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MLS Newsstand – November 2, 2012

on Fri, 11/02/2012 - 14:34
Seattle Sounders FC vs. Real Salt Lake 10:00 p.m. ET (NBC Sports Network)
4. Goals at a premium(Bellingham Herald)
MLS News
15. United makes the right move(Washington Examiner)
17. Montreal striker Sebrango retires(The Canadian Press)
Los Angeles Galaxy 2, Vancouver Whitecaps FC 1
(Additional articles for consideration can be submitted directly to Lauren Brophy of MLS Communications at
1. Sounders motivated by advancing, not revenge on Real Salt Lake
Advancement will be the best revenge, Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said, heading into Friday's start of a playoff series against Real Salt Lake — a team that ended Seattle's season last year.
By Joshua Mayers
Seattle Times - November 1, 2012
TUKWILA — "We're ready."
Such was the message from Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid on the eve of his team's home playoff game, 7 p.m. Friday.
Seattle hosts the first leg of a two-game, aggregate-goals Western Conference semifinal against Real Salt Lake, an opponent that ended the Sounders' season in the same round last year.
Time for revenge? Well, yes and no.
"It's not about payback; it's about advancing," Schmid said. "We've got too much to think about to think about payback and getting even and all that. All we want to do is advance. Advancing will give us payback."
Last year, the series was just about decided in the first leg as RSL walloped the Sounders, 3-0, at Rio Tinto Stadium. It was a nearly insurmountable deficit that Seattle couldn't make up despite a 2-0 win in the second leg.
"We got spanked," midfielder Brad Evans said of the playoff opener in 2011.
"That's still fresh in everyone's mind. That's something that can't happen."
Motivation will also be drawn from this season.
The Sounders didn't score a goal in three games against Real Salt Lake — a 1-0 loss and two scoreless ties. Seattle's active goal-less drought is at 299 minutes head-to-head, dating to last year's playoffs.
RSL has only lost once at CenturyLink Field since winning the MLS Cup here in 2009.
"I've always felt over my career," Schmid said, "that it's easier to get prepared and to get up for teams that maybe you ... haven't done as (well) against, because your team is going to be motivated and focused."
The Sounders wouldn't go so far to say that they've wanted a rematch with Real Salt Lake this year. But that doesn't mean they lack confidence.
"We know we can beat this team," said defender Jeff Parke, referencing the home win in the playoffs last year.
"I don't think this team is afraid of anybody," added Evans. "We'll take anybody right now. We'll play San Jose, we'll play L.A. — whoever it is. We match up well with everybody, and we've done well against those teams all year long."
Johnson still in doubt, two defenders out
Forward Eddie Johnson (adductor strain) hasn't been ruled out of Friday's game and his availability, most likely as a reserve, if anything, will be determined before kickoff.
"We have to see," Schmid said. "Chances are he might not be able to play."
Johnson, who suffered the injury in Sunday's regular-season finale, is still expected to be ready for the second leg of the series on Nov. 8.
Defenders Leo Gonzalez (hamstring) and Patrick Ianni (calf) will not be available Friday, Schmid said.
2. Real Salt Lake: Goal for RSL, Seattle? Scoring goals
Major League Soccer » Past two meetings in regular season were scoreless draws.
By Steve Luhm
Salt Lake Tribune - November 1, 2012
Seattle - Only half-kidding, Real Salt Lake defender Will Johnson says scoring one goal might be enough to beat Seattle in the Major League Soccer playoffs.
RSL opens the two-game aggregate series Friday night at CenturyLink Field, after three regular-season matches with the Sounders, during which goals were as scarce as November sunshine in the Pacific Northwest.
Real Salt Lake finished 1-0-2 against Seattle, but needed only one goal to come out on top in the season series.
Heading into the playoffs, RSL and the Sounders have played back-to-back draws and 220 scoreless minutes.
"It’s hard to put your finger on why it’s been so low-scoring," said Real Salt Lake midfielder Kyle Beckerman. "But their team is an organized bunch — a team that’s tough to break down."
Beckerman compares this year’s RSL-Seattle games to a "chess match and, so far, it’s been pretty much a stalemate."
Oddly, Real Salt Lake and the Sounders collided in the opening round of the 2011 playoffs. The teams scored five goals in those two games.
RSL won the opener at Rio Tinto Stadium, 3-0, and Seattle rebounded with a 2-0 victory at CenturyLink. But Real Salt Lake advanced after an offensively explosive series — exactly the opposite of what RSL and the Sounders have produced this season.
"We’re two fairly evenly matched teams, and we’re two good defensive teams," said Real defender Chris Wingert. "You never know when things are going to change. But we feel, if we keep doing a good job defensively, we will get good results."
Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis disagrees with the notion that his team’s matches against Seattle have been ultraconservative.
"I think all the games have been pretty attack-oriented — pretty exciting — with lots of chances," he said. "But, for whatever reason, the ball hasn’t ended up in the back of the net very much."
At the same time, Kreis is prepared for a low-scoring playoff series with the Sounders because "typically that’s what happens this time of year. ...
"Teams become very defense-oriented — very mindful of what they’re doing without the ball. They concentrate on making life difficult for the opponent. That’s just the way it is."
In five MLS and two CONCACAF Champions League games going back to Aug. 18, Real Salt Lake is undefeated in its last seven matches.
RSL has gone 4-0-3 during the successful stretch while outscoring its opponents, 9-2.
"What I really appreciate is the effort the boys have given — the intensity they’ve had in every match," Kreis said. "There hasn’t been any matches [lately] when I’ve been discouraged with the energy level, and that’s a good thing."
For RSL’s core group of players, the playoffs could become a last stand.
Roster changes, beyond the typical season-to-season turnover experienced by all professional teams, are possible.
Beckerman, for one, doesn’t understand why future personnel moves are being considered for a group that finished the regular season with 17 wins and 57 points. Both are franchise records.
"I don’t agree with it," Beckerman said. "I think we have a really good team here and we are steadily building. To talk about disbanding the team, that’s nonsense to me."
Beckerman promised the roster issue is not an issue among the players.
"We’re going to go out, fight for ourselves and fight for the fans and see if we can make a run at it," he said.
Said Johnson: "We’re looking forward to the opportunity we have in front of us."
3. Real Salt Lake ready to open MLS playoffs in Seattle
By James Edward
Deseret News - November 1, 2012
When Real Salt Lake's patchwork defense was leaking goals at an alarming rate earlier this season, rumblings around MLS were that age had finally caught up with the club.
When Real Salt Lake's patchwork defense was leaking goals at an alarming rate earlier this season, rumblings around MLS were that age had finally caught up with the club.
Now, with the MLS playoffs getting under way Friday in Seattle at 8 p.m. MDT, RSL features one of the stingiest defenses in MLS, and it could be poised for another deep playoff run.
Over its past 11 matches in all competitions, Real Salt Lake has surrendered just three goals in posting a 6-1-4 record. In the playoffs, where scoring opportunities decrease significantly, RSL is built for success.
"The first game is always tentative, it doesn't seem like there are a lot of opportunities to score based on how well teams are defending. That first goal is usually huge," said defender Nat Borchers. "Getting that first goal for either side is going to be big, 'cause it can really change the momentum of the game and could change the outcome of the series."
In fact, in Real Salt Lake's four previous appearances in the two-game Western Conference semifinals, the team that scored first advanced each time.
That includes last year's semifinal series with Seattle. RSL dominated Game 1 at home with a 3-0 win and narrowly held on for the 3-2 aggregate win after Seattle prevailed 2-0 in Game 2.
The roles are reversed this year. The Sounders host Game 1 at Century Link Field, with the return leg being held at Rio Tinto Stadium next Thursday.
Jason Kreis joked that another 3-0 victory in the opener would be fantastic, but he's not really getting caught up in what an acceptable result is for the first leg.
"It's no time now because it's playoffs to start saying, 'OK we're just going to focus on results,' because we know we can't get results unless we focus on the performance and all the details that go into performances," said Kreis.
Attention to detail the final third of the season was a big contributor to the team's defensive rejuvenation — including a shutout against Seattle just over two weeks ago. That 0-0 game at Seattle on Oct. 17 had a playoff intensity to it as the teams jockeyed for playoff position.
Borchers said it's important RSL doesn't get too high or low based on Friday's result.
When Real Salt Lake's patchwork defense was leaking goals at an alarming rate earlier this season, rumblings around MLS were that age had finally caught up with the club.
"We'd like to come home with a win, that would be fantastic. If we get a draw, OK. If we go down a goal, go down two goals, we're still going to be OK. We're coming back home, we're going to play in Rio Tinto, which is our home stadium, and we always play well there, so I don't think we're going to be very concerned either way," said Borchers.
Rio Tinto Stadium hasn't been quite that kind lately. After losing one MLS match at home in 2009 and 2010 combined, Real Salt Lake has dropped seven combined league games the past two years.
Before the club worries about taking care of business at home, it will try and revive a stagnant attack in Seattle. RSL has been shut out in three straight games and hasn't scored a goal in 333 consecutive minutes.
Seattle, meanwhile, has scored nine goals in posting a 3-1-1 record over all competitions since Oct. 7.
Both teams have question marks going into the game. Seattle striker Eddie Johnson and defender Leo Gonzalez are both listed as questionable. RSL defenders Borchers and Jamison Olave are listed as probable after resting their respective leg injuries the regular season finale last weekend.
4. Goals at a premium
By Don Ruiz
Bellingham Herald - November 2, 2012
About 50 minutes into the first meeting this season between Seattle Sounders FC and Real Salt Lake, Fabian Espindola scored a goal.
Over the next 220 minutes of their three meetings, neither team scored again.
That scoreless streak lives on tonight as the clubs open a two-game, aggregate-score MLS playoff series at CenturyLink Field.
“We created some chances in a couple of games that we played them, and we didn’t finish those opportunities,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. “And so we’ve just got to make sure that we’re good around the goal, take advantage of set pieces. I think when you get into games like this – playoff series – then corner kicks and free kicks take on maybe a little bit of a bigger role.”
Any corner kick, free kick, breakaway, header, chance or blunder could be crucial – and potentially decisive – with so many signs pointing to a low-scoring series:
 • Salt Lake scored one goal on Seattle, and the Sounders scored none against RSL over their three regular-season meetings.
 • Seattle ended the regular season with the second-best goals-against average in Major League Soccer (0.97), while RSL was third (1.03).
 • Sounders goalkeeper Michael Gspurning led the league with a 0.73 goals-against average – third-best in league history – while Salt Lake’s Nick Rimando was second in shutouts, third in wins and fourth in goals-against average.
 • RSL allowed three goals over the final 990 minutes of its regular season.
 • Salt Lake hasn’t scored in its last 331 minutes across all competitions.
 • The Sounders are expected to open the playoffs without their leading scorer, Eddie Johnson, who is recovering from an adductor strain.
