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This Week in MLS – November 2, 2015

This Week in MLS – November 2, 2015
  • Last legs: Eastern and Western Conference clubs battle it out to advance to Conference Championships
  • Goalkeepers lead the way in Atlantic Cup clash in second leg of Eastern Conference Semifinals
  • Red-hot Montreal head to Columbus looking to advance to first-ever Eastern Conference Championship; Crew SC looking to advance for first time since 2008
  • FC Dallas leans on its kids to overcome deficit vs. veteran-laden Seattle Sounders FC
  • Nagbe, Manneh take center stage as Portland Timbers – Vancouver Whitecaps FC tie comes to a head
  • 2015 AT&T Goal of the Year voting now open with new bracket format
  • Check It Out, Quotables, Sweet Tweets
Last legs: Eastern and Western Conference clubs battle it out to advance to Conference Championships
With close finishes across the board and three of the matchups featuring road goals in the first round of the Conference Semifinals in the 2015 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, the second leg will surely bring the drama on Sunday, Nov. 8. The away goal tie-breaker looks to be in play with all four matches in the first leg having at most a one-goal difference between the competing clubs.
If any of the Conference Semifinal series remain tied after the second leg on Sunday, the team with most away goals will advance. If the total goals and away goals are equal, then an additional 30 minutes (two 15-minute periods) of added extra time will be played in its entirety. Away goals do not count in extra time. If the score is still tied after extra time, the match will be decided by penalty kicks. For more on the MLS playoff format and history, click here.
Goalkeepers lead the way in Atlantic Cup clash in second leg of Eastern Conference Semifinals
If it wasn’t for his pregnant wife insisting on him calling Major League Soccer in 2012, New York Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles would be selling health insurance instead of manning the net against D.C. United in the second leg of the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Semifinals this Sunday at Red Bull Arena at 3 p.m. ET (ESPN). It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that D.C. United would be his favorite opponent to go up against. In nine career regular season games against I-95 rivals D.C., Robles has helped the Red Bulls to a 5-2-2 record with five shutouts. And in five career playoff matches against United, Robles is 2-2-1 with two shutouts. Robles will be helped out by club captain Dax McCarty, who scored the lone goal in the Red Bulls’ 1-0 win over D.C. at RFK Stadium in leg 1. McCarty was a standout presence in the Red Bulls’ midfield during the regular season breaking up opposition attacks while also chipping in on the offensive end with a career-high of eight assists.
If D.C. United are going to have any hope of coming away with a win on the road against the Red Bulls, homegrown goalkeeper Bill Hamid will have to replicate his outstanding performance against the New England Revolution in the Knockout Round. D.C. will have to figure out a way to get past a stingy New York defense and will rely on continued good form from forward Chris Rolfe, who scored the game-winning goal in the Knockout Round over the Revs. Rolfe scored a career-high 10 goals this season and also has five goals in 19 career postseason matches.
Although the Red Bulls won this season’s Atlantic Cup against D.C. (2-0-1), D.C. United have enjoyed the lion’s share of success between the two clubs in the postseason going 7-2-2 in 11 postseason matches before this year. The last time the two clubs met in the postseason was in last year’s Eastern Conference Semifinals, in which New York won 3-2 on aggregate and advanced on away goals. 
Red-hot Montreal head to Columbus looking to advance to first ever Eastern Conference Championship; Crew SC looking to advance for first time since 2008
The Montreal Impact, winners of five straight matches dating back to the regular season, are peaking at the right time in their quest to make their first ever trip to the Eastern Conference Championship when they travel to MAPFRE Stadium this Sunday at 5 p.m. ET (ESPN, TSN1, RDS1). Club captain and Quebec native Patrice Bernier has been revitalized in the playoffs, notching a goal and an assist in the Knockout Round victory over Toronto FC and scoring the equalizer Sunday night in the club’s 2-1 win over Crew SC. During the five-match winning streak, Argentinian playmaker Ignacio Piatti has chipped in with two goals and three assists, while talisman Didier Drogba has banged in four goals, including 12 goals in 13 overall games with the Impact. Mid-season acquisition and Costa Rican international Johan Venegas showed off his classy finishing, and the sheer audacity to ignore a wide-open Drogba, to score the game-winning goal during leg one against Columbus. Interim head coach Mauro Biello has not seemed out of place since taking over for former coach Frank Klopas. Dating back to their head coaching change on August 30, Biello has coached the Impact to a 9-2-2 record, including the playoffs.
