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This Week in MLS – October 31, 2016

This Week in MLS – October 31, 2016
  • Postseason soccer hits the Big Apple in decisive leg of MLS Cup Playoff Conference Semifinals
  • 2016 MLS Cup host scenarios begin to unfold
  • Regular season statistical leaders make their mark during Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs
  • Six MLS players graduate from Generation adidas Program
  • Check It Out, Quotables, Sweet Tweets
  • Conference Semifinal Game Previews
 
Postseason soccer hits the Big Apple in decisive leg of MLS Cup Playoff Conference Semifinals
Soccer fever is hitting New York this week. After a scintillating first leg of Conference Semifinal action, the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs continue with four pivotal matchups on Sunday highlighted by a pair of contests in the Big Apple. With all four home teams winning in the first leg, home-field advantage will be all the more important as Colorado Rapids, FC Dallas, New York City FC and New York Red Bulls get their chance to host the second and final leg of the series.
 
Looking at recent history in the 2015 MLS Cup Conference Semifinals, the higher-seeded team trailed following the first leg in three of the four matchups, with all four home teams pulling out victories to advance to the Conference Championship. A thrilling slate of action is in store on Sunday as any of the four matchups could swing either way as teams battle to keep their title dreams alive.
 
New York City FC seeks its high octane offense for inaugural home playoff game
In need of a victory, New York City FC hopes the beginner’s luck continues when hosting its franchise first playoff home match on Sunday at Yankee Stadium vs. Toronto FC (6:30 p.m. ET, FS1/FOX Deportes/TSN). After falling behind 2-0 in the first leg, NYCFC will try to become only the third team ever, and first since 2004, to come back from a two-plus goal deficit and win a playoff series. Goals can be expected with NYCFC scoring a league-best 62 goals this season, while conceding 57, tops among all teams qualifying for MLS Cup Playoffs this season. With the two-goal deficit in mind, New York City FC has recorded seven victories of two-plus goals this season, including three of its final four regular season matches. MVP candidate David Villa will look to continue his tremendous form at Yankee Stadium after finishing with five goals and three assists over the team’s final five home matches this season.
 
But it’s never easy when MVP candidate and reigning Landon Donovan MLS MVP Sebastian Giovinco suits up opposite. The Italian international led the league in combined goals and assists for a second consecutive season and already has one goal and one assist in two postseason matches this year. Also a constant threat on the pitch is U.S. Men’s National Team striker Jozy Altidore, who has two goals and an assist in playoff action, continuing his epic run of 12 goals and four assists in his last 16 appearances across all competition. With everything clicking, Toronto FC will be motivated more than ever to continue its playoff run, as the club looks to make the Conference Championship for the first time in club history.
 
In the teams’ only encounter at Yankee Stadium this season, a 2-2 draw on March 13, Villa finished the game with a brace while Giovinco tallied a goal and an assist. 
 
With a shared past and win in hand, Montreal head to NYRB for fiery showdown on ESPN
The second leg of the semifinal matchup between New York Red Bulls and Montreal Impact is guaranteed to set off fireworks as the two clubs face off at Red Bull Arena on Sunday at 4 p.m. ET (ESPN, ESPN Deportes, TSN, RDN). With both head coaches once sharing the same team bench, it will be more than just playoff stakes on the line. Tabbed to lead the Impact in its inaugural MLS season in 2012, current New York Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch helped create the foundation Montreal has continued to build on, which included working alongside former assistant and now head coach Mauro Biello, and the acquisitions of current Impact players Patrice Bernier, Callum Mallace, Evan Bush and Hassoun Camara. But after a surprising exit after just one season with the Impact, Marsch has reinvigorated his coaching career with the Red Bulls, leading the team to two consecutive first-place finishes in the Eastern Conference. Marsch has also brought Montreal flair to the Red Bulls squad, adding former Impact players Felipe and Karl Ouimette.
 
With emotions set to run high, the Impact head to NY confident after securing a 1-0 win at home behind a golazo from Italian postseason hero Matteo Mancosu, who has three goals and one assist in just two playoff matches for Montreal. The midseason addition has added incredible attacking depth to a dangerous Impact side that already features the likes of Argentine maestro Ignacio Piatti and striker Didier Drogba.
 
Although Montreal claims an advantage, the Red Bulls will make sure Red Bull Arena is as inhospitable as possible on Sunday where it is 2-0 vs. Montreal this season and where it recorded a league best 13 home wins. Led by Golden Boot winner Bradley Wright-Phillips and league-assist leader Sacha Kljestan, the Red Bulls are no stranger to comeback victories, recording four this season all at Red Bull Arena, including a 3-1 victory over the Impact on August 13.
 