 • Salt Lake was shut out in its last two regular-season games, while Seattle was shut out in its final match.
That latter result – the Sounders’ 1-0 defeat at Los Angeles on Sunday – gave RSL the No. 2 Western Conference seeding and dropped Seattle to No. 3.
That is why the series is opening at CenturyLink Field and concluding Nov. 8 at RSL’s Rio Tinto Stadium.
That configuration gives the higher seed the supposed advantage of ending the series on its home turf. However, several Sounders said they are happy to juggle the order that didn’t work for them last season, when RSL ousted Seattle despite the lower seeding.
“My personal opinion is it’s better to start at home,” midfielder Steve Zakuani said. “We didn’t obviously throw the L.A. game away on purpose, but I think in this league it’s so tight that when you have to go into the second leg coming from a deficit it’s very tough, like we did last year.”
Last season, the Sounders tumbled into a 3-0 hole in the opening game at Salt Lake, and their 2-0 home win wasn’t enough to pull them out.
The signs this season don’t seem to point to a series where goals flow quite that freely.
However, Schmid said that won’t figure into his game management tonight.
“It’s about winning the game at home and getting at least a tie on the road – and maybe winning on the road. If we do that we advance. It doesn’t matter if that’s 1-0 or if that’s 2-0,” Schmid said. “So obviously for us it depends on the time in the game. Are you up 1-0 with three minutes to go, five minutes to go? Yeah, you might play a little differently at that stage. But being up 1-0 after 15 or 20 minutes is probably not going to alter all that much what you’re doing.”
7 p.m., CenturyLink Field
TV: Ch. 6/16, NBCSN. RADIO: 97.3-FM, 99.3-FM (Spanish)
CLUB LEADERS: For Salt Lake: goals 17, Alvaro Saborio; assists 9, Javier Morales; shots 87, Saborio; shots on goal 40, Saborio; goal-against average 1.06, Nick Rimando. For Seattle: G 14, Eddie Johnson; A 13, Mauro Rosales; S 126, Fredy Montero; SOG 46, Montero; GAA 0.73, Michael Gspurning.
HEAD TO HEAD: RSL leads in league play, 3-2-4. This season, RSL went 1-0-2, with a 1-0 win May 12 in Seattle followed by a pair of scoreless draws home and away. Last season, RSL took a 3-2 aggregate-score victory from the Sounders in the first round of the playoffs.
NOTES: This is the first of a two-game, aggregate-score playoff series. The winner will be determined by the combined scores of the home and away matches. If goals are even at the end of the second match, there will be 30 minutes of added time. If the tie remains, the series will be determined by penalty kicks. Road goals have no special status. … Seattle is 0-3 in playoff series and 0-2-1 in opening matches. … This is Salt Lake’s fifth straight playoff appearance, the longest ongoing streak in MLS. Seattle and Los Angeles are the only others to make the playoffs the past four seasons. … Gspurning led MLS in goals-against average. Rimando was fourth. … Seattle ended its regular season with a 1-0 loss at Los Angeles. The club hasn’t lost back-to-back games in 66 matches, the longest stretch in league history. … Only the lower stadium bowl will be open, creating a capacity of about 35,000 seats. Tickets remain available. … The referee is Hilario Grajeda.
QUOTABLE: “It’s something new for me. In Europe, we don’t have (playoffs), so normally the season, you know when it’s over. This is something different. All is coming down to the playoffs. It’s like you start a new season. I’m very excited.” – Gspurning
NEXT: The playoff series will resolve at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.
5. RSL faces Seattle in first leg of playoffs
By Justin Johnson
Spectrum & Daily News - November 1, 2012
One of Major League Soccer’s newest upcoming rivalries will be renewed tonight.
Real Salt Lake and Seattle will tangle tonight at CenturlyLink Field in Seattle in the first of a two-leg aggregate goals MLS Cup Western Conference playoff series. The match will kickoff at 8:30 p.m. and will be televised live on NBC Sports Network.
It will be the second consecutive season the two teams have met in the first round, with Salt Lake knocking Seattle out 3-2 last season after winning 3-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium in the first leg of the match.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game no matter who we played,” Real midfielder Kyle Beckerman said. “We’re excited to be in the position that we’re in and we know we have a big challenge ahead of us, but we feel confident and we feel like we have every right and every chance to go ahead in the tournament.”
It will be the fourth meeting of the season between the two Western Conference powers, and the eighth of the past two seasons. Real is 2-1-1 in four matches at CenturyLink Field over the past two seasons, with that lone loss coming during the second leg of last season’s first-round playoff series.
“It’s going to be tough. I think anybody from the West I can see going to the championship,” RSL defender Chris Wingert said. “I think a lot of teams are in real good form right now, especially the top four teams have all been in real good form. So it’s going to be a huge challenge for us to play Seattle, just like it was last year.
“We had one of our best performances that I can remember at home, and they were all over us afterwards and we were fortunate to get through. So it’s going to be a huge challenge for us but we’re looking forward to it. I think no matter who we would have played in that first round would be tough.”
Real (17-11-6, 56 points) will be making its fifth consecutive playoff appearance, which is the longest active streak in the league and it will be looking to advance to the conference final round for the fourth time during that span.
RSL finished the 2012 regular season with the most points (57), most wins (17) and most goals (46) in club history. This year’s team broke the marks set by the 2010 squad, which compiled 56 points, won 15 times and scored 45 goals in its 30-game season.
Real Salt Lake enters the playoffs on a very solid run of form, unbeaten in its last seven games and 6-1-4 in its last 11 – both streaks coming across all competitions. The Claret-and-Cobalt has been absolutely terrific defensively during its hot stretch, posting eight shutouts and giving up just three goals in its last 11 matches in both MLS and CONCACAF Champions League play.
“Everyone is trying to prove that they’re the more dominant team,” midfielder Ned Grabavoy said. “It’s going to be an unbelievable atmosphere up there and a huge crowd. They’re a really good team, and maybe one of the best coached teams in the league. (Sounders coach) Sigi (Schmid) is going to have those guys organized and ready without a question, but we need to be ready as well and go up there and be ready for anything.”
The second leg of the series is set for 7:30 p.m. on Thursday at Rio Tinto Stadium.
6. Eddie Johnson still questionable for Friday, Leo Gonzalez and Patrick Ianni ruled out
By Joshua Mayers - November 1, 2012
Both Sounders FC and Real Salt Lake are coming into Friday's playoff game with injury concerns. Seattle coach Sigi Schmid addressed some of those after Thursday's practice.
So will the Sounders be without leading scorer Eddie Johnson (adductor)?
"We have to see for sure," Schmid said. "Chances are he might not be able to play tomorrow, but he went through a lot more today. He's up working with (fitness coach Dave Tenney) right now. We'll make the final determination tomorrow before the game, but for sure we think the second game is not going to be an issue at all. Tomorrow, we'll have to see.
And how about defenders Leo Gonzalez (hamstring) and Patrick Ianni (calf)?
"Both getting better. Both not available for tomorrow, but they're both getting better," Schmid said. "Leo is actually advancing a little bit ahead of Pat right now."
7. D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid has been ‘Dr. No’ to opposing attacks
By Steven Goff
Washington Post - November 1, 2012
These are exciting days for D.C. United’s starting goalkeeper.
He is in the MLS playoffs for the first time.
He is enjoying the finest season of his blossoming career.
Best of all, “Skyfall” opens next week.
Just call him Hamid . . . Bill Hamid.
“It’s a great couple of weeks. It’s all positive,” said Hamid, who describes himself as an “unbelievable fanatic” of the James Bond film series despite the fact 16 of the 23 films were released before he was born in 1990.
Hamid’s not-so-secret mission: Stop the New York Red Bulls, United’s foe in a two-leg Eastern Conference semifinal series. Game 1 is Saturday night at RFK Stadium, with the return match Wednesday at Red Bull Arena.
Hamid has been at his dapper best in recent weeks, anchoring a seven-game unbeaten streak that secured United’s first postseason appearance in five years. In the regular season finale against Chicago last Saturday, the Annandale native made two brilliant stops among a career-high eight saves to preserve a 1-1 road draw, giving United the No. 2 seed in the playoffs.
His most important intervention was 20 minutes into the match. With United already down a goal, he thwarted Sherjill MacDonald in a one-on-one situation. Later, with the score tied, he stopped MacDonald again with a reflexive hand save.
“He keeps us in it with that first save. Everything changes if we’re down two goals,” midfielder Chris Pontius said. “You see it all come together with him in that match. He is playing well above his years.”
Hamid, 21, finished with the third-best goals-against average in MLS (1.03) behind a pair of veteran European keepers, Seattle’s Michael Gspurning, 31, and Sporting Kansas City’s Jimmy Nielsen, 35.
Hamid’s save percentage of 78.6 was the league’s best by a wide margin and the finest in his three seasons (68 percent last year).
Asked to describe his current form, he said: “I don’t want to jinx it. I am very superstitious. I want to be there for my teammates, and that just means making saves.”
Hamid’s work has been magnified since Dwayne De Rosario injured a knee in early September. Without its most influential attacker for the rest of the regular season, United embraced defensive tactics and didn’t generate as many scoring chances, leaving less room for error in the back.
“You want the big save, the spectacular save, but you really want him to be steady, make the saves he can and do the job back there,” Coach Ben Olsen said. “He has been good on both fronts.”
Hamid overcame a tumultuous spring to regain his rhythm. After starting the opener against Kansas City, he reported to the U.S. under-23 national team for the Olympic qualifying tournament. Neither he nor the squad met expectations and, in a major surprise, the Americans failed to advance to the Summer Games.
In Hamid’s absence, Joe Willis performed well for United. Upon his return, Hamid had to watch from the bench. He also lost his place as a reserve with the senior national team after receiving multiple call-ups last year. And without an Olympic stage to showcase his abilities for European clubs, his international stock dropped.
“He was down. He was disappointed,” United goalkeepers coach Pat Onstad said. “And he took it to heart.”
Willis made nine consecutive starts before relinquishing the job in May. Since then, the only interruption to Hamid’s starting grip was a one-game suspension for a red card in Houston in July.
“It has been a wild year,” Hamid said. “A goal has been achieved, getting to the playoffs, and now it’s about going further. Hopefully, for me, the national team call will come and then Europe in the future. I’ve got to keep putting in the work.”
Hamid has reduced the number of soft goals conceded and strengthened his teammates’ faith in him. At 6 feet 3 and 225 pounds, he has always had a presence in the penalty area, but with higher confidence and better decision-making, Hamid has grown in authority.
As for the Bond obsession, when Hamid was young, the family would gather at an uncle’s house in Maryland during Thanksgiving break and watch Bond movie marathons. He now owns the complete DVD set and, without missing a beat, can rattle off titles and the Bond actor and villain for each film.
His favorite: “Live and Let Die” (1973).
He is not, however, a fan of Daniel Craig in the lead role: “He’s not the right fit.”
