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This Week in MLS – November 9, 2015

This Week in MLS – November 9, 2015
  • Unlikely hero Walker Zimmerman propels FC Dallas to Western Conference Championship meeting with steadfast Portland
  • Red Bulls eye shot at second trophy while Crew SC looks to re-live 2008 magical run
  • Miazga, Nagbe earn first call-ups to U.S. Men’s National Team ahead of 2018 World Cup Qualifier
  • Nine MLS players called into Canadian National Team for CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying
  • San Jose’s Fatai Alashe, Orlando’s Cyle Larin and Chicago’s Matt Polster up for Rookie of the Year
  • Montreal’s Laurent Ciman, Dallas’ Matt Hedges and Vancouver’s Kendall Waston vie for Defender of the Year
  • 2015 AT&T Goal of the Year voting continues into second round
  • Check It Out, Quotables, Sweet Tweets
Unlikely hero Walker Zimmerman propels FC Dallas to Western Conference Championship meeting with steadfast Portland
 
Western Conference Final, Leg 1: Portland Timbers vs. FC Dallas
Sunday, November 22, 7:30 p.m. ET (FS1, TSN2)
 
FC Dallas defender Walker Zimmerman hadn’t scored a goal since June 29, 2013, entering Sunday night’s Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs Conference Semifinal match vs. Seattle Sounders FC. The 23-year-old picked a good time to snap his 26-month scoring drought, fortifying his role in one of the most legendary playoff games in MLS history. With Dallas’ backs against the wall following Chad Marshall’s go-ahead goal in the 90th minute, Zimmerman headed a pass from Blas Perez into the back of the net in the 91st minute to force extra time. Then, with ice running through his veins, the Lawrenceville, Ga., native buried the game-winning penalty kick to send FC Dallas into the Western Conference Championship. Oscar Pareja’s steadfast dedication to playing the kids continues paying dividends for Dallas – now within striking distance of the club’s first MLS Cup.
 
For Zimmerman, Sunday night’s performance was the culmination of his first injury-free MLS season. A highly-touted prospect coming out of Furman University in 2013, injuries forced him to miss the combine and consequently fall to seventh in that year’s SuperDraft. After appearing in only 17 games between 2013 and 2014, Zimmerman stayed off the trainer’s table and made 20 appearances in 2015. With a clean bill of health and one of the biggest goals in FCD’s history under his belt, Zimmerman is finally living up to hype that followed him into MLS.
 
Things weren’t as dramatic for the Timbers en route to a 2-0 sweep of Vancouver Whitecaps FC at BC Place. Fanendo Adi and Diego Chara scored as Portland won the possession battle and yielded only two shots on goal. The Timbers now prepare for their second Western Conference Championship series in five MLS seasons. Portland fell to Real Salt Lake in the 2013 Western Conference title game, but returns this time around with a championship-caliber core including recent U.S. Men’s National Team call-up Darlington Nagbe, Argentine maestro Diego Valeri, and veterans Adam Kwarasey, Nat Borchers, Liam Ridgewell, and plenty more. With the backing of the Timbers Army and one of the biggest home field advantages in MLS, this could be the year the Timbers breakthrough.
 
Red Bulls eye shot at second trophy while Crew SC looks to re-live 2008 magical run
 
Eastern Conference Final, Leg 1: Columbus Crew SC vs. New York Red Bulls
Sunday, November 22, 5:00 p.m. ET (ESPN)
 
The New York Red Bulls are one step closer to securing their first ever MLS Cup after their second leg 1-0 (2-0 aggregate) win over I-95 rivals D.C. United in the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Semifinals. D.C. were defensively stout for 90 minutes, until Red Bulls forward Bradley Wright-Phillips finished Gonzalo Veron’s pass in stoppage-time to help the Red Bulls advance to their second Eastern Conference Championship appearance in three years.  The stoppage-time goal was Wright-Phillips’ sixth tally in nine career playoff matches for the Red Bulls. New York ended the season with an impressive 4-0-1 record against their Atlantic Cup rivals.
 
In the other Eastern Conference Semifinal, Columbus Crew SC are through to their first Eastern Conference Championship since 2008, the year they won their first MLS Cup in a 3-1 victory over the Red Bulls, after dispatching Montreal Impact 3-1 (4-3 aggregate) at MAPFRE Stadium. After Kei Kamara’s header in the fourth minute gave Crew SC the early 1-0 lead, Impact midfielder Dilly Duka leveled the match in the 40th minute to give Montreal the aggregate advantage heading into the halftime interval. Columbus winger Ethan Finlay tied the aggregate score in the 77th minute to force the match into extra time, before Kei Kamara headed in his second goal of the match in the 111th minute off substitute Cedrick Mabwati’s cross to secure the win.
 
