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This Week in MLS – October 25, 2016

This Week in MLS – October 25, 2016
  • Home-field advantage serves as huge boost as eight teams face off in Knockout Round
  • 2016 MLS playoff field features postseason veterans and newcomers
  • Major League Soccer once again sets league attendance record
  • Chicago Fire Named 2016 Beyond Sport Team of the Year
  • CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals set as Vancouver, New York Red Bulls and FC Dallas advance
  • Check It Out, Quotables, Sweet Tweets
  • Knockout Round Game Previews
 
 
Home-Field advantage serves as huge boost as eight teams face off in Knockout Round
The Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs have arrived which means there’s no rest for the weary, as eight MLS teams kick off postseason action in the Knockout Round on Wednesday and Thursday. It all comes down to one game and with little separating the clubs, home-field advantage becomes all the more important.
 
Historically, home-field advantage has played a huge role in the Knockout Round, with the home team winning the one-off game over 83 percent of the time. An away team hasn’t come away with a victory in the Knockout Round since 2012, a feat that has been accomplished only twice in league history.
 
Each conference will see three teams back in the Knockout Round from last year, with two clubs, LA Galaxy and Toronto FC, earning the chance to host this time around. With great odds on their side, are wins for LA, Toronto, D.C United and Seattle Sounders FC already a forgone conclusion?
 
Toronto FC to host first playoff match at BMO Field against Philadelphia Union on ESPN2
After falling on the road in heartbreaking fashion in its inaugural postseason appearance last season at rival Montreal Impact, East #3 Toronto FC looks to reverse its fortunes when it hosts its first playoff game at BMO field on Wednesday against East #6 Philadelphia Union (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2/TSN2/UniMas). Toronto will be ready with a full arsenal as reigning Landon Donovan MLS MVP Sebastian Giovinco is back from injury, recording a goal and assist on Decision Day. The Italian, who led the league in combined goals (17) and assists (15) for a second consecutive season, will have a second shot at redemption in front of the city he calls his own.
 
Philadelphia also makes its second postseason appearance in club history and first since 2011. Defender and Rookie of the Year candidate Keegan Rosenberry will be tasked with slowing down a dangerous Toronto attack after leading all players in minutes played this year by starting and going the full 90 in 34 regular season matches - his first year as a professional. 
 
In the teams’ previous two meetings this year, Toronto defeated the Union 3-1 at Talen Energy Stadium on Aug. 20 before playing to a 1-1 draw at BMO Field on Sep. 24.
 
LA Galaxy looks to reverse Knockout Round fortunes with its renowned home cooking
The winningest club in MLS history and five-time MLS Cup champions look to overcome last season’s Knockout Round woes when its hosts West #6 seed Real Salt Lake on Wednesday at StubHub Center (10:30 p.m. ET, UniMas). After falling on the road to Seattle in 2015, the Galaxy (West #3) hope home-field advantage can improve the team’s Knockout Round record, currently sitting at 1-1 all-time.
 
2016 LA Galaxy Player of the Year Giovani dos Santos was one of only two players league wide to record double digit goals (14) and assists (12) this season in which LA compiled an impressive 8-1-8 record at home, including a 5-2 win over the Claret-and-Cobalt on April 23. The Galaxy have put up impressive numbers at home, going 202-76-70 all-time in the regular season.
 
2009 MLS Cup champions Real Salt Lake is making its first ever appearance in the playoff Knockout Round after breaking a seven year playoff streak in 2015. LA claims the upper hand vs. RSL in the postseason with a 3-1-1 all-time record, winning 5-0 in aggregate the last time the two teams faced off in the 2014 Western Conference semifinals.
 