Colorado Rapids banking on continued stellar home form in face of streaking LA Galaxy on ESPN
While Colorado’s 1-0 loss at LA Galaxy was not an ideal outcome, the Rapids appear as likely as any team to climb out of its first leg deficit when returning home for the second leg on Sunday at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, where it finished the season undefeated, just the fifth team in MLS history to accomplish the feat (2 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN Deportes/TSN). 
 
Colorado amassed 11 home victories in the regular season (11-0-6 home record), seven of which were shutouts, as the team set an all-time league record for the lowest goals-against average at home in a season (0.41 goals allowed per game). The team’s stingy defense that allowed a mere seven home goals all season is led by goalkeeper Tim Howard, a favorite of newly minted soccer fanatic and comedian Leslie Jones.
 
Howard made three tremendous saves on Sunday to keep his team alive and is making a strong pitch to coach Jurgen Klinsmann for the starting goalkeeper spot in the U.S. Men’s National Team’s first hexagonal matchup against rival Mexico on November 11 in Columbus. Likely to suit up for Mexico opposite Howard in the international contest is LA Galaxy forward Giovani dos Santos, who scored the game-winner on Sunday and giving him one goal and two assists in three career MLS postseason matches. Despite holding the upper hand entering the contest, the Galaxy will need another dose of dos Santos magic in Sunday’s second leg, previously losing its only match of the season at Colorado 1-0 on March 12. 
 
FC Dallas needs to make history vs. Seattle Sounders FC in order to continue elusive treble hunt on FS1
While FC Dallas’ bid for a historic treble took a major hit in the first leg of the Western Conference semifinals with a 3-0 loss at Seattle Sounders FC the squad has continuously proven its mettle at home with an impressive 12-1-4 record this season and will need more of the same for Sunday’s second leg at Toyota Stadium (9 p.m. ET, FS1/FOX Deportes/TSN). No MLS team has ever completed a comeback from a three-plus goal deficit after the first leg of a playoff series, but Dallas is no ordinary squad, becoming the first club in league history to record consecutive 60-plus point seasons. It’s been a tale of two seasons for Dallas and Seattle depending on the host, with Sounders FC winning 5-0 at CenturyLink field on July 13 in addition to Sunday’s first leg victory, while Dallas has compiled a pair of home victories this season — a 2-0 result on May 14 and a 2-1 win on October 16.
 
Seattle will look to continue its own impressive comeback story on Sunday, now boasting an in-form attacking unit led by Rookie of the Year candidate and U.S. Men’s National Team forward Jordan Morris, whose 12 goals this season were tops ever for an American rookie in MLS. Joining Morris with a strong run of form is Designated Player and two-time World Cup participant Nelson Valdez. Mired in a season-long scoring drought entering the postseason, Valdez has played hero for Sounders FC with two goals, including the game winner in the Knockout Round. Nicolas Lodeiro, meanwhile, continues to produce at a phenomenal pace for Seattle with two goals in the first leg of the Western Conference semifinals and now has six goals and eight assists across all competitions since joining the team this summer. 
 
2016 MLS Cup host scenarios begin to unfold
After the results of the first legs of the conference semifinals, possibilities have increased an Eastern Conference club could play host to MLS Cup 2016.
 
Of the eight clubs still alive in the MLS Cup Playoffs, only the Montreal Impact cannot host MLS Cup. But the other three Eastern Conference clubs -- New York Red Bulls, New York City FC and Toronto FC -- would all host the league's championship match were they to win the Eastern Conference Championship, if the LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders FC maintain their leads following their victories in last weekend's conference semifinal first legs.
 
MLS Cup 2016 will be played at the host venue of the finalist with the most regular season points. The top two clubs in points following the regular season -- FC Dallas and the Colorado Rapids -- both have deficits to overcome if they are to reach the Western Conference Championship. The next three clubs in points were the top three teams in the Eastern Conference.
 
Regular season statistical leaders make their mark during Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs
While headlines have covered the Golden Boot race between New York rivals Bradley Wright-Phillips and David Villa, as well as league assist leader Sacha Kljestan, several other players across the league have led their teams to the postseason while ranking tops in the league in one category or another. In a total of 18 categories, 12 leaders are from teams still active in the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs with Montreal Impact and New York Red Bulls represented by three players each.
 