Columbus will be looking to advance to their first Eastern Conference Championship since 2008, the only time Crew SC has ever won MLS Cup. A number of players have stood out while playing at their friendly confines of MAPFRE Stadium. Standout winger Ethan Finlay, coming off a career year of 12 goals and 13 assists, has notched nine goals and nine assists in 17 games at home this season. After Kei Kamara left Sporting KC in 2013 to play abroad in England, the MVP candidate has returned to MLS in impressive fashion finishing runner-up in the Audi Golden Boot race with 22 goals scored on the season. The Sierra Leone international finished tied for second in goals scored at home in MLS with 13 goals scored in 15 games, behind LA Galaxy forward Robbie Keane (15 goals). Designated Player Federico Higuain will be hoping to win his first ever playoff match as a member of Crew SC. The Argentinian playmaker tied a career-high of nine assists during the regular season and scored Crew SC’s all-important away goal last week at Stade Saputo.
FC Dallas leans on its kids to overcome deficit vs. veteran-laden Seattle Sounders FC
The second leg of the Western Conference semifinal between FC Dallas and Seattle Sounders FC kicks off at 7:30 p.m. ET in Frisco, Texas, with Seattle leading 2-1 (FS1, TSN1).
FC Dallas head coach Oscar Pareja wasn’t influenced by the capacity crowd at CenturyLink Field or the collection of World Cup veterans on Seattle’s roster in Sunday’s Western Conference Semifinal. He stuck with the formula that secured Dallas the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference: play the kids. FCD’s starting XI had an average age of 24.5 and featured only one player north of 30 – a stark contrast from Seattle’s 29.6 average age. Jesse Gonzalez, a 20-year-old Mexican youth national team standout and Homegrown Player, stood tall between the pipes in his first career playoff appearance and turned in five saves. Fabian Castillo, the winner of this year’s MLS 24 Under 24, opened the scoring for FC Dallas and was flat-out dominant throughout the match. Even at just 24 years old, Mauro Diaz might be considered a veteran of this FC Dallas squad, and he’s certainly playing like one. Dallas funnels its attack through the No. 10, and the former River Plate product exhibited mastery on the ball several times on Sunday night. Dallas’ youthful lineup went toe-to-toe with Seattle’s veteran-laden squad and emerged with their hopes of advancing to the Western Conference Championship very much intact. 
Sunday night provided more evidence that Seattle’s summer shopping spree is paying dividends. Andreas Ivanschitz, a 32-year-old midfielder acquired from La Liga side Levante in August, equalized the match in the 67th minute with a gorgeous left-footed shot from outside of the box. This comes one week after Erik Friberg, a Swedish international reacquired by Seattle this summer, potted the game-winner versus LA Galaxy in the Western Conference Knockout Round. Two-time World Cup veteran Nelson Valdez, who signed a Designated Player contract this summer, also gave Sounders FC 28 minutes off the bench. The key for Seattle heading into the second leg might be the health of Osvaldo Alonso and Brad Evans, who missed Sunday night’s match with injuries. Even if Alonso and/or Evans can’t go, Seattle always has a chance to win so long as Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins are on the field. In last week’s pair of playoff matches, the duo have a combined two goals – including Dempsey’s thunderous game-winning free kick - one assist, and 10 shots.
Nagbe, Manneh take center stage as Portland Timbers – Vancouver Whitecaps FC tie comes to a head
The second leg of the Western Conference semifinal between the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps FC kicks off at 10 p.m. ET from BC Place, with the score level at 0-0 (FS1, TSN1, RDS1).
One of the most anticipated positional matchup entering this Cascadia playoff tie was between goalkeepers Adam Kwarasey and David Ousted. Both paced all MLS goalkeepers with 13 shutouts this season. But Kwarasey, Portland’s penalty kick hero, was held out of Sunday’s match with the flu, thrusting backup goalkeeper Jake Gleeson into the starting lineup. The 25-year-old delivered three saves and a clean sheet in his first MLS appearance since 2011. With Kwarasey expected back this week and no goals on the board, scoring will again be at a premium.