D.C. United set for second consecutive home Knockout Round victory
D.C. United hosts a Knockout Round game for the second consecutive season, and following a victory in 2015, the team hopes for more of the same on Thursday when facing the Montreal Impact at RFK Stadium (7:30 p.m. ET, UniMas). Last year, D.C. emerged victorious against the New England Revolution – the 2014 MLS Cup runner-ups – in the Knockout Round, while Montreal defeated rival Toronto at home (1-1 all-time in Knockout Round). The Impact must now shift gears for its first postseason meeting with D.C. and need a big time performance from midfielder Ignacio Piatti, who finished tied for third in MLS with 17 goals this season. For D.C., Lamar Neagle leads the club with nine goals but it has been Patrick Mullins pacing the offense of late with eight goals since a mid-season trade from New York City FC. The teams finished in 1-1 draws in both matchups this season.
 
Sounders FC aim to keep perfect Knockout Round record against Sporting Kansas City on FS1
Appearing in its second consecutive and third overall Knockout Round match, Seattle Sounders FC looks to improve upon its perfect record when hosting Sporting Kansas City at CenturyLink Field on Thursday (10 p.m. ET, FS1/UniMas). SKC, meanwhile, makes its third straight appearance in the Knockout Round after falling the previous two seasons, although the team seems to have Seattle’s number this season. SKC defeated Seattle twice this year, but both victories came before Sounder FC’s addition of sparkplug Nicolas Lodeiro and the appointment of interim head coach Brian Schmetzer. In fact, SKC’s 3-0 victory at home on July 24 was Seattle’s final match under former head coach Sigi Schmid, with the team compiling an 8-2-4 record since. Rookie of the Year candidate Jordan Morris broke a U.S. rookie scoring record with 12 goals for Seattle this season, but will face off against an equally dangerous Dom Dwyer, whose 16 goals ranked top five league-wide this season.
 
2016 MLS playoff field features postseason veterans and newcomers
The 2016 MLS playoff field features both postseason veterans and newcomers as the path to being crowned the 21st MLS Cup champion begins this week. Some clubs make familiar returns to the playoffs, like Seattle Sounders FC which continues an eight-year qualification streak since its inaugural season in 2008, and five-time MLS Cup champions LA Galaxy who make the postseason for the 18th time in the club’s 21-year history. There is some new blood in the pool, however, as New York City FC makes its first appearance in the playoffs in the club’s brief two-year existence, while Toronto FC and Philadelphia Union both make just their second arrival in the postseason in 10 and seven seasons, respectively 
 
2016 playoffs teams’ all-time postseason qualifying percentage
Seattle Sounders FC - 100% (8 appearances in 8 seasons)
LA Galaxy - 85.7% (18 appearances in 21 seasons)
New York Red Bulls - 80.95% (17 appearances in 21 seasons)
FC Dallas - 71% (15 appearances in 21 seasons)
Sporting Kansas City - 71% (15 appearances in 21 seasons)
Real Salt Lake - 67% (8 appearances in 12 seasons)
Colorado Rapids - 61.9% (13 appearances in 21 seasons)
D.C. United - 61.9% (13 appearances in 21 seasons)
Montreal Impact - 60% (3 appearances in 5 seasons)
New York City FC - 50% (1 appearance in 2 seasons)
Philadelphia Union - 28.57% (2 appearances in 7 seasons)
Toronto FC - 20% (2 appearances in 10 seasons)
 
While advancing to MLS Cup is difficult, hosting the championship match in a home market can make all the difference. Home teams are 4-2 all-time when playing host in MLS Cup, with the Portland Timbers victory in Columbus last year breaking a four-year stretch of the hosting side coming away victorious. With that in mind, whichever team hosts MLS Cup this season holds an advantage in its favor.
 
2016 MLS Cup hosting priority based on points accumulated in 2016
FC Dallas (60 points)
Colorado Rapids (58 points)
New York Red Bulls (57 points)
New York City FC (54 points)
Toronto FC (53 points)
LA Galaxy (52 points)
Seattle Sounders FC (48 points)
Sporting Kansas City (47 points)
Real Salt Lake (46 points)
D.C. United (46 points)
Montreal Impact (45 points)
Philadelphia Union (42 points)
 
Major League Soccer once again sets league attendance record
Major League Soccer’s spectacular regular season finale featured nine sellouts in 10 Decision Day games, as MLS broke overall and average attendance records for a third consecutive year. Combining to hit an all-time high of 7.375 million in total attendance, MLS clubs generated a record-breaking 162 sellouts, which is one higher than the historic best set last season.
 