“Skyfall” remains on the agenda, though it might have to wait if United advances to the conference finals.
“Playoffs and James Bond,” he said. “Can’t complain.”
8. NY Red Bulls Eastern Conference semifinal series to start in D.C. after power issues at Red Bull Arena in aftermath of Sandy
D.C. United will now host the first leg at RFK Stadium Saturday night, while the remaining 90 minutes of the series are set to be played at Red Bull Arena next Wednesday, Nov. 7
By Jaime Uribarri
New York Daily News - November 1, 2012
Add Major League Soccer to the list of pro sports leagues affected by Hurricane Sandy.
The monster storm that brought the East Coast to its knees also forced a change of venues for the Eastern Conference semifinals after power was knocked out at Red Bull Arena, the original sight of the Saturday's game between NY Red Bulls and D.C. United.
With the switch, United will now host the first leg at RFK Stadium Saturday night, while the remaining 90 minutes of the series are set to be played at Red Bull Arena next Wednesday, Nov. 7 - provided the lights go back on.
"I'd like to impress up on everybody that when we made the decision, we took into consideration all the issues that will impact all involved and made the best decision we believe is in the best interest of all parties," MLS commissioner Don Garber told reporters in a media conference call, via the league's official website.
On a competitive level, the venue swap favors the Red Bulls, who, despite finishing behind D.C. in the Eastern Conference standings, now get to decide the home-and-away series in front of their fans.
"Our club worked very hard to try to earn home-field advantage in the playoffs and we're proud that we've achieved that," D.C. United president Kevin Payne told"But there are times in which circumstances override competitive concerns, and this is clearly one of those times.”
The circumstances involve Red Bull Arena currently operating on generators that "are not enough to provide all the electricity we would need to hold a game,” according to general manager Jerome De Bontin.
The $200 million, 25,000-plus capacity stadium also suffered "minor, non-structural damage to the facility" as a result of Sandy,
This week's hurricane also forced the postponement of Thursday's NBA season-opener between the Brooklyn Nets and Knicks at the Barclays Center. 
9. Fire mull over what might have been
Despite successful regular season, late slump culminating in quick playoff exit leaves team hungry
By Jack McCarthy
Chicago Tribune - November 1, 2012
The Fire had plenty to celebrate in this turnaround season, but for an organization that proclaims competing for championships is the ultimate goal Wednesday's quick playoff ouster left a bitter taste.
"We don't feel great," forward Chris Rolfe said. "But in the weeks and months ahead we will see how good a season this was."
With a 17-11-6 record and 57 points — their best since 2000 — the Fire reclaimed a measure of MLS prominence plus a postseason berth for the first time since 2009.
But Houston abruptly ended the season with a 2-1 decision Wednesday night in a one-game knockout at Toyota Park and regrets over what might have been may linger.
The Fire had a conference championship within reach, yet saw it slip away with a late season swoon that included four losses in their final six games.
Fire coach Frank Klopas and the management team will ponder what went wrong and whether answers lie in player acquisitions, January's MLS SuperDraft or staying the current course.
Defender Arne Friedrich said experience may be the best teacher.
"We have played throughout the season with very young players and they did very good," he said. "We should learn from this season and the playoffs."
Friedrich, the German import and Fire defender of the year, was among the highlights.
He galvanized the back line with his presence and leadership, Austin Berry seized a starting spot and emerged as rookie of the year candidate and Gonzalo Segares was a steady presence throughout.
They played in front of goalkeeper Sean Johnson who started 31 games, ranked third in the league in saves (108) and had moments of brilliance.
There were tough times, too. In March, Johnson missed a late save against El Salvador and the U.S. national men's team was denied a berth in the Olympics. Fast forward to Wednesday and he had trouble handling some early Dynamo shots and was scored on thanks to a defensive lapse.
Still, Johnson remains the defensive foundation.
Elsewhere there was frequent churn. Dominic Oduro and Patrick Nyarko started the season at forward. By late September the front line was Sherjill MacDonald and Rolfe, a gifted striker who led the team with eight goals.
The midfield had dependable Logan Pause and Pavel Pardo nearly the entire season but lost playmakers Sebastian Grazzini and Marco Pappa. By summer, Nyarko was officially in the midfield and newcomer Alvaro Fernandez and Alex took turns in the other spot.
Scoring was relatively light, with the team-leading Rolfe not even among MLS' top 20.
If the group remains intact, Klopas has plenty of time to work with them through postseason training now under way and spring training beginning in February.
In the meantime, he's quick to point out the Fire is on the right track.
"I felt we took a very big step forward this year," he said. "Now we have to work just as hard in the offseason to prepare and be able to take the next step."
10. Fire hopes that Arne Friedrich will stick around
By Seth Gruen
Chicago Sun-Times - November 1, 2012
By all accounts of the team, a big reason the Fire was able to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2009 was that the organization retained most of its core players last offseason.
In previous years, the Fire found itself adjusting to vastly new ­personnel.
So after a 2-1 loss Wednesday to the Houston Dynamo that knocked the Fire out of the playoffs, the challenge before its front office is to ensure it can again keep the core intact.
“The reason why we’ve not been in this spot [the playoffs], which means not getting in the playoffs, is the fact that there’s been a lot of turnover after the year,” midfielder Patrick Nyarko said. “There’s been a lot of guys that leave and they bring in new guys and we start rebuilding again.”
Priority one: re-signing center back Arne Friedrich.
After Wednesday’s loss, the German international said he would like to stay in Chicago but also floated the possibility of retirement.
His return would be vital to back line that started rookie Austin Berry and second-year right back Jalil Anibaba. Friedrich played a major role in organizing a back line that was the anchor of one of the stingiest defenses in MLS.
Regardless of whether Friedrich returns, the Fire anticipates it will have to deal with some change, since players have numerous lucrative opportunities in other countries.
“It is hard, and these guys become your family more than just playing and wearing the jersey together,” captain and midfielder Logan Pause said.
“It’s part of the business that we’re in. It’s not always easy. Every year there will be changes, like it or not.”
At times, the Fire looked as good as any in MLS and technically was very sound. What hampered the team throughout the season, and particularly over the final month and into the playoffs, was a tendency to give up the first goal.
“We couldn’t keep giving up the first goal and expecting us to be able to come back and get an equalizer and even a game-winner,” Pause said. “That was a little bit of our Achilles heel.”
11. First home playoff game at BBVA will be a test of popularity
By Jesus Ortiz
Houston Chronicle - November 2, 2012
Bridgeview, Ill. - Immediately after the final whistle blew to seal the Dynamo's knockout round road victory over the Chicago Fire on Wednesday, the two-time MLS Cup champions were back on the clock in a race to sell out the first playoff game in BBVA Compass Stadium history.
Although the three-time MLS Cup finalists are the winningest sports franchise in Houston since they arrived in 2006, Sunday's match against Kansas City is in many ways a test of the team's popularity in a town that loves the other football's Texans.
Under any circumstances, less than 72 hours wouldn't give the Dynamo much of a window to sell out a game. Pitting the match against the ever-popular Texans, it's going to take a J.J. Watt-type rush to the ticket box to pack BBVA Compass Stadium for the 2:30 kickoff in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
In a way, Sunday's match is a referendum on the Dynamo's - and MLS' - popularity, and their match in Chicago was proof that Major League Soccer still has a long way to go. The crowd of 10,923 was embarrassingly small, especially on national television.
Home-field advantage
Unlike the Fire, though, the Dynamo have traditionally rewarded their fans with exciting playoff moments at Robertson Stadium. There's no reason to expect anything different Sunday in the first playoff game at BBVA Compass Stadium.
Houston fans are among the most loyal in MLS, which is why only the Seattle Sounders have averaged more fans than the 26,521 the Dynamo have averaged for playoff games. And few if any MLS clubs can boast a better soccer-specific stadium.
The Dynamo have not lost to an MLS club in Houston since June 11, 2011. Nonetheless, franchise all-time leading scorer Brian Ching realizes the Bayou City's sports fans will have options Sunday.
"First of all, I think we play well there at BBVA," said Ching, who scored the last playoff goal at Robertson Stadium last year against Philadelphia. "To have a playoff game there, it's just a great opportunity to reward our fans with a meaningful game and a great game. We're hoping that even though it coincides with the Texans' game, our fans will still come out."
To that end, Dynamo president Chris Canetti had his sales force busy with a social media and email campaign even before the final whistle blew Wednesday night.
"It's basically all hands on deck," Canetti said. "Whatever it takes in terms of manpower and hours. If there's 72 hours until kickoff, many of those hours will be used working (to sell the game).
Making memories
"Good news is we've been through this before several times. We pre-sold around 10,000 tickets over the last month or so because we've had a campaign going for people. It's pretty amazing."
The Dynamo have done a great job selling history this year, selling out the first game at BBVA Compass Stadium on May 12 and their first international match against Valencia. After building a great playoff résumé at Robertson Stadium, they hope their fans come out to the first playoff game in BBVA Compass Stadium.
"No question about it, I think it's really important that we got a home playoff game at the new stadium in the first year," Canetti said. "Some of the best moments in our history have been over there at Robertson in playoff games. We want to create a history at BBVA Compass Stadium.
"If we can put together a great crowd and the team wins, it will be another awesome moment. These playoff games are what people remember."
12. Behind the Axe: After player movement, the next biggest question for Portland Timbers fans is the 2013 schedule
By Kip Kesgard
The Oregonian - November 01, 2012
Outside of reviewing various website and news sources for any player movement for the Portland Timbers, the topic that draws nearly as much attention for fans is the schedule. Despite the fact that the 2012 regular season just finished on October 27 and the playoffs are in the initial stages, Portland announced early details of their 2013 preseason schedule. As with the 2012 preseason, the Timbers will have training in the Rose City while also participating in pre-season matches in the Southwest. The 2013 pre-season off site camp will be in Tucson, Arizona, and the Timbers will have their first slate of exhibitions for 2013 while down there.
Players and coaches are scheduled to report for preseason on Saturday, Jan. 19, and will begin preseason training Monday, Jan. 21. With no MLS expansion draft on the schedule to help populate a new side, MLS will hold their two player drafts, the MLS Super Draft and MLS Supplemental Draft in early January 2013. The MLS Super Draft allows MLS teams to select players that have graduated from college or have otherwise signed a contract with the league in two stages. The MLS Super Draft has two rounds and is usually staged as part of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America Convention, and the 2013 festivities will occur in Indianapolis, Indiana from January 16 to January 20. The MLS Supplemental Draft, consisting of four rounds of players that weren't selected in the Super Draft, usually takes place a week later. The pre-season schedule allows enough time for most drafted and signed players to join their clubs during the first week of training.