Miazga, Nagbe earn first call-ups to U.S. Men’s National Team ahead of 2018 World Cup Qualifier
 
Portland Timbers midfielder Darlington Nagbe and New York Red Bulls defender Matt Miazga are among 12 MLS players called in as the U.S. National Team begins the 2018 World Cup qualifying cycle versus St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Friday at 6:30 p.m. ET at Busch Stadium (ESPN2, UniMás, UDN). This marks the first call ups for both Nagbe and Miazga, two of Major League Soccer’s most promising young stars.
 
Nagbe, 25, is a Liberian-born midfielder who officially became an U.S. citizen in September. One of the most electrifying and creative talents in MLS, his skill on the ball and versatility are welcome additions to the USMNT’s lineup. Nagbe and his mother fled the First Liberian Civil War when he was just five-months-old before eventually settling in Ohio in 2001. His father, Joe Nagbe, is a former captain of the Liberian National Team. The second overall selection in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft, Nagbe notched five goals and five assists in 33 starts for Portland this season.
 
Miazga, 20, has the makings of a future fixture along the USMNT’s backline. The 6-foot-4 New Jersey native joined the New York Red Bulls Academy in 2009 before signing a Homegrown Player contract in 2013. After starring for the United States U-18, U-20, and U-23 squads, and receiving interest from his parents’ home country of Poland, Miazga will be officially cap tied if he features in Friday’s match. Although he doesn’t turn 21 until next summer, he is already one of MLS’ most dominant defenders, averaging seven clearances and 2.3 tackles per game while shutting down the likes of international stars Sebastian Giovinco and David Villa. Miazga is a success story for both Major League Soccer and U.S. Soccer’s youth development systems.
 
U.S. Roster
GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Tim Howard (Everton)
 
DEFENDERS (8): Ventura Alvarado (Club America), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Matt Miazga (New York Red Bulls), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana), Tim Ream (Fulham FC), Brek Shea (Orlando City SC)
 
MIDFIELDERS (7): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Mix Diskerud (New York City FC), Miguel Ibarra (Club Leon), Jermaine Jones (New England Revolution), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), DeAndre Yedlin (Sunderland)
 
FORWARDS (5): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Alan Gordon (LA Galaxy), Jordan Morris (Stanford), Bobby Wood (Union Berlin), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)
 
Nine MLSers called into Canadian National Team for CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying
 
Canadian National Team head coach Benito Flores called in nine MLS players to the 23-man roster for upcoming CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers against Honduras on Nov. 13 in Vancouver and El Salvador on Nov. 17 in San Salvador.
 
The nine MLS players named to the roster include defenders Sam Adekugbe (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Marcel de Jong (Sporting Kansas City), Karl Ouimette (New York Red Bulls), Wandrille Lefèvre (Montreal Impact), midfielders Tesho Akindele (FC Dallas), Kianz Froese (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Will Johnson (Portland Timbers), Russell Teibert (Vancouver Whitecaps FC) and forward Cyle Larin (Orlando City SC).
 
Following the matches against Honduras and El Salvador, Canada will play home and away matches against Mexico in March 2016 and two more matches in September 2016 – away against Honduras and a home match against El Salvador. The top two nations in Group A (Canada, El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico) advance to CONCACAF’s final round of World Cup qualifying.
 
For more information, click HERE.
 
San Jose's Fatai Alashe, Orlando's Cyle Larin and Chicago's Matt Polster up for Rookie of the Year
 
This year’s winner of the MLS Rookie of the Year award will be announced on Tuesday, Nov. 10.
 
This year’s rookie class vying for the award includes San Jose Earthquakes defender Fatai Alashe. The Michigan State product tied for the rookie lead in games started (27) with Chicago Fire midfielder Matt Polster, while featuring in the second most games played (28). Alashe’s 1.8 tackles per game led all MLS rookies (minimum of 15 appearances). Alashe was a member of the USA U-23 team that took third place at the 2015 Toulon Tournament and was also included in the US U-23 Olympic Qualifying campaign.
 
Orlando City SC rookie Cyle Larin had a banner 2015, culminating in setting the MLS rookie record for most goals scored in a single season with 17. The UConn product ended the regular season tied for the fifth most goals scored overall with New York Red Bulls forward Bradley Wright-Phillips. Larin has appeared nine times for the Canadian National Team in 2015 and has netted three goals for his country.
 
