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This Week in MLS – November 16, 2015

This Week in MLS – November 16, 2015
 
  • In MLS Cup 2008 rematch, Columbus Crew SC set to host New York Red Bulls in first leg of Eastern Conference Championship
  • Portland Timbers, Timbers Army welcome budding FC Dallas to Providence Park for first leg of Western Conference Championship
  • Quincy Amarikwa to join MLSsoccer.com’s Live Show ahead of Sunday’s Conference Championships
  • Nagbe, Miazga earn first U.S. National Team caps; set eyes on World Cup Qualifier vs. Trinidad & Tobago
  • Sporting KC’s Krisztian Nemeth helps Hungary qualify for Euro 2016; Orlando City’s Cyle Larin pushes Canada past Honduras in 2018 World Cup Qualifying
  • Melia, Trapp and Valeri overcome adversity to earn MLS Comeback Player of the Year nominations
  • Hamid, Ousted and Robles battle it out for Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year honors
  • MLSsoccer.com to launch inaugural #MLSSoshies, recognizing the best in social media
  • 2015 AT&T Goal of the Year voting continues with the Round of 16
  • Media Credential Application Now Available for 2015 MLS Cup
  • Check It Out, Quotables, Sweet Tweets
 
In MLS Cup 2008 rematch, Columbus Crew SC set to host New York Red Bulls in first leg of Eastern Conference Championship
 
Eastern Conference Championship, Leg 1: Columbus Crew SC vs. New York Red Bulls
Sunday, Nov. 22, 5 p.m. ET (ESPN, ESPN Deportes)
 
At the beginning of this season, pundits expected the New York Red Bulls to struggle without former club captain Thierry Henry and a new head coach in Jesse Marsch, who replaced club legend and former boss Mike Petke. In came new sporting director Ali Curtis, who brought in a blend of young and experienced players to help the Red Bulls to their second Supporters’ Shield in three years on the way to securing a spot in the Eastern Conference Championship. Curtis brought in Sacha Kljestan, a former UEFA Champions League participant and Seton Hall graduate, to add a much-needed veteran presence to the midfield. Kljestan ended the regular season with a career-high eight goals and 14 assists. Other savvy acquisitions included the addition of Long Island native Mike Grella, who nearly quit soccer to end up scoring the fastest goal in MLS history, and the reunion of Shaun Wright-Phillips, a former England international and English Premier League veteran, with his prolific goal-scoring brother Bradley Wright-Phillips. The Red Bulls are hitting on all cylinders as they look to hoist their first ever MLS Cup. 
 
They’ll be joined in the Eastern Conference Championship by a Columbus Crew SC side that has seen impressive contributions all across the board. MVP candidate and Sierra Leone international Kei Kamara had a career year in 2015 – scoring 22 goals (tied for the most in MLS with Toronto FC’s Sebastian Giovinco) while adding eight assists. In the second leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Montreal Impact, Kamara scored two goals to help Crew SC to their first Eastern Conference Championship since 2008, the last year they won MLS Cup, coincidently against the Red Bulls. Kamara’s teammate Ethan Finlay enjoyed his finest season as a professional as well with career-highs of 12 goals and 13 assists. Finlay and Kamara’s understanding on the field was such that Finlay’s six assists on Kamara’s goals led MLS. Homegrown star Wil Trapp returned from a lengthy spell on the sidelines, to be a leader in the heart of the Columbus midfield. The mature midfielder was recently named the No.4 player on MLSsoccer.com’s annual 24 Under 24 list and was the team captain for the USA U-23 CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying campaign. The Red Bulls won the regular season series against Columbus (2-1-0), but Crew SC can point to their 3-0-0 all-time postseason record against New York as fuel to their MLS Cup hopes.
 