The Timbers will also participate in the 2012 MLS Re-Entry Draft, a feature the league added after the 2010 season as part of the league's collective bargaining agreement. With MLS Cup being staged on December 1, I'd expect this draft held in two stages to be completed within the first two weeks of December. The Re-Entry draft allows MLS teams to select players who are out-of-contract or have had their options declined by their current teams. While the single-entity league does not have true free agency, the re-entry draft was created to provide an outlet of internal movement for veteran players. With new Coach Caleb Porter joining the Timbers in mid-December, I would expect that he and Technical Director Gavin Wilkinson will be very busy evaluating their players in addition to discussing possible names that might appear on the Re-Entry list.
After the initial training in Portland in mid-January, the Timbers will travel to Arizona where they will conduct regular training sessions from January 27 through February 8. They will also play in preseason matches as part of The Desert Friendlies, an early season tournament presented by FC Tucson, a USL PDL side. The Timbers will play games against fellow MLS clubs Colorado Rapids (January 29), Seattle Sounders FC (February 5) and Sporting Kansas City (February 1) as well as host club FC Tucson (February 8) before returning to Portland. The team had been rumored to once again host their own pre-season tournament like they did in February 2012 when Chivas USA, San Jose and Swedish club AIK visited JELD-WEN Field for a round-robin tourney, and Timbers owner Merritt Paulson confirmed by his Twitter account that is still planned but no dates have been confirmed.
MLS released its 2012 schedule on January 5, 2012, and based upon the key dates noted above, I would expect the league to roll out their 2013 dates around that same time period. While we don't have exact dates yet, the expectation is that once again, MLS clubs will play an unbalanced 34 game schedule which will see conference opponents play each other more often than other clubs. For the Western Conference sides, that would mean three dates with one club hosting the other twice, while meeting each Eastern Conference team once in either a home or away date. Taking the particulars from the 2012 schedule as to which West teams the Timbers hosted twice plus what Eastern Conference teams visited Portland, we can surmise the following relating to the Timbers' 34 matches in 2013:
    Western Conference Opponents Playing Twice Away, Once at Home (12 total – 4 home, 8 away): Chivas USA, San Jose Earthquakes, Seattle Sounders FC, Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
    Western Conference Opponents Playing Twice Home, Once on Road (12 total, 8 home, 4 away): Colorado Rapids, FC Dallas, LA Galaxy, Real Salt Lake.
    Eastern Conference Opponents Away (5 total): Chicago Fire, Columbus Crew, D.C. United, Sporting Kansas City, Philadelphia Union.
    Eastern Conference Opponents Home (5 total): Houston Dynamo, Montreal Impact, New England Revolution, New York Red Bulls, Toronto FC
Based upon the information above, we know there will be 4 Cascadia matches away from Portland, plus Los Angeles and Real Salt Lake visit the Rose City twice. The Timbers also will meet Montreal for the first time in Oregon since the two clubs played each other in the U.S. Soccer Federation Division 2 League in 2010. The matches also mean that some former Timbers might be visiting JELD-WEN Field if they remain with their current teams, such as Kenny Cooper (New York), Troy Perkins (Montreal), Adam Moffat (Houston) and Jeremy Hall (Toronto).
13. Soccer gurus see Sporting KC as favorite
By Tod Palmer
Kansas City Star - Kansas City Star
So much for playing the “We get no respect” card.
Almost universally, MLS observers have dubbed Sporting Kansas City as one of the favorites to win the MLS Cup.
Four of’s 10 editors picked Sporting KC to win, while four others predicted Sporting would reach the MLS Cup final before losing. ( Check out all the picks here.)
That pretty much cements Sporting KC as an overwhelming favorite in the Eastern Conference, especially with both senior editors, Simon Borg and Nick Firchau, and the managing editor, Jonah Freeman, dubbing Sporting KC as eventual champions.
Then again, for what it’s worth, six of those editors also had Sporting KC headed to Chicago for the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Sunday, too.
Add Ives Galarcep, who runs Soccer by Ives, as a believer as well. He put Sporting KC atop his MLS playoffs power rankings. ( Check those out here.)
Still, count Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl as a believer. ( He picks Sporting KC to win it here.)
Wahl sees Sporting KC beating Real Salt Lake for Sporting’s second title of the season and second league crown in history.
That’s the best case scenario for Sporting KC and its fans, of course, because it means the championship game on Dec. 1 would be at Livestrong Sporting Park.
Borg and Firchau forecast the same matchup, while Freeman predicts Sporting KC to beat Supporter’s Shield winners, the San Jose Earthquakes, in the final — a game that would be played at Buck Shaw Stadium in California.
Galarcep seems to predict the same matchup along with editor Kristel Valencia, who has San Jose knocking off Sporting KC in that matchup along with new media editor (and former Sporting KC writer) Andrew Wiebe.
Fellow new media editor Nick Rosano has Sporting KC taking down the reigning MLS champion, LA Galaxy, in the final — another matchup that would be at Livestrong, while’s other new media editor, Matt Doyle, thinks the Seattle Sounders will avenge a loss to Sporting in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final at Livestrong.
Bottom line, don’t be shocked if the Cauldron goes crazy and “I believe we will win” chants ring out through Kansas City on Dec. 1.
14. Whitecaps know the future depends on youth
Developing their own players not just a matter for the team, but the entire MLS
By Marc Weber
The Province - November 1, 2012
Carson, Calif. — Finding more games for their promising young players remains the greatest challenge facing the Vancouver Whitecaps this off-season.
Martin Rennie has three residency graduates on his current roster, Russell Teibert, Bryce Alderson and Caleb Clarke, and he could well add one or two more heading into 2013.
But Teibert, a 19-year-old winger from Niagara Falls, Ont., started one game this regular season and played a total of 117 minutes.
Clarke, a 19-year-old forward from Richmond, played 15 minutes, and Alderson, an 18-year-old midfielder from Kitchener, Ont., didn’t see the field for the first team.
It’s hard to see more than an incremental increase in minutes for each next season. Teibert appears closest in Rennie’s mind. He was on the roster Thursday night as the Whitecaps faced the L.A. Galaxy in their first MLS playoff game.
So the question is, how do the Whitecaps get these players more consistent, competitive game experience?
“This is a good league-wide question,” Whitecaps co-owner Jeff Mallett said before kickoff at the Home Depot Center.
“The [MLS] reserve league is really not big enough, not strong enough, there’s not enough matches in there [10 games].
“There continues to be discussions on creating a second tier, a second league, what associations we want to have with that. The USL, the NASL, expanding the reserve league. Is it something MLS wants to be directly involved with, indirectly. Is there a AAA baseball model? All that’s being looked at by smart people.
“Nothing is off the table right now. All we know is it has to happen.”
MLS and the second-tier NASL are making headway on a formal working relationship, according an article on the MLS website.
The Whitecaps are believed to have had a deal in place to loan their 2011 top pick, Omar Salgado, out to the Carolina RailHawks early this season. But that was scuttled by Darren Mattocks’ burn injury, which opened the door for more first-team minutes for Salgado.
Rennie used to coach in Carolina, so there’s familiarity there. Mallett said that knowledge and trust is key to considering any loan. The Whitecaps have previously been in discussion with Edmonton of the NASL.
Loans to Europe are more complicated because clubs will want the first right to sign those players and the Whitecaps remain determined to primarily produce players for their own team first.
“Most important is finding clubs you really understand the training facilities, the coaching staff, etc.,” said Mallett, “and we haven’t really vetted enough clubs at this point that we feel comfortable letting our talent go out.
“We’re open to it.”
Mallett also said he’d like to see more Canadians “directly in our side,” and more youth players from anywhere coming through the club. Case in point: assistant coach Carl Robinson was recently on a scouting trip to Honduras.
Ultimately, the Whitecaps will need to sell some of their talent to justify the costs of the full-time residency program they’ve been running since 2007.
“That’s not only a good business decision,” Mallett said of the youth approach, “that’s how you create real sustainable clubs.”
Mallett, the Victoria-raised businessman and sports team owner – he also has a stake in the San Francisco Giants and Derby County FC in England — was the lone representative of the Whitecaps’ ownership group on Thursday.
L.A. Lakers point guard Steve Nash was home with an injury, while majority owner Greg Kerfoot had a family matter to attend to.
Mallett said the owners were pleased that Rennie and the team had checked off all but one of the points they’d identified coming into the season.
They made a significant improvement, made the playoffs, and started to create a sense of home-field advantage.
“[But] we still want to get into the [CONCACAF] Champions League,” he said. “That’s something we’ve got to come back and get ourselves around and get in there.”
15. United makes the right move
By Craig Stouffer
Washington Examiner - November 1, 2012
Ben Olsen isn't really concerned what order D.C. United's playoff games are played. That's good because Major League Soccer's request to move United's postseason opener against New York from Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., to RFK Stadium was a practical reality and the right thing to do.
"This happens to be one of those very unusual circumstances that you will probably never forget, and it calls for extraordinary action," United president Kevin Payne said. "This is an extraordinary action, but it's one that we all agree is appropriate."
After four years of bad luck and bad form, Payne is the last person who wants to relinquish small but potentially meaningful advantages of earning the Eastern Conference's second seed.
But power may not be fully restored to Red Bull Arena and its surroundings until next week, and there's still no guarantee it will be ready for the return game on Nov. 7. Discussions were had about alternative sites, such as Philadelphia's PPL Park, but there wasn't time to make them happen.
MLS is trying to manage a postseason that already extends into suboptimal and often subarctic December. Unlike the NFL, MLS must work within the constraints of broadcast deals it already has in place. Moving dates is the equivalent of taking a game off the air.
Playing the matches, regardless of location, is a chance to move forward from Hurricane Sandy's impact. Accommodating the location change is a humble reminder that sports remains a diversion, and isn't nearly as important as what is at stake in New York and New Jersey.
16. Wondolowski and Co. ready for Galaxy in quest for MLS Cup
By Alexis Terrazas
San Francisco Examiner - November 1, 2012
Not since the inaugural season — when Roy Lassiter did it 16 years ago — had an MLS player found the back of the opposing net 27 times.
But that changed late October.
“It means a lot,” said Earthquakes striker Chris Wondolowski, who tied Lassiter’s single-season scoring record this year while helping his team rumble to the best record in the league. “But it doesn’t mean much if you’re not holding that MLS Cup championship at the end.”
That quest for said coveted Cup kicks off Sunday. 
Posting a league-best 19 wins on their way to the Supporter’s Shield, San Jose earned its second trip to the postseason since 2005 — a postseason that will start in Los Angeles this weekend in the first leg of the Western Conference semifinals against the rival Galaxy.
Game 2 against Robbie Keane and Co. is slated for Wednesday at Buck Shaw Stadium in Santa Clara. But San Jose coach Frank Yallop isn’t basking in recent feats.
“You could talk all you want about, ‘You gotta keep going, momentum, and you gotta win ...,’ no, you don’t,” Yallop said. “You gotta win the playoffs. We’ve done obviously enough to have the best record in the league. So that job’s done.”
His players concur.
“At the end of the day, the series gets played in between the lines,” defender Jason Hernandez said.