On a global scale, MLS’ average attendance ranks sixth among the sport’s top leagues (according to ESPNFC.com) with an average per game turnout of 21,692. Plus, in comparison to a decade ago, attendance is up 40% from the 15,504 average in 2006.
 
Still untouchable on the club side, Seattle Sounders FC averaged 42,636 at Century Link Field for a seventh straight league-best draw. As club trends remain consistent with the all-time highs set in 2015, half (10) of all MLS teams averaged more than 20,000 fans per game, and more than half (11) of all clubs increased their attendance from last season. For more details, click on MLSsoccer.com’s overview - HERE.
 
Chicago Fire Named 2016 Beyond Sport Team of the Year
The Chicago Fire was recognized for its community service work and named the 2016 Beyond Sport Team of the Year at the Beyond Sport Awards banquet held in London.
 
The Fire were recognized for the work by their charitable arm, the Chicago Fire Foundation, in creating the P.L.A.Y.S. (Participate, Learn, Achieve, Youth, Soccer) Program, which aims to enhance academic performance and development of key social and emotional learning (SEL) skills of elementary students in Chicago Public Schools through sports-based curriculum.
 
Beyond Sport is a global organization that promotes, develops and supports the use of sport to create positive social change across the world. The Fire were one of five finalists for the Team of the Year Award, among fellow nominees Arsenal FC, Detroit Pistons, FC Barcelona, and San Francisco Giants. As the winner, the Chicago Fire will receive funding from Beyond Sport Foundation to support Chicago Fire Foundation programming.
 
CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals set as Vancouver, New York Red Bulls and FC Dallas advance
Three MLS clubs remain in the hunt to become the first MLS club to be crowned regional champions by winning the CONCACAF Champions League, as Vancouver Whitecaps FC, New York Red Bulls and FC Dallas all advanced to the quarterfinal round of the 2016-17 edition. After an impressive performance in the group stage, Vancouver captured the top seed for the knockout rounds after finishing atop the standings with 12 points and an eight-point goal differential, giving the Cascadia club home-field advantage throughout the rest of the tournament. Vancouver will face MLS foe New York Red Bulls in the quarterfinal stage in a home-and-away series, guaranteeing at least one MLS club to make to the semifinals. FC Dallas, who claimed the 2016 Supporters’ Shield on Sunday, will take on second-place finishers Arabe Unido from Panama in the quarterfinal stage.
 
CONCACAF Champions League 2016/17 Quarterfinals – First Leg (February 21-23)
(8) New York Red Bulls vs. (1) Vancouver Whitecaps FC
(7) FC Dallas vs. (2) Arabe Unido
(6) Deportivo Saprissa vs. (3) CF Pachuca
(5) Tigres UANL vs. (4) Pumas UNAM
 
CONCACAF Champions League 2016/17 Quarterfinals – Second Leg (February 28 – March 2)
(1) Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs. (8) New York Red Bulls
(2) Arabe Unido vs. (7) FC Dallas
(3) CF Pachuca vs. (6) Deportivo Saprissa
(4) Pumas UNAM vs. (5) Tigres UANL
 
Four of the five berths awarded from the U.S. and Canada are already set for the 2017-18 edition of the tournament, featuring four MLS clubs. FC Dallas and New York Red Bulls will get a second consecutive appearance in CCL after Dallas won the 2016 U.S. Open Cup and NYRB finished the 2016 season first in the Eastern Conference – opposite the Supporters’ Shield winners, also FC Dallas. Since Dallas already earned a berth through the Open Cup win, the Colorado Rapids will see CCL action for the first time since the 2011-12 edition, after finishing second in the 2016 Supporters’ Shield race. Toronto FC will represent Canada in the tournament as the club took home the 2016 Canadian Championship. The fifth and final berth for the 2017-18 competition will be awarded to the winner of MLS Cup, decided on Saturday, Dec. 10. 
 