Portland Timbers, Timbers Army welcome budding FC Dallas to Providence Park for first leg of Western Conference Championship
 
Western Conference Championship, Leg 1: Portland Timbers vs. FC Dallas
Sunday, Nov. 22, 7:30 p.m. ET (FS1, FOX Deportes, TSN2)
 
FC Dallas endured one of the most thrilling matches in MLS Cup Playoffs history to advance to the Western Conference Championship. Now, after outlasting a star-studded Seattle Sounders FC, FCD is rewarded with a trip to Providence Park, where they’ll go toe-to-toe with a surging Portland Timbers side in front a thunderous Timbers Army. Despite the gravity of the task ahead, Oscar Pareja won’t stray from the formula that has it within arm’s reach of its first ever MLS Cup: play the kids (Watch: A Coach with 30 sons). The club marched into CenturyLink Field with a starting lineup averaging just 24.5 years of age in the conference semifinal and came away with a crucial away goal. In the second leg, only two players north of 25 years old saw the field. Whether it’s penalty kick heroes Jesse Gonzalez (20) and Walker Zimmerman (22), midfield marvels Fabian Castillo (23), Mauro Diaz (24), Kellyn Acosta (20) and Victor Ulloa (23), or forwards David Texeira (24) and Tesho Akindele (23), Dallas’ youthful exuberance and fresh legs makes it an extremely dangerous opponent in the charge toward MLS Cup.
 
However, FC Dallas’ electric attack will meet its match when it enters the attacking third, where grizzled MLS veteran Nat Borchers and English Premier League trouper Liam Ridgewell await (Watch: The art of defending the Timbers Army). Flanked by fullbacks Alvas Powell and inaugural MLS Sueño winner Jorge Villafaña, and blanketed by Adam Kwarasey between the pipes, Borchers and Ridgewell have elevated the Timbers’ backline into one of MLS’ stingiest. Up top, the Timbers are supported by goal poacher Fanendo Adi and a South American contingent of Diego Valeri, Diego Chara, Dairon Asprilla, and summer signing Lucas Melano. And, of course, Darlington Nagbe, who earned his first national team cap in the U.S. National Team’s 6-1 thrashing of St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Friday.
 
Quincy Amarikwa to join MLSsoccer.com’s Live Show ahead of Sunday’s Conference Championships
 
MLSsoccer.com is set to host a Live Show ahead of this Sunday’s Conference Championships. San Jose Earthquakes forward Quincy Amarikwa will be on set providing analysis with former MLS coach Thomas Rongen and Russ Thaler. There will be pre- and post-match coverage onsite at both Conference Championship venues with Calen Carr and Katie Witham at MAPFRE Stadium and LA Galaxy defender Dan Gargan and Jillian Sakovits at Providence Park. The Live Show coverage will begin at 4 p.m. ET on MLSsoccer.com.
 
Nagbe, Miazga earn first U.S. National Team caps; set eyes on World Cup Qualifier vs. Trinidad & Tobago
 
The U.S. National Team wraps up its opening pair of 2018 World Cup Qualifiers vs. Trinidad & Tobago on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. ET (beIN SPORTS). After yielding an early goal to St. Vincent and the Grenadines in St. Louis on Friday night, the U.S. stormed back with six unanswered goals, including a brace from Toronto FC’s Jozy Altidore and a tally from LA Galaxy’s Gyasi Zardes. With the team riding a 5-1 lead in the 64th minute, Jurgen Klinsmann officially capped Portland Timbers midfielder Darlington Nagbe and New York Red Bulls homegrown defender Matt Miazga. The pair both logged 26 minutes in their smile-filled debuts. Sporting KC’s Matt Besler, Toronto FC’s Michael Bradley, and the New England Revolution’s Jermaine Jones started the match and played all 90 minutes.
 
Tuesday’s match marks a much tougher test for the USA on its road to Russia. Trinidad & Tobago, ranked 54th in FIFA’s World Ranking, reached the quarterfinals of this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, where it fell to Panama in a dramatic round of penalty kicks. The Soca Warriors also topped Mexico in the Gold Cup group stage and defeated Guatemala, 2-1, on Friday. Trinidad’s squad features four MLS players including Cordell Cato (San Jose Earthquakes), Daneil Cyrus (Chicago Fire), Joevin Jones (Chicago Fire) and Kevan George (Columbus Crew SC), and has the advantage of hosting the match at Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain. Cyrus and Jones both went the full 90 for T&T on Friday, while George saw 28 minutes off the bench.
 
Sporting KC’s Krisztian Nemeth helps Hungary qualify for Euro 2016; Orlando City’s Cyle Larin pushes Canada past Honduras in 2018 World Cup Qualifying
 
Over the FIFA international break, a host of MLS players were on the road representing their countries. Sporting Kansas City forward Krisztian Nemeth helped Hungary qualify for Euro 2016 when they defeated Norway 2-1 on Sunday, winning their two-legged aggregate tie 3-1. It’s the first time Hungary has qualified for the Euro championship since 1972. Nemeth has appeared in seven games for Hungary in 2015 and scored two goals.
 