But if the rigors of the regular season have evidenced anything, it’s that Yallop seldom loses back-to-back — something his team has to avoid if they hope to advance. His Quakes club hasn’t lost two consecutive games all year, and went unbeaten in its final nine games of the regular season.
Yet despite besting the Galaxy twice while earning a draw this year, there is a clear game plan the Quakes will look to heed heading to the Home Depot Center.
“The conceding of goals is what we’ll tighten up. I think we gotta make sure we’re not leaking goals,” Yallop said. “We’re a team that attacks. The way we play is open.”
But what Wondolowski and forwards Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon specialized in this season was finding the back of the opposite net — a season that was Wondo’s best.
“Yeah,” he said if 2012 was his best year professionally. “We’ll find out in a couple weeks.”
17. Montreal striker Sebrango retires
By Bill Beacon
The Canadian Press - November 2, 2012
Impact's Eduardo Sebrango waves goodbye to fans.
Photograph by: Graham Hughes, The Canadian Press , The Canadian Press
Eduardo Sebrango has retired as a player, but wants to stay on with the Montreal Impact.
The 39-year-old forward - who was the oldest player in Major League Soccer this season - announced Thursday he was calling it quits after 14 seasons in North American pro soccer.
"It's hard to stop what you love to do, but I think it's the right decision at the right moment," said Sebrango, who got into seven games for the Impact this season but was not expected to be kept on for 2013.
The Cuba native, who also played for the Vancouver Whitecaps and Rochester Rhinos, retired in 2011 to work in the Impact's academy but came back as a player in April that year.
He signed a one-year deal in February to join Montreal for its first MLS season.
He said he has spoken to team president Joey Saputo and sporting director Nick de San-tis about staying with the club in some capacity. De Santis said they are looking at keeping him on.
"It's a possibility," Sebrango said. "I'm looking at other options as well, but my main goal is to stay with the organization and I hope we can work something out."
The quick-footed Sebrango was a star player in various lower leagues before his lone MLS campaign.
He is second all-time in scoring in North American second division soccer with 104 goals in 270 games.
And he is second in all-time Impact scoring with 51 goals in 149 games behind Mauro Biello, who is now an assistant coach with the team.
Sebrango was Montreal's player of the year in 2002, when he scored 18 goals.
"He transmitted his enthusiasm to a lot of players," said Biello.
"To see a guy who is 39 and who is in shape and focused to train every day, a lot of the young players learned from watching him.
"He's definitely a guy who made his mark on the city. He was here when things weren't so good and when things picked up."
Mostly, Sebrango was about winning championships.
He won five in all, two with Montreal (2004, 2009), two with the Whitecaps (2006, 2008) and one with Rochester (2000).
18. Landon Donovan not sure he wants to play 2014 World Cup
The Associated Press - November 1, 2012
New York — Landon Donovan isn't sure he wants to play at the 2014 World Cup, a stance that prompted U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann to say he intends to speak with the longtime American star.
The 30-year-old Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder, a veteran of three World Cups, has been sidelined by a string of injuries this year and has appeared in just eight of 20 national team games since Klinsmann became coach.
"If I'm not enjoying playing any more, the World Cup is the last thing on my mind," Donovan said in an interview with ESPN released this week. "I need to make sure that I'm enjoying playing every day. If I'm not enjoying it, none of that stuff really matters. And your body's going to tell you it's time to take a break and that's what my body has done this year, there's no question."
Donovan said he can picture himself not playing at the World Cup. He has an American-record 49 goals in 144 international appearances, but his injury layoffs have given him doubts.
"When you're not part of the team all the time, you can start to question your value and your worth there," he said. "I'm human. I think about those things, and I wonder that from time to time — am I capable and/or do they still want me around?"
Speaking during a conference call Thursday, Klinsmann said Donovan is wanted by the national team, which starts the 10-game final round of World Cup qualifying in February.
"I find it really courageous of him to talk openly about what's going through his mind," Klinsmann said, adding: "He's always in our plans, absolutely."
Klinsmann seems to be giving Donovan plenty of time to make up his mind.
"It's really down to him, himself, what he wants to further achieve in his career, what he wants to do," the coach said. "Whatever he decides to do will be very respected by us."
Donovan's availability for the next U.S. game, a Nov. 14 exhibition at Russia, depends on how far the defending champion Galaxy progress in the Major League Soccer playoffs.
His absence has created a void in the American attack.
"When one player is not there, there is a chance for another player to step in and make a case for a spot," Klinsmann said. "We'll all be curious to see how it continues."
Donovan has been sidelined this year by bronchitis, a hamstring injury and a knee injury. The U.S. is 3-2-3 with Donovan under Klinsmann and 8-4-0 without him.
"It's probably affected my relationship with everybody on that team," Donovan said of the absences. "When you're a guy who's never been hurt for the most part and then all of a sudden you have all these injuries, I think people start to question it — maybe he's faking it, or maybe he's not really hurt or maybe he doesn't want to come in.
"That's really frustrating and candidly it's pretty hurtful because I've spent more time on a soccer field than anybody in the history of this program. I've played in games I shouldn't be playing in for health reasons or otherwise. I feel like I've given a lot to this program, and when you get the sense that people think you're not genuine, then that can hurt you."
Klinsmann thought Donovan had the wrong impression, and intends to invite him to lunch or dinner.
"I don't know if he has a feeling that maybe some players didn't buy in or whatever. I didn't see that," Klinsmann said. "If it's Landon's thought, then he can obviously talk about it. It's no problem."
Donovan is not interested in a loan to Everton, where he played in early 2010 and early 2012.
"I'm no good to any team if I'm playing half-hearted or if I'm playing at 80 percent physically," Donovan said. "I can go through the motions and do an OK job, but I don't want to be doing an OK job. I want to be making an impact."
NOTES: Klinsmann hasn't spoken with Jozy Altidore since dropping the forward from his roster for World Cup qualifiers last month and said he hasn't decided whether to include him for the Russia game. ... The draw for the final round of World Cup qualifying will take place Tuesday. ... Klinsmann hasn't decided whether to have a January training camp. He may reduce the size or push it into late January, ahead of the next qualifier.
19. The Designated Player: The Designated Playoffs
By Graham Parker - November 1, 2012
Owing to a stupid clause inserted into the Designated Player’s MLS contract while I was busy browsing real estate listings — mainly for penthouses without views of the shacks my Grantland teammates are kept in — I apparently have to “participate in the playoffs.” This, in general, is not what I came to America for. Even worse, on further investigation it turns out that “participation” involves more than delivering the odd platitude about the standard of play in MLS, while being photographed somewhere in a darkened VIP room that also includes Tony Parker, Kelly Ripa, Russell Brand, and a minor Jonas — I actually have to play.
Knowing that this may involve contact with the former academy players who keep circulating colds among themselves, I immediately got my new agent on the phone with my list of demands — that is, if MLS wants to see the legendary “DP bounce” in attendance figures this year (I also got him to trademark DP Bounce™).
At first league management were pretty tense about the whole thing — probably remembering the play-for-chocolate-covered-jets clause I’d encouraged the mortal members of my team to ask for during the last CBA negotiations. But when I explained that I just wanted a wholesale format change for the playoffs inserted by Wednesday, they relaxed and were actually pretty cool about it all, making me wish I’d pushed for the “DP goals count double” rule I’d been toying with asking for.
So I’m delighted to present, with my full and meaningful participation, the Designated Playoffs™ ...
The format for the Designated Playoffs™ is the same knockout format as the previously planned playoffs, with the same teams participating, and the same seeding, but with one crucial rule change:
All non-designated players are forbidden from entering the playing field during game time.
This one was a little tricky to slip past the executives, until I explained to them that if they did some careful PowerPointing on future sponsorship presentations, the league’s average standard of play, according to the EA Sports rankings I check for these things, would now jump an average of 780 percent (with a little massaging in the Toronto area). They still looked unconvinced, until I pointed out that this rule brought the chances of this year’s final ending up at Buck Shaw down to somewhere close to zero ...
The league signed off on it.
And here is how the Designated Playoffs went down ...
Eastern Conference Wild-Card Round
Chicago Fire (Sherjill MacDonald, Alvaro Fernandez) vs. Houston Dynamo (Oscar Boníek Garcia, Ricardo Clark)
Controversy right from the off in this one. As the two teams trotted out at the start of the game, MacDonald, getting his offsides in early, accidentally trod on his teammate’s heel. Fernandez went down in slow motion, clutching his heart, ankle, and groin, before lying very still on the turf for the remainder of the game — getting up two minutes before the end to wince, hobble in the manner of a Pirates of the Caribbean extra, and wave an imaginary yellow card, red card, and subpoena at the referee. In the meantime, MacDonald was overrun. He/Chicago was clearly unprepared for the midfield movement of Dominic Kinnear’s 2 formation, brought in this summer to compensate for the departure of Geoff Cameron (and refined upon my DP ONLY™ rule that saw the departure of everyone else). The playoff experience of Ricardo Clark guided his team home — despite a late booking for time-wasting after persistent infractions while retrieving the ball for throw-ins. The winning goal was actually a miss-hit visionary pass from Boníek Garcia to the space Mac Kandji usually sprints into just before the ball runs out of play.
The game was also memorable for Chicago’s Section 8 unveiling a huge tifo featuring Hristo Stoichkov inserted into key scenes of the Haymarket riots and showing various Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, as described by Frank Klopas speaking to a blogger.
Score: Chicago, 0, Houston, 1
Western Conference Wild-Card Game
L.A. Galaxy (David Beckham, Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane) vs. Vancouver Whitecaps (Kenny Miller, Barry Robson)
Vancouver coach Martin Rennie found himself on the steepest part of the learning curve he has been surfing all year, after his controversial decision to bench both his designated players backfired miserably when he realized there was nobody to sub off, having decided to bring them on late in the second half. Rennie could be seen staring fixedly ahead into space at that point, while behind him on the bench Miller and Robson bickered in impenetrable Scottish accents about which city had the better nightlife: Cardiff or Middlesborough.
It was all the more frustrating for the Whitecaps, as for once the Galaxy were there for the taking. Donovan’s recent spiritual ennui had infected the other two designated players, who spent most of the game in the center circle questioning each other’s desire for the game. Eventually Keane, whose constant movement may or may not have been an indirect result of disorientation caused by the flashbulbs at every Beckham set piece, broke the circle of trust by calling it “loada bollix, wha?” and fed the ball into the path of Donovan, who found himself following play instinctively to stab the ball home, then stab the ball, then feel bad about it, then say he was too old for this shit. After a long consultation with his management company about “optimum sight lines” and “favorable roster-clutter visuals,” Beckham added an aesthetically pleasing second. Donovan was seen staring at it vacantly, saying “Great. Beauty.”
