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This Week in MLS – November 23, 2015

This Week in MLS – November 23, 2015
  • Timbers’ Dairon Asprilla journeys into to the unknown, finds his way in Portland
  • Columbus Crew SC’s Justin Meram travels far and wide to represent club and country
  • With critical away goal, FC Dallas determined to stage comeback vs. road savvy Portland Timbers
  • Red Bulls look to channel home dominance against high-flying Crew SC in second leg matchup
  • Jason Kreis to join MLSsoccer.com’s Live Show ahead of Sunday’s Conference Championships
  • Jesse Marsch, Oscar Pareja, Carl Robinson up for Coach of the Year honors
  • The 2015 MLS Best XI to be revealed during ESPN broadcast on Sunday
  • Eight MLS cities announced as host sites for 2016 Copa América Centenario
  • Voting for 2015 AT&T Goal of the Year Quarterfinals continues
  • Media Credential Application Now Available for 2015 MLS Cup
  • Check It Out, Quotables, Sweet Tweets
 
Timbers’ Dairon Asprilla journeys into the unknown, finds his way in Portland
 
Long before Portland Timbers forward Dairon Asprilla immortalized himself into MLS highlight reels with Sunday night’s 30-yard wonder strike, he was the centerpiece of Colombian second division side Alianza Petrolera’s attack. The pacey, 5-foot-10 winger lifted the club to its first ever promotion to Colombia’s Primera División in 2012, by scoring 10 goals in 33 matches, putting him second on the club’s all-time scoring list. Asprilla’s success caught the eye of Portland’s brass – which frequently taps into the South American player pool – and he signed with the club in December 2014, despite not knowing a word of English.
 
In stepped Colombian compatriot and teammate Diego Chara. In 2011, Chara made a virtually identical move – leaving Colombia for a city more than 4,000 miles away that he had never been to, forced to learn a language he didn’t know. But Chara adapted and assimilated, and if the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs are any indication, Asprilla is too. After recording just one goal and two assists in 26 appearances during the regular season, he has already turned in a goal and two assists in four playoff appearances.
 
“My stay here has been much easier thanks to Diego Chara and his family, who were a magnificent support for me and my family,” Asprilla told Hablando Con in July. “It's something I'm very grateful to him for because despite not knowing me before, he showed me the way here and watched all my movements and helped me in everything we need."
 
With a 3-1 lead, Asprilla and Chara head to Texas to take on FC Dallas and its own Colombian contingent in the second leg of the Western Conference Championship on Sunday, Nov. 29 at 5 p.m. ET (ESPN, ESPN Deportes, TSN2).
 
Crew SC’s Justin Meram travels far and wide to represent club and country
 
Justin Meram, a Michigan native and Columbus Crew SC midfielder who plays for the Iraq national team, has never been to Iraq. Nor has he ever been to his parents’ hometown. Despite all of this – not to mention the 28-hour travel days – he has chosen to represent Iraq’s national team, debuting for the team in 2014 and scoring two goals in 17 appearances to date. Although Meram was born and raised in Michigan, he grew up in a household heavily influenced by his parents’ heritage, eating Arabic food at least five times a week while learning Chaldean, an Arabic dialect.
 
“I think ultimately it comes down to their happiness, because they don’t have much happiness currently,” Meram told the Columbus Dispatch following a win versus Thailand in September. He later added, “What better way to make an impact than for an American to play for the country that his family grew up in and his culture? It’s been the greatest decision I’ve had in my life.”
 
Columbus Crew SC – now perhaps the most popular foreign soccer club in Iraq – sent dozens of jerseys to schoolchildren in the country earlier this year. On top of all of this, Meram was connected to the Iraqi football association by Yousif Alkhafajy, a student who scoured the Internet for players around the world with Iraqi heritage.
 
Now one game away from helping Crew SC to their first MLS Cup since 2008 after scoring the fastest goal in MLS playoff history, Meram is enjoying one of his finest seasons as a professional. He started a career-high 28 regular season matches while chipping in with six goals and a career-high five assists. Columbus travels to Red Bull Arena to face the New York Red Bulls on Sunday, Nov. 29 at 7:30 p.m. ET (FS1, FOX Deportes, TSN Go).
 