Check It Out
Vancouver Whitecaps FC: Whitecaps FC open new mini-pitch 
 
Quotables
“I’m very happy. I’m very happy because I have promised the people of New York a lot. I believe in the strong work we put in day by day and the people have responded to the work in which we have put in. We are here now and we have another chance to show our fans what we are here to do.”
New York City FC forward David Villa on his team’s performance this season
 
 “The MLS has never been as competitive as it was in 2016, because every year, better players come over from abroad, the players that are here continue to develop. The ante goes up every year. For us to have a campaign like we’ve had this year speaks volumes of the type of talent we have in the locker room.”
Colorado Rapids coach Pablo Mastroeni on his team’s performance in a competitive MLS
 
“I think our fans and this city have been waiting a long time for a home playoff game so I would expect that we’ll see a pretty special atmosphere on Wednesday night.”
Toronto FC midfielder Michael Bradley on the team’s upcoming playoff match
 
"We're grinding. We're grinding. We're obviously excited, and we celebrated today. I'd imagine we could celebrate a little bit tomorrow on our day off, and then we're back to work. We've got a big one on the road on Sunday. Obviously we don't know who we're playing yet, but we'll be watching Wednesday and Thursday pretty closely to see who we've got, and then it'll be a pretty quick turnaround to a big game for us. These things come quickly and you've got to be prepared for everything. The guys will be."
FC Dallas goalkeeper Chris Seitz on winning the Supporters’ Shield and preparing for the playoffs
                           
“What happened here wasn’t rocket science. It wasn’t a change in formation. It was maybe a little bit of change in training sessions, but what comes with that is a different demeanor, a different attitude and just a different voice. We all rallied behind it. We’re going to get behind this and do it together.”
Seattle Sounders FC defender Brad Evans on his team’s turnaround and focus for the postseason
 
Sweet Tweets
Kellyn Acosta (‏@KellynAcosta): SUPPORTER'S SHIELD!!!!!! For you the fans.. thanks for all the support! Through the ups and downs! 2 out of 3.. not done yet!  @FCDallas
 
Bradley Wright-Phillips  (@TheRealBWP): Thank you for all the nice messages peeps it means a lot, it's time to work and support more than we have all season #RBNY we want the cup
 
David Villa (@Guaje7Villa): What an amazing night for @NYCFC Thank you fans for your support, see you in the playoffs  #weareone
 
Jozy Altidore (@JozyAltidore): Proud of this @TorontoFC team. We’re moving on and ready for the playoffs. cc: @MLS @adidassoccer #FirstNeverFollows
 
Shkelzen Gashi (@s_gashi11): What an incredible @MLS season & now this special award from our fans: PLAYER OF THE YEAR!  Thank you so much! #Gashi #Rapids96 #C38sg #SG11
 
Knockout Round Game Previews
 
Wednesday, October 26
Eastern Conference: #3 Toronto FC vs. #6 Philadelphia Union – 7:30 p.m. ET (UniMás; ESPN2; TSN2)
  • The teams met twice during the regular season. The last meeting was Sept. 24 at BMO Field, as Alejandro Bedoya gave Union a first-half lead, but TFC’s Justin Morrow scored 20 minutes from the end to leave the teams in a 1-1 draw. TFC eased to a 3-1 win Aug. 20 at Talen Energy Stadium as Sebastian Giovinco, Drew Moor and Jozy Altidore all scored first-half goals.
  • Toronto FC is undefeated in the last five meetings between the teams, winning four in a row before the draw in the last encounter. Sebastian Giovinco had a four-game goalscoring streak in the series snapped in the last meeting.
  • Toronto FC come into the postseason having put an end to a five-game winless run in their season finale, a 3-2 win against the Chicago Fire. It was the second game back for Sebastian Giovinco after a five-game absence; he has a goal and two assists in that span.
  • Union saw their winless streak extended to seven games with a third consecutive loss in their regular season finale, a 2-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls at Talen Energy Stadium. Union have not scored in their last 235 minutes of action.
 