Asked for his thoughts after the game, Bruce Arena said “Why don’t you ask me about the ass-backward rule change?” Then he smirked and refused to comment when somebody did. Later Rennie revealed that he had actually started his Designated Players but had not told them, as part of a complex mind game. He then acknowledged he’d “maybe tried to do a teeny bit too much” and that the team would come back “weaker” next year.
Score: L.A. Galaxy 2, Vancouver Whitecaps 0
Eastern Conference Semifinals
D.C. United (Hamdi Salihi) vs. New York Red Bulls (Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill, Rafael Marquez)
More controversy in this one, as the New York players showed up their customary 20 minutes late for the first leg to find themselves 4-0 down — Salihi having converted that many of the 40 chances he’d made for himself. Having shown up and finished yawning, the Red Bulls rallied to tie the game, but as the sides came off the field, Marquez, donned in full ninja gear, clotheslined Salihi and began ostentatiously flicking through a Baltimore Chamber of Commerce pamphlet in front of D.C. coach Ben Olsen. In the bench-clearing melee that followed, Marquez somehow slipped out of the stadium and was next seen in February 2013 signing a new five-year contract, with a clause renaming the side the New York Marquez.
Salihi meanwhile was banned for inciting the incident, and with New York winning 7-6 in the second half of the second leg at Red Bull Arena (after conceding six own goals in a manner that coach Hans Backe called “disappointing, really”), Tim Cahill ran into one too many walls for the team and was himself declared structurally unsound. New York saw out the match with Henry standing in the middle of the field with one foot on the ball, hands on hips, looking at the sky. After the game he sat in the center circle with a towel over his head and making a sound that sounded like “zooooooowfffffffah” before swapping shirts with himself and exchanging a private joke and a nod of respect to the same worthy opponent. DC coach Ben Olsen was later seen on the freeway, sarcastically applauding traffic.
Score: D.C. United 4, New York 4 (first leg); New York 7, D.C. United 6 (second leg) (New York win 11-10)
Eastern Conference Semifinals
Sporting Kansas City ( ... ) vs. Houston Dynamo (Oscar Boníek Garcia, Ricardo Clark)
Without a designated player to field, Peter Vermes opted to line up with “attitude,” “work rate,” and “this thing called love” in the first leg in Houston. Initially it seemed he’d been out-thought by the canny Dominic Kinnear, who had shifted his formation to an experimental and fluid 1-1. With Boníek Garcia and Clark switching positions constantly and dropping deep when necessary (never), the Dynamo had encouraging 100 percent possession stats, though tired somewhat in the Texan heat and forgot to shoot.
In the return leg, Kinnear, perhaps falling for the fashionable infatuation with all things Barcelona, went with a 0-1-0-1-0-0 formation (with both “1”s false), but found himself undone by Vermes in the opposing technical area — which owing to some restructuring by Sporting owner Robb Heineman, who’d claimed he was “just painting a wall,” was now 76 yards deep. Every time Clark or Boníek Garcia came near the Sporting half, they found themselves repelled by Vermes, standing directly in front of them and yelling at his lack of players that they had to “WORK HARDER FOR EACH OTHER.” By the time the game drifted to penalties, both Houston men were weeping openly, and could not participate further. Sporting scored the decisive kick via Vermes sound waves oscillating the ball painstakingly into the net. It took seven hours and 14 minutes to cross the line. Afterward Vermes claimed that “sometimes you have to grind out a result.” Kinnear lamented his side’s “unwillingness to track back” and conceded that his team may have been a little “impatient in their build-up play.”
Score: Houston Dynamo 0, Sporting Kansas City 0 (first leg); Sporting Kansas City 0, Houston Dynamo 0 (second leg) (Sporting Kansas City win 1-0 after 87 penalties)
Western Conference Semifinals
San Jose Earthquakes ( ... ) vs L.A. Galaxy (David Beckham, Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane)
The California Clasico lived up to its billing with two very different games. In the first leg, the Galaxy welcomed the Earthquakes to the eerie atmosphere that is a midweek Home Depot Center. Galaxy management having negotiated a special arrangement that allowed them to break the club’s usual noise-restricting attendance cap for midweek games, the stadium was full to bursting with a sellout crowd. Among them, though, as a condition of the expanded capacity, was a handpicked section of the Orange County chapter of the L.A. Riot Squad, who were charged with keeping everyone quiet. So effective was their system of ticketing and passive-aggressive shaming that the only sound heard all night was Landon Donovan performing selected Joy Division medleys to himself.
Keane, whose permanent expression of bewildered disgust had been revealed to the press in the exhaustive media buildup to the game as a "mistrust of bougainvillea," happened to glance up early in the game and, seeing the flora lining the HDC, was a shadow of his normal self all night. Beckham, though, was magnificent — rolling back the years with a series of long passes, set pieces, and product endorsements that culminated with the Englishman facing the crowd, arms outstretched and head thrown back, after scoring the second of his goals on the night. The crowd nodded back appreciatively at a 2-0 victory.
No Beckham in the second leg, as the midfielder was opening an In-N-Out Burger in Walthamstow. Keane, whom Arena had taken to sardonically referring to as “Petal,” was marked out of the second leg by his own demons and gave the San Jose crowd hope with an early own goal on a pass back through the space Omar Gonzalez occasionally occupies. It was left to Donovan to drive the Galaxy forward, and this was a game where he at last rediscovered the fire within — actually emerging for the second half dressed as Uncle Sam and scoring a leader’s hat trick, before catching sight of himself in an ESPN monitor and suddenly turning pensive again.
With the Galaxy leading 5-1 on aggregate, San Jose had been suspiciously quiet up to this point, mainly owing to having no Designated Players and a combined salary bill marginally short of what’s required to get one to appear at a Sweet 16 party. As the game ticked into the third minute of stoppage time though, the Goonies rallied. Noting that the new DP rule only forbade non-DPs from the field of play, they revealed a complex ballista-like contraption behind their own goal and began hurling Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart in high arcs over the Galaxy crossbar. Having plundered three quickfire scrappy goals via this method, yet another stirring late Earthquakes rally was halted when Lenhart “tangled” with Keane in the box as he landed from 63 feet, and both players were ejected before the clock finally ran out. With San Jose’s comeback foiled, a relieved Galaxy advanced. Asked if he was looking forward to the Western Conference final, Arena quipped “Bite me,” then followed up with “He’s a good player. He doesn’t get the credit from you [the media] perhaps, but he’s a good player.” When pressed, he refused to clarify who he was talking about.
Score: L.A. Galaxy 2, San Jose 0 (first leg); San Jose 4, L.A. Galaxy 3 (second leg) (L.A. Galaxy win 5-4)
Western Conference Semifinals
Real Salt Lake (Alvaro Saborio, Javier Morales) vs. Seattle Sounders FC (Fredy Montero, Mauro Rosales, Christian Tiffert)
According to anecdotal evidence, 937,632 people were in attendance in Seattle for the first leg of this much-anticipated semifinal, which was preceded by the sight of Fredy Montero warming up right by the Seattle bench, in front of a smouldering Eddie Johnson, while sporting an exaggeratedly sad face. Occasionally he would break off from his jogging and say, “That’s so sad. I thought you would be designated. I’m a designate. That’s so sad. You sure you’re not a designate? That’s so sad. OK, I’m going to go play now. Maybe I’ll score some goals. Pray for me, Eddie Johnson. Pray I score some goals."
The first leg was played in a surreal atmosphere, as the Emerald City Supporters, aware of Chicago’s recent giant tifo antics, spent the first 87 minutes choreographing an animated family tree of Seattle musical history that attempted to demonstrate the influence of Sigi Schmid on Bleach and featuring a live cameo from Arlo White representing Britpop. The display was considered by many experts in the field to have jumped the shark for such forms of support, though everyone agreed that it was nice to see Roger Levesque get his due as a key influence on Screaming Trees.
The game itself was a tight one and settled by a moment of invention from Mauro Rosales, just as the ECS display was fragmenting into a chaotic passage documenting obscure solo offshoots, prior to their planned climactic Pearl Jam–Kasey Keller reunion. Taking advantage of the confusion, Rosales slotted home from a Tiffert through ball, running into the space vacated by the injured Javier Morales. Morales had just been felled inadvertently by a field-invading Eddie Johnson, whose target appeared to be Montero performing a mime of crying on the opposite touchline.
With the score at 1-0, the second leg in Salt Lake was graced by an unexpected campaign appearance by Mitt Romney, though this was cut short when a pregame video of "Believe" was shown to rouse the fans.
Romney left, shuddering “They only come out at night ... ” When the game did kick off, Real briefly turned back the clock to the 2010-11 teams, playing neat, concise soccer, managing the game and generally frustrating the Sounders. They took a 2-0 lead on the night, off two Saborio headers, before disaster struck. Having held the side together for one last tilt at the Champions League with the same group of players, Salt Lake’s Jason Kreis had to watch in despair as, having gone one game too far, his players started to unravel into a mass of rubber bands, tattoo ink, Scotch tape, and surgical trusses. Saborio was briefly lashed together again with a hastily trimmed Kyle Beckerman dreadlock, but in the end the Sounders scored twice more to take the game in the final minute. Afterward Fredy Montero dedicated his winning goal to “Eddie Johnson — he helped me achieve. If he’s not special, it’s OK. He’s special for me.”
Score: Seattle 1, Real Salt Lake 0 (first leg); Real Salt Lake 2, Seattle 2 (second leg) (Seattle win 3-2)
Next week: Conference finals and final in the Designated Playoffs".
20. High-priced Adu's future with Union uncertain
By Ryan Bright - November 1, 2012
Chester, Pa. - It’s no secret that the Union’s 2012 season overflowed with disappointment, leaving coach John Hackworth with more questions than answers heading into the offseason. And though plenty of roster turnover is inevitable, the Union's headlining question mark is Freddy Adu, its highest paid player.
Scratched by coach’s decision for the final two games of the regular season, Adu’s role on the 2013 Union remains undefined.
“Freddy and I have a long history and despite what people think, we are close, too,” said Hackworth. “I want what is best for Freddy and I want a lot out of him. He expects a lot out of himself as well. We will have a very heart-to-heart talk and see what’s best for both of us.”
Acquired out of Europe in August 2011 by Peter Nowak’s regime, Hackworth inherited Adu. Citing the player’s high potential but stinging inconsistency, Hackworth benched Adu on more than one occasion, forcing the one-time star to work with limited minutes. This recently occurred against Real Salt Lake on Aug. 24, when he played just eight minutes, and against the Columbus Crew on Aug. 29, when he logged just 13.
Adu shrugged at his diminished role but accepted his fate.
However, the worst came against Sporting Kansas City on Oct. 24, when the offensive midfielder wasn’t asked to make the road trip to Livestrong Sporting Park. Facing the New York Red Bulls three days later in the season finale -- a game the Union desperately wanted to win -- Adu was once again on the outside looking in, trading his Union blue for a suit.
