We're talking about rivalries, we're talking about rivalries with Dallas," Teibert told reporters. "What a rivalry Seattle is, but we can't look that far ahead right now. We've got to take care of business down in Dallas. "It's a battle. You can see that every time we play each other it's a real battle. We know it's going to be a fight but these are the games you play for. These are the games you really get up for and if you can't get up for these, then you can't get up for any."
  20. "It's vitally important," coach Carl Robinson told reporters on Thursday. "Getting into the playoffs is the first goal that we set and if you manage to get in then it's being in form when you're hitting the playoffs. You see, year in, year out, a number of teams that get into the playoffs, sneak into the playoffs, when they're not playing very well end up going out. "It's important that focus is maintained. It's important that you do get a bit of momentum going into the playoffs because it is a lottery when you get there. It's just a one off game or a two-legged game if you get past that first stage and anything can happen. It's still a long way off, and it's a hard trek to get there, but we're willing to meet the challenge head on." The playoff race in the West looks like it may go right down to the wire and Vancouver know that if they are to make it to the postseason they will have to do it by producing some of their best form in the remaining matches. It's a factor which left back Jordan Harvey feels that can only serve them well. "That is an advantage," Harvey admitted to AFTN. "If you do get on form these last four games leading into the playoffs, that's huge. That's what most teams are successful with. We have to get in form, we have to get some more points and that will allow us to carry that [form] in." If Vancouver can clinch fifth spot in the Western Conference, they will likely face a first round playoff match away to FC Dallas or Real Salt Lake. Last Saturday's defeat of RSL gave the Whitecaps a slight mental edge over one of their prospective postseason opponents and they are unbeaten against Real Salt Lake all season, including two hard-fought draws down in Utah. The 'Caps are hoping for more of the same mental boost when Dallas head to BC Place this weekend. For veteran defender Andy O'Brien that psychological side of the game is one of the important keys for the Whitecaps down the stretch and beyond. "I think you need to be composed, especially from a mental point of view because there's so much emphasis in getting into the playoffs," O'Brien said. "There's a lot of pressure to get in there and then once you're in there, you've got a job to do and it's not as if you down tools when you meet one objective. "It's got to be a progression thing. We want to go, if possible, into the playoffs with four good results now and take that on to whoever we may play should we get there. It's important that we keep ourselves mentally prepared and physically prepared for it."
  21. Just in case you've been living under a rock for the past year, here's a quick refresher. The CSA have deemed that the Voyageurs Cup will be competed for later in the season from next year, so whichever Canadian club finishes highest in the MLS standings this season will represent Canada in next year's Champions League. Which does feel like the only way the Whitecaps will claim that honour sometimes! Vancouver and Toronto are currently level on points in the standing, but not only do TFC have a game in hand, they also have the most wins tiebreaker right now. If both teams were to win out (I know, I amuse myself sometimes), then that would see Toronto claim the spot. So a TFC win tomorrow makes achieving that goal slightly more difficult with the games running out. Now if you were to ask me to pick between just one of the options, the Whitecaps in the playoffs or the Whitecaps in next year's Champions League, what would I pick? What would you pick? What would Carl Robinson pick? In reality it's likely that if they make the playoffs, the points they've massed will also mean they clinch the Champions League spot too. I think that's what it's going to take. But if I was only allowed one, well, when I first thought about writing this article I thought my answer would be the playoffs every day of the week. But then I got thinking. If the Whitecaps make the playoffs, they face an away game in Dallas or Real Salt Lake and realistically are going to go one and out. So you're qualifying for just one game and possibly a quick disappointment. Qualifying for the Champions League gets you six more games at least, a Cup competition to go for and some valuable experience and minutes for Vancouver's younger and fringe players. It's a tough one. Of course, you then also have to look at what the likelihood of both scenarios happening will be? Will the Whitecaps even make the playoffs this year, not even looking at any other factor? Right back Steven Beitashour is certainly full of confidence. "It's two points," Beitashour answered incredulously when he was asked at training on Thursday if the Whitecaps still had a chance at making the playoffs. It was a bizarre question. "Five games, 15 points out there," he continued. "Two points. There's no way they're going five for five, so there's going to be a lot of points out there to grab and it starts on Saturday." "What they do doesn't affect us if we don't just win. We just try and control our own thing. At the end of the day we have five games to go, we know that, but we can't look past Salt Lake." The Toronto-Portland game kicks off at 10am PT. An ungodly hour for football and likely right in the middle of the Ryder Cup winding up for the day. Typically selfish east coast bastards. On the plus side though, it does mean that the game will finish four hours before Vancouver kicks off their crucial game with Real Salt Lake. The Whitecaps will know what the Timbers will have done and whether they're looking at closing a five point gap or facing the chance to get above the red line again. Will they be watching? Russell Teibert won't be until later, but he knows which scenario he's rooting for in the game. "I'll watch the Portland-Toronto game after the fact," Teibert said. "I won't pay no mind to it before. We know we can only control what we can control and that's our game, our match, that's our individual performances, that's how we play as a team. We can't control what Portland does but I'll give my boys from Portland a little shout and hopefully they'll do us a favour. "We know that even if [Portland] lose, if we don't win it doesn't mean anything. We need to go out, we need to perform, we need to win the game." So the players at least know that watching and relying on other teams slipping up or other teams do us favours doesn't count for much if they don't get the job done themselves over the next five "cup finals" The Ontario lad is cheering on TFC to do the Caps a favour and coach Carl Robinson is also hoping for the same from his old team. "Maybe Defoe's back and he can bang in four more goals," Robinson joked yesterday before continuing the same message as his players. "Listen, we need to concentrate on our own business. We didn't take care of our own business last week because we weren't at our levels that we need to be barring the first 20 minutes, so we've got to get back to that." The Whitecaps are looking for a Toronto win. Me? Well I'm cheering for an asteroid strike, the stretcher-bearers and failing that either a draw with injuries to key personnel or an absolute thumping of the Timbers by TFC. Even after all this, it could still come down to goal difference, and as we all sadly know, goals are exactly Vancouver's strong suit right now.
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