Enter Darlington Nagbe and Kekuta Manneh. The Timbers’ attack runs through Nagbe, whose creativity and vision has him on Jurgen Klinsmann’s radar. The 25-year-old midfielder was a force in the first leg, going box-to-box while creating chances for both himself and his teammates in the final third. Nagbe played under Timbers head coach Caleb Porter at Akron and appears to be discovering the game-to-game consistency that could propel him among the league’s elites. Manneh gave an equally electric performance, proving to be a constant threat in front of goal despite the lack of a final output. The 20-year-old hopes to join Nagbe on the U.S. Men’s National Team radar in the future, but will have to wait until he receives his U.S. passport in August 2016. Until then, one of Major League Soccer’s two players from The Gambia will continue commuting from Washington to Vancouver . That other Gambian, Pa Modou Kah, started 24 games for the ‘Caps this season but missed Sunday’s game with a knee sprain. Both his status and the health of midfield maestro Pedro Morales will help determine whether Vancouver can improve upon its MLS-worst 9-6-2 home record and advance to the Western Conference Championship.
2015 AT&T Goal of the Year voting now open with new bracket format
With the close of the regular season, fans now have the opportunity to vote for this season’s best goal in the 2015 AT&T Goal of the Year contest. 64 of this season’s best goals - 33 AT&T Goal of the Week winners and 31 goals picked by the editorial staff - will be 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. Voting for Part 1 of the First Round is over, but fans can vote here for Part 2 – with voting remaining open until November 6. The 2015 AT&T Goal of the Year winner will be announced on Thursday, December 3.
2015 AT&T Goal of the Year Voting Schedule
  • First Round (Part 1): Oct. 28-Nov. 1
  • First Round (Part 2): Nov. 2-Nov. 6
    After First Round voting ends remaining goals reorganized into a single bracket.
  • Second Round: Nov. 9-13
  • Round of 16: Nov. 16-19
  • 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.
Check It Out
Philadelphia Union: The U Thank U
Vancouver Whitecaps FC: Tristan and Robbo talk fashion
“It’s MLS, dude — anything can happen.”
D.C. United forward Chris Rolfe on trying to pick up three points in second leg of Eastern Conference Semifinals against New York Red Bulls
"I thought their effort was outstanding. To play a game on Thursday 120 minutes, to go through what we went through physically and emotionally, to turn around and play like we did today... I'm really proud of the guys."
Portland Timbers coach Caleb Porter on coming away with a point after the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinals against Vancouver Whitecaps FC
“We have a big chance for a win, for the city, for our families, for the club. It’s a big game, maybe the last game for us, for Portland too. You need to compete 100 per cent.”
Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Pedro Morales on the upcoming second leg against the Portland Timbers in the Western Conference Semifinals
“We have everything to play for in these games. It’s basically, if you don’t get the right result, you’re out. We’re fighting for our survival, and we’re showing our character, showing how much we want to do well in this competition. This is a trophy we haven’t won, and we’re trying to capture it.”
Seattle Sounders forward Clint Dempsey on the team’s emotions during the playoffs
"We're good at home, one of the best records in the league. We know what have to do. The series is wide open, and 1-0, we move on to the next round."
FC Dallas midfielder Victor Ulloa on the second leg of the Western Conference Semifinals against Seattle Sounders FC
“There’s no time outs in soccer. If you’re gassed, you’re gassed. That’s it. You can’t just stop (unless you fake an injury, but I’m an American, that’s a no go).”
New York Red Bulls midfielder Sacha Kljestan on his job description
Sweet Tweets
Nat Borchers (@natborchers): Good result for us tonight.  Puts us in a good position for success next weekend!  Thanks @timbersarmy for another great night.  #RCTID
Herculez Gomez (@herculezg): The wife wants to watch tv, says she can’t do another game of footy.. Takes over the remote.… MLS live it is.
Clint Irwin (@ClintIrwin): 8 straight hours of MLS Playoffs. Do I have that right? I can get on my couch for that.
Dax McCarty (@DaxMcCarty11): Massive thank you to the fans that made the trip down. Could hear you all game, kept us going until the end. Safe travels home. #MLSplayoffs
Patrice Bernier (@pbernier10): Great show of character from this team. Good victory. Let's keep going together Mtl. #IMFC #MLSPlayoffs