“It was a coach’s decision -- there’s a lot of competition,” said Hackworth, ignoring requests for details on the decision. “At this point, we wanted to get other guys some opportunities.”
But while details were limited on what brought the coach to his decision, Hackworth did admit emotions were running high as he met with Adu to inform him. And from Hackworth’s response, both parties were happy to depart from each other for the time being.
“I want to take the time,” said the coach, when asked if he’s made a decision on Adu’s future with the club. “Freddy and I had a good talk yesterday and agreed we need to have a little separation from the year and all the emotions to make some good decisions going forward.”
Although Adu’s five goals and one assist in 24 appearances may have been a result of a lack of talent around him, his production, matched with Hackworth’s continued criticism, makes it difficult to justify the 23-year-old’s $519,000 salary, which runs one more year. Also, the evolution of midfielder Michael Farfan, a noted Hackworth favorite, and the potential offseason purchase of a big-name offensive force, and Adu could be an extra cashing the paychecks of a leading man.
“We have a couple key acquisitions we need to make in the offseason,” said Hackworth. “An attacking player with some size would significantly help our all-around game. But we have to make sure that player or those players are the type that can fit in this locker room. We have a great group of guys and fantastic core. I’m proud of them and despite our results I think we can play with anyone in this league.”
Viewed as a selfish player on the field and unlikable off, Adu has been a good soldier through his decline with the Union. Despite not playing against the Red Bulls to finish the season, Adu was seen conversing with fans. He was also on the field during the post-game ceremony to thank the fans aside his teammates.
“He was great,” Hackworth said of Adu. “I expect every player, whether they are playing or not playing, to be a part of this team. Freddy was right with us and his teammates knew that, just like every player who wasn’t in the 18.”
But when asked if time away and good attitude would refresh the Union’s opinion of Adu for 2013? Hackworth responded politically.
“We’ll review the whole season,” he said. “We’ll make sure players know exactly where we stand.”
21. Klinsmann names Donovan to preliminary roster vs. Russia
By Simon Borg - November 1, 2012
LA Galaxy captain Landon Donovan, who admitted his relationship with US national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and the rest of the US squad may have been affected by his recent stretch of injury-related absences, is on a preliminary list for the Nov. 14 international friendly against Russia.
Klinsmann revealed the news on a media teleconference call held on Thursday afternoon. So barring injury or a deep playoff run by the Galaxy, Donovan will be reunited with the USMNT.
“Landon is always in our roster or especially the preliminary roster that we have to send out to clubs two weeks in advance. And then now it’s depending on his playoff situation," Klinsmann said on the call. "He’s always in our plans, absolutely.”
Donovan was the subject of several questions directed at Klinsmann, including one that specifically addressed Donovan's statement in an ESPN interview that aired at halftime of Wednesday's Eastern Conference Knockout Round match.
"It's probably affected my relationship with everybody on that team," Donovan told ESPN of his recent absences from the US team. "When you're a guy who's never been hurt for the most part and then all of a sudden you have all these injuries, I think people start to question it. 'Maybe he's faking it, or maybe he's not really hurt or maybe he doesn’t want to come in.'
"That's really frustrating and, candidly, it's pretty hurtful."
Klinsmann, however, denied that the sentiment exists in the squad.
"No, that hasn’t been the feeling inside the team," Klinsmann said. "Every time he had an injury issue or problems and he couldn’t come in, which was quite a lot of games, we just took it straight from him. The information we got it from him and we believe him. When he has a problem, he has a problem.
"There are hungry fights going on for spots and I don’t know if he has the feeling that maybe some players didn’t buy in. I didn’t see that. … But if it’s Landon’s thought, he can obviously talk about it, no problem."
Klinsmann called Donovan "courageous" for reflecting publicly about his future in the game and potential retirement in a number of recent media interviews.
"He's carrying this topic with him since quite a while," Klinsmann said. "It’s clearly down to him and what he wants to further achieve in his career and what he wants to do. And whatever he decides to do will be very respected by us and therefore it might be easier to get that answer from him directly."
And so the US team will take a wait-and-see attitude on Donovan, with Klinsmann ready to adjust on the fly based on the players that are available.
He's as "curious" as everyone else to see how the story unfolds this upcoming MLS offseason.
"When one player is not there, then it’s a chance for another player to step in and make a case for the spot and that’s what happens," Klinsmann said in a comment about Donovan's ESPN interview. "So we’ll all be curious to see how it continues."
22. DC players insist venue switch "bigger than soccer"
By Nick Cammarota - November 1, 2012
Washington – Before the MLS Cup playoff pairings were set, D.C. United Ben Olsen said he didn't have a preference as to whether his club played its first postseason match at home or on the road.
Now, a day after it was announced that United's first playoff match since 2007 was moved from Red Bull Arena to RFK Stadium because of Hurricane Sandy, Olsen's sticking by his statement.
"I meant it when I said that," he said following Thursday's training as the team now prepares for a home match Saturday at RFK (8 pm ET, NBCSN, live chat on with the second leg coming on the road against New York.
"I do think we are [switching the venues] for the right reasons and I think there's something good out of that. I think both teams feel the goodwill in this," Olsen said. "I think the good will probably goes out the window once the whistle blows, but that's great. That's what we want. We want an energetic, passionate, game and series between D.C. and New York. It's going to be great."
While some United supporters voiced their displeasure through Twitter and various internet comment sections after the league announced its decision, United's players took the news in stride on a chilly D.C. morning.
"To be honest, I don't mind being here for the first time in five years at RFK on a Saturday night in the playoffs," center back Brandon McDonald said following Thursday's training. "Obviously you want the second game at home, but there's nothing can do. You're praying for the people in New Jersey and New York."
Continued McDonald: "It's bigger than soccer. We can't look at ourselves and be selfish from that standpoint. People lost their lives, people lost houses. For us, it's something that we gladly accept and we're going to come out and fight our hardest."
Olsen said there was even debate within his own group as to whether the home game in the first or second leg was a bigger advantage.
"There's all different ways to skin this thing or believe that there's a real advantage," Olsen said. "Ultimately, I believe the only real advantage is if you go into a tiebreaker and PKs. That's just a matter of the fans getting behind you and getting you through a gut-check down that stretch."
Regardless of whether it was to come in the first of second leg, second-seeded United should be excited to play at RFK Stadium, where they haven't lost since March 10, a span of 16 matches.
"It's an unfortunate situation, but we're just going to take it a game at a time, like usual," goalkeeper Bill Hamid said. "We're not down about it, we're not frustrated at all. It's a decision that was made and we've got two games to play. We want two wins and that's what we're going to fight for."
23. Galaxy rallies to defeat Whitecaps, 2-1
Mike Magee and Landon Donovan score in the second half as L.A. reaches Western Conference semifinals.
By Kevin Baxter
Los Angeles Times - November 1, 2012
There have been times this season when the Galaxy has looked like anything but a champion. Good thing appearances aren't nearly as important as results when it comes to the playoffs, which the Galaxy opened Thursday by rallying for a 2-1 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps at the Home Depot Center.
Goals from Mike Magee and Landon Donovan during a four-minute span of the second half sent the defending MLS champions on to the Western Conference semifinals against the San Jose Earthquakes. The two-leg playoff, which will be decided on aggregate goals, will begin Sunday in Carson.
And though the Earthquakes entered the postseason with the league's best record, Dave Sarachan, the Galaxy's associate head coach, believes his team has something better going for it: confidence and experience.
"People forget — we don't talk about it — but we're the defending champs," said Sarachan, whose team hasn't lost a postseason game in more than two seasons. "These guys have a lot of medals around their neck. They know that game and what it means and what they need to bring."
Still, the short-handed Galaxy had to bring everything it had Thursday to beat back an inspired Vancouver team.
After battling injuries all season, the team was down three regulars against the Whitecaps — among them defenders Sean Franklin and A.J. DeLaGarza — and it might have lost another Thursday when midfielder Juninho had to be carried off the field after leaving the game in the 83rd minute.
The normally punchless Whitecaps wasted little time exploiting the makeshift back line, with midfielder Matt Watson running away from right back Hector Jimenez before sending a pass into the box for Darren Mattocks, whom rookie Tommy Meyer had lost track of. That gave Mattocks enough space to direct a right-footed shot into the bottom-left corner for a 1-0 lead after three minutes.
It also gave the Whitecaps an excuse to drop back deep in their own end, largely ignore the ball and play defense, a strength for a team that gave up fewer goals than all but three teams this season. The Galaxy, however, didn't panic.
"It's the kind of game we expected," Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena said. "We had a lot of the ball and they played behind it and tried to make things difficult for us. We showed a lot of character to scrap and fight and get back into the game."
In fact, Arena's team controlled the ball for three-quarters of the first half, although its best scoring opportunity came in the final minute on a David Beckham free kick that was headed for the upper-left corner before Vancouver keeper Brad Knighton got just enough of his right hand on the ball to knock it wide.
The was the last of 13 shots the Whitecaps conceded in the first half, and one of 23 they allowed in the game. That conservative strategy seemed to take its toll in the second half as Vancouver's defense tired, helping an unmarked Magee get the equalizer in the 69th minute on a right-footed shot from about 12 yards. It was his fourth goal in his last six playoff games.
It then fell to Donovan, who has publicly questioned his own commitment and desire during an injury-plagued year, to score the winner.
After being tripped by Martin Bonjour in the area, the Galaxy captain stepped to almost the same spot Magee had scored from and converted his penalty kick, beating Knighton high and to the left and sending the Galaxy on to the conference semifinals.
24. Whitecaps fall 'ugly' to Galaxy in MLS playoff
By Bruce Constantineau
Vancouver Sun - November 2, 2012
Los Angeles – Call it what you want – kitty bar the door, defend and counter or every man behind the ball. Call it ugly soccer, even.
It wasn’t pretty but it almost worked for the Vancouver Whitecaps, who surrendered a 1-0 halftime lead and lost 2-1Thursday to the Los Angeles Galaxy in a one-game playoff that nearly turned into a monumental upset.
The Galaxy move on to a Major League Soccer western conference semi-final series with the San Jose Earthquakes.
The Whitecaps can only think about what might have been.
Rookie Caps speedster Darren Mattocks stunned the Home Depot Center crowd in the fourth minute by finishing off some nice work from Matt Watson, who beat defender Hector Jimenez on the right flank before passing to Watson in the box.
It wasn’t a classic finish but the awkwardly-struck ball skipped by Galaxy goalkeeper Josh Saunders and gave the Caps the start they wanted.
Jimenez, normally a midfielder, replaced usual starting Galaxy right back Sean Franklin, who sat out with a leg injury.
Mattocks’ tally was the first goal the Whitecaps have ever scored against the Galaxy in L.A., having been outscored 8-0 in three losses there the past two seasons.
The underdog Caps employed a tight, defensive strategy effectively in the first half, allowing several Galaxy chances but coming up big when it counted – especially goalkeeper Brad Knighton’s huge save off a 21-yard David Beckham free kick just before halftime.