With critical away goal, FC Dallas determined to stage comeback vs. road savvy Timbers
 
Western Conference Championship, Leg 2: FC Dallas (1) vs. Portland Timbers (3)
Sunday, Nov. 29, 5 p.m. ET (ESPN, TSN2)
 
The Portland Timbers are within 90 minutes of their first ever MLS Cup appearance following Sunday’s 3-1 win over FC Dallas. Rallied by a capacity crowd under the floodlights at Providence Park, the Timbers received goals from the unlikeliest of sources – defenders Liam Ridgewell and Nat Borchers. Ridgewell potted his first goal of 2015 in the 23rd minute (watch here), before Borchers snapped a 12-year playoff scoring drought – the longest in MLS history – in the 91st frame to give Portland a critical insurance goal (watch here). Dairon Asprilla stole the show with an unbelievable strike from 30 yards out (watch here) that may top Juan Agudelo’s bicycle kick as the goal of the playoffs. Portland didn’t miss a beat without midfielder Diego Valeri and defender Rodney Wallace, who missed Sunday’s match due to yellow card suspension but will be available for selection on Sunday. With that duo back in the fold, the Timbers could be Cup Bound & Down come Sunday night.
 
Although FC Dallas returns to Frisco facing a two-goal deficit, the team’s resilient performance in the conference semifinal shows it can’t be counted out yet. FCD hasn’t lost at Toyota Stadium since Aug. 15, and finished the regular season with an MLS-best 13 home wins. However, the Timbers haven’t lost a road match since Aug. 30, and finished the regular season tied for an MLS-best seven road wins. Dallas will have to channel its youth and come out swinging in Sunday’s second leg. Mauro Diaz submitted another masterful performance in last night’s loss (watch assist; watch pass) and Dallas will lean on him, Fabian Castillo, and goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez to spearhead a comeback. Dallas, like the New York Red Bulls, will look to become the first MLS team to overcome a two-goal deficit entering a second leg since the Kansas City Wizards in 2004.
 
Red Bulls look to channel home dominance against high-flying Crew SC in second leg
 
Eastern Conference Championship, Leg 2: New York Red Bulls (0) vs. Columbus Crew SC (2)
Sunday, Nov. 29, 7:30 p.m. ET (FS1, TSN2)
 
Home field advantage in the playoffs: You can either take advantage of it, or waste it away. Columbus Crew SC took full advantage of it in their 2-0 first leg win over New York Red Bulls in front of a sold out MAPFRE Stadium to move within one game of their first MLS Cup since 2008. Crew SC forward Justin Meram wasted no time in scoring the fastest goal in Audi MLS Cup Playoffs history with his goal nine seconds into the match (watch here). Cedrick Mabwati, one of the catalysts in Crew SC’s second leg win over the Montreal Impact in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, came on in the 80th minute for Ethan Finlay and made an instant impact. In the 85th minute, Mabwati blew by Dax McCarty and Gonzalo Veron and forced Luis Robles into a diving save, only for Kei Kamara tap in the loose ball into the back of the net to double the lead (watch here). The last time Crew SC advanced to MLS Cup was in 2008 against the New York Red Bulls and won 3-1 at The Home Depot Center.
 
The Red Bulls will have some work ahead of them to make up the two-goal deficit in leg two at Red Bull Arena. New York was 12-3-2 at home during the regular season. The Red Bulls scored two or more goals in 12 regular season games at home this season and ended the regular season with nine consecutive home games with two or more goals scored. Forward Bradley Wright-Phillips was tied for second in the league with Kei Kamara for the most goals scored at home during the regular season with 13. In their one home game against Crew SC on Oct. 3, New York defeated Columbus 2-1 behind goals from Bradley Wright-Phillips and Lloyd Sam. Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year Luis Robles will have to be in superb form at home, where he’s posted seven shutouts at Red Bull Arena during the regular and postseason, if the Red Bulls are to advance to their first MLS Cup since 2008.
 
Jason Kreis to join MLSsoccer.com’s Live Show ahead of Sunday’s Conference Championships
 
MLSsoccer.com continues its Live Show series ahead of this Sunday’s Conference Championships second legs. Former RSL and NYCFC boss Jason Kreis 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. The Live Show coverage will begin at 4:30 p.m. ET on MLSsoccer.com.
 
Jesse Marsch, Oscar Pareja, Carl Robinson up for Coach of the Year honors
 
Major League Soccer will announce the winner of Coach of the Year on Tuesday, Nov. 24. This year’s finalists include New York Red bulls head coach Jesse Marsch, FC Dallas head coach Oscar Pareja and Vancouver Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson.
 
In January, Jesse Marsch accepted the Red Bulls job amid intense scrutiny from the club’s supporters. He has justified sporting director Ali Curtis’ decision, however, leading New York to its second Supporters’ Shield in three years and a trip to the Eastern Conference Championship. Marsch has instituted a team-first mentality – turning the page from the club’s longstanding reliance on Designated Players – which his players quickly bought into.
 
Oscar Pareja led FC Dallas to an identical record as the New York Red Bulls this season, but lost out on the Supporters’ Shield on a tiebreaker. Still, Dallas’ 2015 season was nothing shy of outstanding, featuring breakout seasons from a slew of players under 24-years-old and a 3-0 win vs. Columbus in September with an MLS-record five Homegrown Players in the starting lineup. In only his second season on the job, Pareja has established FC Dallas as a model franchise.
 