MLS AT&T Rookie of the Year and Orlando City SC forward Cyle Larin scored his fourth goal in seven career starts for Canada as they edged out a 1-0 win over Honduras in the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying. Portland Timbers midfielder Will Johnson earned the assist on Larin’s goal and now Canada will travel to San Salvador to take on El Salvador on Tuesday, Nov. 17. Canada sit second in Group A behind Mexico after El Tri Color’s 3-0 win over El Salvador last week.
 
Melia, Trapp and Valeri overcome adversity to earn MLS Comeback Player of the Year nominations
 
Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper Tim Melia, Columbus Crew SC midfielder Wil Trapp and Portland Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri all overcame a measure of adversity and successfully returned to the pitch this season, earning them nominations for the MLS Comeback Player of the Year. The winner of the award will be announced on Wednesday, Nov. 18.
 
Melia was a career journeyman and former MLS pool goalkeeper before earning a spot on Sporting Kansas City’s roster ahead of the 2015 season. The former Long Island Rough Riders, Rochester Rhinos, Charleston Battery, F.C. New York and Chivas USA ‘keeper seized the starting role nine games into the season and never looked back, turning in eight clean sheets, a 1.22 GAA, and a championship performance in the U.S. Open Cup final.
 
Trapp suffered an early-season concussion that sidelined him for nearly three months. Upon his return, Crew SC’s 22-year-old vice-captain immediately reestablished himself as a force, helping the club to a 9-3-2 record when he was in the starting XI. According to Crew SC, only one other MLS player recorded more attempted or completed passes during that span, and Trapp registered an 88.6% passing accuracy rate from July 15 to Oct. 25.
 
Valeri suffered a devastating ACL tear in the Timbers’ 2014 season finale on Oct. 25. Like Trapp, Valeri wasted little time reasserting himself as a blue chip player, netting the game-winning goal in his first start back on May 9. For the regular season, the Argentine midfielder logged 1,713 minutes in 22 appearances, adding eight assists and two goals.
 
Hamid, Ousted and Robles battle it out for Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year honors
 
Not much separates the three nominees in a tight race for the Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year award, which will be announced on Thursday, Nov. 19.
 
This year’s candidates include D.C. United homegrown standout Bill Hamid. The reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year allowed only 29 goals in 25 games, which was the third-best rate in MLS among goalkeepers with at least 20 appearances. His 1.16 goals against average was the sixth-best in MLS among goalkeepers with at least 20 appearances. Hamid’s consistent performances between the pipes helped lead D.C. United all the way to the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Semifinals.
 
Vancouver Whitecaps FC keeper David Ousted had a career year in 2015. The 13 shutouts posted by Ousted were tied for the most in MLS with the Portland Timbers’ Adam Kwarasey, and his six road shutouts were tied for the most in the league with Colorado Rapids’ keeper Clint Irwin. His 1.06 goals against average was the second-best in MLS among goalkeepers with at least 20 appearances behind Real Salt Lake’s Nick Rimando (1.00).
 
New York Red Bulls keeper Luis Robles’ play in net helped lead the Red Bulls to the best record in the league and their second Supporters’ Shield in three years. Robles’ nine shutouts were tied for fifth in the league with the Montreal Impact’s Evan Bush. Robles’ veteran savvy will be critical for the Red Bulls as they head into the Eastern Conference Championship vs. Columbus Crew SC on Sunday.
 
MLSsoccer.com to launch inaugural #MLSSoshies, recognizing the best in social media
 
MLSsoccer.com is set to launch the inaugural #MLSSoshies, year-end awards given out to players for their exceptional performance on social media. Fans will determine the best social posts of the season from both players and clubs, and ultimately decide which MLS athlete reigns supreme on social media. Nominations will close on Friday, Nov. 27, and brackets will be revealed the week after 2015 MLS Cup.
 
Using the hashtag #MLSSoshies fans can nominate players in five categories:
 
1) Most Social Player
Whether they’re on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Vine, MySpace or all of the above, they’re just killin’ it. They’re experts with apps, filters, RTs, and are always up for sharing socially.
 