But Galaxy midfielder Mike Magee’s brilliant volley off a Juninho cross and a controversial call that led to a Landon Donovan penalty-shot goal gave the Galaxy the two second-half goals they needed to advance in MLS post-season play as they try to defend their MLS Cup title.
Caps head coach Martin Rennie questioned the penalty call that decided the outcome. Defender Martin Bonjour, who had just come into the game to replace an injured Jay DeMerit, was called for bringing Donovan down in the box.
“That was the turning point in the game because I think we had frustrated LA and they were not in a comfortable position,” Rennie said. “We had something to defend and that was the moment that changed the game.
“I’d like to see it again but it would take a lot to convince me that it was a penalty.”
DeMerit, who left the game with a groin injury, felt the Caps’ conservative game plan worked and the team deserved better.
“To finish your season on that note is frustrating but either way, we’re proud of our guys and proud of our season,” he said.
Knighton was solid in his first MLS playoff start, making key stops and dealing with dangerous Beckham crosses into the penalty area all night long.
Matt Watson - the other former Carolina RailHawk who played for Rennie last year – had what was arguably his best game of the season and missed a terrific chance to make it 2-0 in the second half but Saunders stopped his close-in blast.
Rennie lamented that lost opportunity but stressed the athletic Watson has a bright future with the Whitecaps and was proud of every player’s performance.
Caps striker Kenny Miller – a $1.2-million-a-season designated player who joined the club this summer – started the game on the bench but came on in the second half. He said he’s keen to return to Vancouver next season and play after a full pre-season under his belt.
“I’ve never been one to sit on a bench and be happy playing a minor role,” he said. “It’s never been in my makeup.”
SIDE KICKS: Caps owner Jeff Mallett feels the 35 goals the team scored in 34 regular-season MLS games this year isn’t good enough.
“We improved vastly defensively, so we kept the ball out of our net much more,” he told reporters before the game. “(But) 35 goals is not going to cut it to be one of the elite clubs in this league. Simple math tells you we have to create more chances and we have to finish more chances.”
The Whitecaps goal total this season was the same as last year but the club surrendered 14 fewer goals.
He also said MLS needs to develop a stronger reserve league to help develop younger players, who need to play more quality games.
25. Galaxy beat Whitecaps 2-1, advance in MLS playoffs
The Associated Press - November 2, 2012
Carson, Calif. — For an uneasy hour or so after Vancouver’s early goal, the Los Angeles Galaxy’s defense of their MLS title appeared to be headed for an awfully early end.
Mike Magee and Landon Donovan made sure the Galaxy are far from finished.
Magee scored the tying goal in the 69th minute and Donovan converted a penalty kick four minutes later, leading Los Angeles to a 2-1 victory in a knockout playoff game Thursday night.
The defending champions got off to an awful start against the defense-minded Whitecaps by giving up a goal to Darren Mattocks in the fourth minute. Fifth-seeded Vancouver had won just three of its last 17 matches, but knows how to sit on a lead.
"If they could have written up the perfect game for them, it would have been scoring in the fourth minute," said Magee, the frequent scoring hero of the Galaxy’s title run through the last postseason. "Hats off to them, but we showed how good our team is."
Indeed, Los Angeles’ stars finally came through: David Beckham’s corner kick helped set up Magee’s goal, and Donovan drew a penalty with a strong run to earn the go-ahead goal, the record 21st of his MLS playoff career. Robbie Keane also had a strong game up front, repeatedly causing trouble as the Galaxy dominated possession and easily protected their own lead.
"We started to open ourselves up, pushing to get the goal, and that’s where the chance came from," said Beckham, who put his penalty kick short to Juninho for an assist to Magee. "Once we got that first goal, the momentum took us."
The Galaxy advanced to a two-game Western Conference semifinal series against San Jose, which won the Supporters’ Shield as MLS’ best regular-season team. The Earthquakes, perhaps the Galaxy’s biggest rival, visit Home Depot Center on Sunday night.
Brad Knighton made several impressive stops in goal for the Whitecaps, who nearly pulled off a stunner after skidding into the playoffs. Vancouver still became the first Canadian MLS team to reach the postseason in just the franchise’s second MLS season, but bemoaned the call against Martin Bonjour on Donovan’s winner.
"It was a huge decision that changed the game, and there wasn’t a way back for us from there," Vancouver coach Martin Rennie said. "I don’t think there were too many 50-50 (calls), if any, that went our way. I’d like to see it again, but it would take a lot to convince me that was a penalty."
The Galaxy lined up without experienced right back Sean Franklin, who was thought to be healthy despite leaving their last match with tightness in his left hamstring.
Vancouver capitalized on Franklin’s absence almost immediately when Matt Watson outfoxed replacement Hector Jimenez for a clear run down the sideline. Watson then passed to Mattocks, who beat Tommy Meyer in front and banged a bouncing shot off the far side of the net.
Just like that, the Whitecaps scored the first road goal in club history against the Galaxy after losing by a combined 8-0 in their first three matches in Carson. Jimenez had never played right back for the Galaxy in a league game, only trying out the position in Champions League and reserve matches.
"I think patience was the key, because that’s certainly not the way we wanted to start," Donovan said. "A lot of teams would probably get pretty nervous and out of sorts if they gave up that goal."
Los Angeles had 73 percent possession in the first half and put 13 attempts on goal, but got nothing. Knighton, making his first playoff start after five MLS seasons, barely deflected a gorgeous free kick by Beckham away from the top corner of his net.
The Galaxy maintained pressure after halftime, and finally equalized when Vancouver got caught sneaking out of its defensive shell. Beckham quick-kicked the corner to Juninho, who found Magee unmarked for a nifty 12-yard volley.
"My eyes got big, and it felt amazing," Magee said. "A volley from 12 yards out? Yeah, I don’t practice that often."
Four minutes later, Donovan broke free on a run up the heart of Vancouver’s defense and fell under contact with Bonjour, who came in as a substitute moments earlier. Donovan neatly deposited the penalty shot past Knighton to extend his career record for postseason goals.
The Home Depot Center crowd for a weeknight game was thin but lively, with the Galaxy’s ardent supporters’ groups chanting "No Stanley Cups!" at the Whitecaps’ traveling fans. The eighth-seeded Kings eliminated the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks in the first round of last spring’s NHL playoffs on the way to Los Angeles’ first Stanley Cup title, while the Canucks have never won the Cup.
Lakers guard Steve Nash is a part-owner of the Whitecaps, but the two-time NBA MVP didn’t attend the game while resting his bruised left leg.
26. Whitecaps’ season ends with playoff loss to defending-champion Galaxy
By Monte Stewart
The Canadian Press - November 2, 2012
Few people thought the Vancouver Whitecaps had a chance of pulling off an upset.
Even when they held a surprising lead early Thursday night, it seemed like just a matter of time before the star-studded Los Angeles Galaxy would take control.
In the end, that’s exactly what happened. Landon Donovan’s penalty goal in the 73rd minute brought Vancouver’s Major League Soccer season to a crashing conclusion with a 2-1 playoff loss to the Galaxy.
“To take the (defending) champions in their own place and really give them a good go, we feel like we deserve more after that 95 minutes (including stoppage time),” said Whitecaps captain Jay DeMerit, who left the game with a groin injury in the second half shortly before the sequence that led to Donovan’s goal.
L.A., which finished fourth in the Western Conference, will now meet the first-place San Jose Earthquakes in a two-game, total-goals series, starting at home Sunday. The second game goes Wednesday in San Jose.
L.A. had earned home-field advantage in the do-or-die game by finishing fourth in the Western Conference. The Whitecaps, the first Canadian team to reach the MLS post-season, placed fifth.
“Our determination was good,” said Donovan. “You kind of just got the sense that they were going to wear out and, sure enough, in the second half, they started to open up a little.”
Mike Magee also scored for Los Angeles. Darren Mattocks scored Vancouver’s lone goal, giving the Whitecaps an early 1-0 lead that they retained valiantly until the 69th minute.
“The season’s finality, that just kind of hits you,” said Whitecaps midfielder John Thorrington. “We were playing for this game thinking that we (had) a shot. I don’t think many people did give us a chance, but we knew that we could put out a game plan that could cause them some problems, and I think it worked.”
The Whitecaps posted just three victories in the second half of the 34-game regular season, but looked like they would pull off a major upset after Mattocks scored when the game had barely begun.
“If something goes our way, and we get that goal — 2-0 — and we’re knocking out the defending champions, but it wasn’t meant to be,” said Thorrington. “But I’m really proud. You can’t fault our effort. Everybody out there gave everything to win. But, unfortunately, we’re packing our bags and we’re not playing San Jose.”
Donovan was awarded the spot kick after Whitecaps second-half substitute Martin Bonjour knocked him down from behind. The foul came just a minute after Bonjour entered the game for DeMerit.
Magee tied the game in the 69th minute as he volleyed a Juninho cross behind Vancouver goalkeeper Brad Knighton from the centre of the 18-yard box. The play originated with a David Beckham cross, one of many that he made or attempted on the night, often with little success.
L.A. pressed several times in the first half, but the scoring attempts were either thwarted by timely Vancouver defensive plays, including a number of blocked shots, or saves by Knighton, who made his first career MLS start.
“It’s always frustrating when you go up a goal and you don’t pull it out,” said Thorrington. “We knew they’d get chances. Knighton had a couple huge saves.”
Mattocks opened the scoring in just the fourth minute. Midfielder Matt Watson broke down the left flank with the ball and put a slight-angle pass back to Mattocks in the middle of L.A.’s 18-yard box. The Jamaican striker then put a low shot into the right corner of the Galaxy net.
The goal was the first Whitecaps’ first-ever goal against the Galaxy at the Home Depot Center. Vancouver had gone seven games without an away goal before then.
“It was just a matter of going out there and taking our chances and trying to catch them on a counter — and we did,” said Knighton. “It’s just unfortunate that we came up short.”
Mattocks left the game in the 59th minute, limping off with an apparent leg injury. The striker said after the game he felt pain in his stomach. Scottish striker Kenny Miller, who has come under criticism for his lack of scoring, took his place.
After Donovan scored, Whitecaps assistant coach Paul Ritchie was ejected for heckling referee Siliviu Petrescu from the bench.
Notes: With a crowd on hand of 14,703, the game was not a sellout. The upper stands were not used and the lower bowl had many empty seats. ... Whitecaps winger Omar Salgado did not dress because of a sore foot. He recently returned from a broken foot, suffered while playing for the U.S. under-20 team in Uruguay in the spring, that sidelined him for more than three months. ... Los Angeles Lakers point guard Steve Nash, a Whitecaps minority owner, did not attend the game as planned. The Victoria native is recuperating from a leg contusion sustained Wednesday against the Trail Blazers in Portland. ... Beckham and Donovan played after being questionable due to nagging injuries.