Chicago Fire midfielder Matt Polster recorded the most games played by a rookie this season (30), while also notching a rookie-high 2,422 minutes played. After proving himself as an MLS starter for the Fire, Polster earned a first ever national team call-up, representing the United States in U-23 Olympic Qualifying, where he started all five matches for the U.S.
 
Montreal’s Laurent Ciman, Dallas’ Matt Hedges and Vancouver’s Kendall Waston vie for MLS Defender of the Year
 
The winner of MLS Defender of the Year will be announced on Wednesday, Nov. 11.
 
This year’s candidates include Laurent Ciman, a member of Belgium’s 2014 FIFA World Cup squad who signed for Montreal in January seeking better medical care for his autistic daughter. Ciman immediately established himself as one of the league’s best, anchoring the Impact’s backline while averaging 4.3 interceptions and 5.3 clearances per game.
 
FC Dallas’ Matt Hedges was a cornerstone along the club’s backline all season, logging nearly 2,700 minutes and blanketing Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins in the Western Conference Semifinals. Hedges, who earned his first call up to the U.S. Men’s National Team in February, averaged 4.8 interceptions per game – the fifth-best figure among MLS players this season.
 
In his first full season with Vancouver Whitecaps FC, Kendall Waston led a defense that surrendered only 36 goals – tied with Seattle Sounders FC for the fewest in MLS. Waston played himself back into the Costa Rican National Team picture while averaging 6.8 clearances per game.
 
2015 AT&T Goal of the Year voting continues into second round
 
Voting for the Second Round of the 2015 AT&T Goal of the Year contest is open now until Friday, Nov. 13. 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
  • 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
 
Columbus Crew SC: The Story of Glory
Montreal Impact: Win vs Columbus
New York Red Bulls: RED TOGETHER vs. D.C. United
 
Quotables
 
“When we scored, I thought we were going to win. When they scored, I thought this was the worst thing in the world. And then we scored again, and it was the best thing in the world. It was a huge rollercoaster. We knew we were going to get another chance or two, so we knew we had to be ready for that chance, ready to make it count. Luckily, Walker made it count.”
FC Dallas forward Tesho Akindele on the roller coaster of emotions in last night’s Western Conference Semifinal
 
“I don’t think I’ve ever really been through anything quite like that,”
Seattle Sounders FC midfielder Andy Rose after falling to FC Dallas in a thrilling Western Conference Semifinal
 
“I always felt a little more American. I grew up here. I was born here. I always envisioned and dreamt of playing for the full team for the USA.”
New York Red Bulls defender Matt Miazga on accepting his first call up to the USMNT
 
“One of the reasons I wanted to bring him here is we spent a lot of hard times together and came out of it in a good way and knew how each other operated. I knew if I could bring him here, that he would help me establish what we wanted our team to be. This season he’s exceeded every expectation I had for him, and I had very high expectations.”
New York Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch on coaching former teammate Sacha Kljestan
 
“I remember there was a shift in things when I was five years old. And – I grew up with my grandparents because my parents had gone to the United States ahead of me – all of a sudden they had a shift in tone, warning not to go out in the bushes and the wilderness, which is where our backyard on the outskirts of Freetown crept up to. I never understood why. We had a waterfall in our backyard. The jungle was our backyard. And all of a sudden they shifted their tone. I didn’t know it, but that was because the rebels were in the jungle, and that’s where they – any kids my age or a little bit older – would capture them and turn them into child soldiers, or kill them if they refused. That was what awaited me in my backyard and I didn’t even know it.”
Philadelphia Union midfielder Michael Lahoud on partnering with Kei Kamara to build a school in Sierra Leone
 
Sweet Tweets
 
Walker Zimmerman (@thewalkerzim): Heroes get remembered legends never die." @Tesho13 final words before we subbed on tonight. We aren't done yet @FCDallas!
 
Ryan Hollingshead (@rmhollingshead): Not sure if I was more excited for the win or for @thewalkerzim celebration after that final pk. #nosmile #DALvSEA
 
Dax McCarty (@DaxMcCarty11): Looking forward to the conference final. 2 best teams in the East all yr meet for the chance to go to MLS Cup. Very fitting. Should be fun.
 
Nat Borchers (@natborchers): And then there were 4! Mature performance from the us on the road. Incredible support from all you @timbersarmy fans. #onwards #RCTID
 
Wil Trapp (@wil_trapp): Well that was fun #CrewSC supporters, you are why we do it