2) Let Me Take a #Selfie
Extend the arm. Get the look. Snap a pic. These guys are pros at the art of self-capture.
 
3) The Bigger Picture
There’s a whole wide world outside of soccer (we know, gasp!) and these players are capturing life beyond the pitch in the most unique ways.
 
4) Family Matters
Whether it's their wife, partner, kids, or pets, these players know that family is important, and they capture those quirky, cute, and downright lovable special moments with expertise.
 
5) #BFFs
Like a buddy-cop movie, they’ve got a partner that always shows up at the right place and the right time (when the camera clicks, obviously). Perfect pairs. Troublesome trios. Let the shenanigans ensue.
 
Read more about the #MLSSoshies here.
 
2015 AT&T Goal of the Year voting continues with the Round of 16
 
Voting for the Round of 16 of the 2015 AT&T Goal of the Year contest is open now until Friday, Nov. 20. 64 of this season’s best goals - 33 AT&T Goal of the Week winners and 31 goals picked by the MLSsoccer.com editorial staff – were chosen for the first time ever via bracket, with the 64 goals going up head-to-head against one another until a champion is chosen. The 2015 AT&T Goal of the Year winner will be announced on Thursday, Dec. 3.
 
2015 AT&T Goal of the Year Voting Schedule
  • Round of 16: Nov. 16-19 (Vote here)
  • Quarterfinal Round: Nov. 20-23
  • Semifinal Round: Nov. 24-27
  • Championship Round: Nov. 30-Dec. 2
 
For more information on 2015 AT&T Goal of the Year voting, click here.
 
Media Credential Application Now Available for 2015 MLS Cup
 
Media planning to cover 2015 MLS Cup can now apply for credentials by CLICKING HERE. Without exception, credential applications must be received by Tuesday, Dec. 1 at 6 p.m. ET. Any questions should be directed to the 2015 MLS Cup accreditation officer Paola García, Paola.Garcia@MLSsoccer.com.
 
2015 MLS Cup will be held at the home venue of the participating team with the higher regular season point total. The 20th annual championship game will take place on Sunday, Dec. 6 at 4 p.m. ET (ESPN, UniMás, TSN, and RDS2).
 
Check It Out
 
New York City FC: Exclusive Interview with Patrick Vieira: Part One, Part Two
Orlando City SC: Orlando City in Brazil: Part One, Part Two, Part Three
 
Quotables
 
“It’s something that the coaching staff really emphasizes. The veteran players, we really have to make sure at training that we’re not too relaxed so we can keep pushing the rest of the guys around us. But I think it’s nice to have (the break) because for us, that was a tough game, going into extra time.”
Columbus Crew SC forward Kei Kamara on training through the international break
 
"I never thought I was actually going to play there. For me, it was one of the coolest experiences I've ever had in my life. Something that's been in my head since I was 10, so playing there is going to be a huge, big deal for me. I'm extremely, extremely hyped to be playing there."
Orlando City SC forward Pedro Ribeiro on playing a friendly in his home country
 
"For me to be able to lead this team as the head coach is an incredible moment. I just want to continue what we started here."
Montreal Impact coach Mauro Biello after being named permanent head coach 
 
"A goal's a goal. When I got up I didn't even know I hit it."
Orlando City SC forward Cyle Larin after scoring for his fourth goal in seven starts for the Canadian National Team in their 1-0 win over Honduras
 
“I won a national championship at Akron with my best friends, and I’m still friends with all of them, and I remember it. And you can win a championship, but if you didn’t have fun all season, I feel like you don’t remember it. If I’m not enjoying the game, then there’s no point in me playing.”
Portland Timbers midfielder Darlington Nagbe on enjoying his soccer
 
Sweet Tweets
 
Jozy Altidore (@JozyAltidore): #USMNT #PrayForParis
 
Darlington Nagbe (@darlingtonnagbe): Great win and I’m glad I got my first cap tonight!!
 
Matt Miazga (@MattMiazga3): Big win today! Another step towards our ultimate goal! Fans were amazing   & thank you everyone for the kind messages these past few days
 
Dax McCarty (@DaxMcCarty11): Always love an excuse to wear a blazer. Heading to #BlazerCon!
 
Robbie Rogers (@robbierogers): #BlackMamba