Carl Robinson also had his club in the Supporters’ Shield mix, leading Whitecaps FC to its most successful MLS campaign ever – a third-place finish with 53 points. The ‘Caps finished the regular season boasting the league’s best road record and tied with Seattle Sounders FC for fewest goals allowed.
 
The 2015 MLS Best XI to be revealed during ESPN broadcast on Sunday
 
The 2015 MLS Best XI will be announced during ESPN’s broadcast of Sunday’s match between FC Dallas the Portland Timbers (5:00 p.m. ET, ESPN). The MLS Best XI honors 11 different players in a common soccer formation (4-4-2, 4-3-3, or 3-5-2), including one goalkeeper, at least three defenders, at least three midfielder and at least two forwards. The 2015 Best XI was voted on by MLS club management, media and MLS players.
 
Nine MLS cities announced as host sites for 2016 Copa América Centenario
 
CONCACAF, CONMEBOL, and the Copa América Centenario Local Organizing Committee announced Thursday that 10 US venues, including nine MLS cities and three MLS venues, will host matches during next summer’s tournament, which runs from June 3 – June 26, 2016.
 
The host cities include: Boston (Gillette Stadium), Chicago (Soldier Field), Houston (NRG Stadium), Los Angeles (Rose Bowl), New York (MetLife Stadium), Orlando (Orlando Citrus Bowl Stadium), Philadelphia (Lincoln Financial Field), Phoenix (University of Phoenix Stadium), San Francisco (Levi’s Stadium) and Seattle (CenturyLink Field).
 
Ten teams from South American and six from CONCACAF will compete in the tournament, which is being held outside of South America for the first time ever. The qualified CONCACAF teams include: United States, Mexico, Costa Rica, Jamaica, and the winners of playoff matches between Panama and Cuba, and Trinidad & Tobago and Haiti. For more information on the event, click here.
 
2015 AT&T Goal of the Year voting continues with the Quarterfinals
 
Voting for the Quarterfinals of the 2015 AT&T Goal of the Year contest is open now until 12:55 AM ET on Tuesday, Nov. 24. 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
  • Quarterfinal Round: Nov. 20-23 (VOTE HERE)
  • 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 Red Bulls MLS Insider: Raging Red Bulls Trample Rival D.C. United
 
Quotables
 
“Those are moments you wait for in your life. I’m just blessed. I’m thankful that my teammates put me in position to put that away.”
Columbus Crew SC midfielder Justin Meram on scoring the fastest goal in MLS Cup Playoffs history
 
"No chance the 'keeper was going to stop that one from getting in there. It was going in there no matter what. It has been a frustrating year for me with goals. I'm glad I could contribute in that way."
Portland Timbers defender Liam Ridgewell on scoring his first goal of the season
 
"I still have nightmares of me just running, me never settled in one place. There's always something happening, there's always people chasing us. That's my nightmare. Every day I wake up and I just go, 'Okay, that's exactly what my childhood was, that's why it keeps coming back."
Columbus Crew SC forward Kei Kamara on escaping civil war, giving back to Sierra Leone
 
“Americans need to believe in Americans. And it has to be real. We have talent here, we have players who can do it and there are many on the staff who say we are better than many other countries. Is it the future? For sure, but we have to believe that.”
FC Dallas head coach Oscar Pareja on the club’s youth development philosophy and believing in American talent
 
"I was trying to control my excitement, but that first game I had a lot of emotions. It's definitely cool getting to put on a red, white and blue kit."
Portland Timbers midfielder Darlington Nagbe on his debut with the U.S. National Team
 
"Real Salt Lake is the most important team in my life. It's the team that didn't just make me a better player. The club made me a better person. I came here and it was magic."
Real Salt Lake midfielder Javier Morales on signing a multi-year contract extension
Sweet Tweets
 
Nat Borchers (@natborchers): Finally got to see a Ridgy Roll up close!Congrats @liam_ridgewell and @daironasprilla on the goals.Thanks @timbersarmy for the love. #RCTID
 
Justin Meram (@JustinMeram): Blessed . What a win with amazing teammates and amazing fans! #letskeepitgoing
 
Wil Trapp (@wil_trapp): Squad. Fans came out, unreal support and energy. Glad for this team and the result, boys battled for… https://instagram.com/p/-aYKxjhwpX/ 
 
Dax McCarty (@DaxMcCarty11): Halftime. Poor performance/result. 90 minutes to make it right at RBA. Thanks to the fans for making the trip, safe travels home.
 
Dom Dwyer (@Ddwyer14): We did it, 3rd fastest time ever in the world! @soonysaad @sydneyleroux #PrisonBreakBangkok @ MBK… https://instagram.com/p/-bKysSGkIA/