Western Conference: #3 LA Galaxy vs. #6 Real Salt Lake – 10:30 p.m. ET (UniMás)
  • The teams met twice this season. Five different Galaxy players hit the back of the net as they rolled to a 5-2 win April 23 at StubHub Center, the second consecutive Galaxy home win in the series. On Sept. 7 at Rio Tinto Stadium, Giovani dos Santos scored two goals and added an assist for the Galaxy, and Joao Plata scored twice and added an assist, as the teams ended in a 3-3 draw.
  • The teams have met three times in the last five years in the MLS Cup Playoffs. The Galaxy have advanced on two occasions, including in last year’s Western Conference Semifinals, when they took the series after a 5-0 win in the second leg at home. The teams also met in MLS Cup 2009, RSL winning in a penalty shootout.
  • The Galaxy concluded their regular season with a goalless draw with FC Dallas at StubHub Center, a second consecutive home game without a win. It was a second consecutive defensive shutout for the Galaxy.
  • Real had their winless streak extended to seven games in their regular season finale, falling 2-1 to Seattle Sounders FC on Decision Day at CenturyLink Field. It was a fourth loss in that span for RSL, who have scored two goals in their last six matches.
 
Thursday, October 27
Eastern Conference: #4 D.C. United vs. #5 Montreal Impact – 7:30 p.m. ET (UniMás; TSN/TSN5; RDS2)
  • The teams have met twice this season, reaching a pair of 1-1 draws. Patrick Mullins gave United a first-half lead, but the Impact’s Hernan Bernardello scored his first MLS goal in the 86th minute July 31 at RFK Stadium. On Aug. 24 at Stade Saputo, Lamar Neagle converted a first-half penalty for United, but Hassoun Camara scored late to leave the teams deadlocked.
  • United have won four of the six meetings lifetime at RFK Stadium, with two draws. United owns the only two victories by the road team in the series history, having won two of the last four meetings at Stade Saputo.
  • United had their four-game winning streak put to an end in their regular season finale, falling 4-2 to Orlando City SC on Decision Day at Camping World Stadium. Álvaro Saborío and Kennedy Igboananike netted the United goals; they have hit for multiple goals now in their last nine contests, with 26 goals in that time.
  • The Impact concluded their regular season with a 3-0 loss at the New England Revolution, concluding their campaign with a draw and a loss.
 
Western Conference: #4 Seattle Sounders FC vs. #5 Sporting Kansas City – 10 p.m. ET (UniMás; FS1)
  • The teams have met twice this season, and Sporting have won both. Nuno Andre Coelho scored the game’s only goal in the 73rd minute as Sporting took the season opener for both clubs, March 6 at CenturyLink Field. Dom Dwyer netted a pair of goals and Jacob Peterson added a third as SKC won 3-0 July 24 at Children’s Mercy Park.
  • The opening win ended a Sounders FC five-game home undefeated streak alive at home vs. Sporting, after SKC won 1-0 in Seattle in 2009, the first meeting ever between the clubs.
  • Sounders FC rebounded from two games without a win in the 2-1 victory against Real Salt Lake at CenturyLink Field on Decision Day. Sounders FC end the season with a eight-game undefeated streak at home, their last home defeat coming July 9.
  • Sporting stretched their home undefeated streak to nine games to close out the regular season, gaining a 2-0 win against the San Jose Earthquakes at Children’s Mercy Park. Benny Feilhaber scored a goal from the penalty spot and added an assist; he has been involved in each of SKC’s last six goals, with a goal and five assists in that run.