Goals                                                                                                   Assists
Bradley Wright-Phillips, New York Red Bulls (24)*$                      Sacha Kljestan, New York Red Bulls (20)*$
 
Shots                                                                                       Shots on Goal
Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC (177)*$                                     David Villa, New York City FC (59)*$
 
Saves                                                                                                   Goalkeeper Shutouts
Jake Gleeson, Portland Timbers (118)                                        Luis Robles, New York Red Bulls (11)*$
 
Free Kick Goals                                                                                    Dribbles Completed
Didier Drogba, Montreal Impact (3)*$                                                      Ignacio Piatti, Montreal Impact (83)*$
 
Minutes Played                                                                                    Passing Accuracy
Keegan Rosenberry, Philadelphia Union (3,060)*                         Osvaldo Alonso, Seattle Sounders FC (90.88%)*$
 
Touches Per 90 Minutes                                                                       Open Play Crosses Completed            
Michael Bradley, Toronto FC (91.33)*$                                        Fabinho, Philadelphia Union (30)*
 
Penalty Shot Saves                                                                              Clearances
Tim Howard, Colorado Rapids (2) #*$                                                     Frederic Brillant, New York City FC (198)*$
 
Tackles                                                                                                Blocks
Matias Laba, Vancouver Whitecaps FC (131)                              Victor Bernardez, San Jose Earthquakes (30)
 
Interceptions                                                                                        Recoveries By An Outfield Player
Lauren Ciman, Montreal Impact (121)*$                                       Osvaldo Alonso, Seattle Sounders FC (275)*$
 
# - Tied for first
* Plays for team that qualified for Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs
$ Team still active in the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs
 
Six MLS players graduate from Generation adidas Program
A total of six MLS players gave graduated from the Generation adidas Program at the conclusion of the 2016 MLS regular season. Such players will no longer be classified as Generation adidas players on club rosters and will not be automatically protected in the 2016 Expansion Draft to be held on Dec. 13.
 
2016 Generation adidas Graduates
Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union)
Christian Dean (Vancouver Whitecaps FC)
Marlon Hairston (Colorado Rapids)
Damion Lowe (Seattle Sounders FC)
Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders FC)
Romario Williams (Montreal Impact)
Schillo Tshuma*
 
*Waived by Portland Timbers on July 22, 2015.
 
Nine current MLS players will continue to be part of the Generation adidas class in 2017 and will be automatically protected in the 2016 Expansion Draft. Also automatically protected in the Expansion Draft are MLS Homegrown Players on a club’s Off-Budget Roster.
 
Current 2017 Generation adidas players
Alex Bono (Toronto FC)
Conor Donovan (Orlando City SC)
Julian Beuscher (D.C. United)
Jack Harrison (New York City FC)
Fabian Herbers (Philadelphia Union)
Omar Holness (Real Salt Lake)
Richmond Layrea (Orlando City SC)
Andrew Tarbell (San Jose Earthquakes)
Joshau Yaro (Philadelphia Union)
 
Generation adidas is a joint program between MLS and adidas that is dedicated to developing exceptional domestic talent in a professional environment. Each year, a handful of top domestic collegiate underclassmen and youth national team players are signed by the league and placed in the SuperDraft through this program. Until a player graduates from the program, Generation adidas players are on a club’s Supplemental Roster and are not charged against the team’s salary budget.
 
Check It Out
 
Quotables
“I tell it as it is. I don’t need the money. I’ve got enough money at 37 to retire and never work again. I want to win. I want to be a part of something that’s special. When winning isn’t the most important thing in my life, then I’ll finish playing. I don’t need to do any of this, I want to, because I have a burning desire to want to be great. I strive for that every day.”
Colorado Rapids goalkeeper Tim Howard on his motivations to win an MLS Cup title
 
“They all celebrated together. And to me, that’s a bond and it was something very strong. And it gives a feeling of security, it gives a feeling of confidence. And when you have that you become powerful. And that was the message I gave my team and right now they’re showing that. They’re showing that they’re a unit and that they’re going to do everything to win.”
Montreal Impact coach Mauro Biello on his team’s confidence following a victory over the Red Bulls
 
“It was, for me, far and away the greatest night in the stadium in terms of the fans and the crowd and the energy.”
Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney on the BMO Field crowd
 
"We overcame a difficult result last year when we left this field. We will try to do the same. I think this team has shown during the year that we overcome difficult situations and why not this one as well."
FC Dallas coach Oscar Pareja on overcoming a 3-0 deficit
                           
“In these types of playoffs, the openers are important. These are games with a different flavor and a different feeling. The pressure is different because it’s kill or be killed.”
LA Galaxy forward Giovani dos Santos on the pressure of the postseason
 
Sweet Tweets
Jordan Morris (@JmoSmooth13): Hey @Lesdoggg. Thanks for watching!
 
Clint Irwin (@ClintIrwin): What a night last night. Thank you Toronto for making that special. Still work to do. We aren't finished! #AllForOne
 
Shkelzen Gashi (@s_gashi11): If you win or lose always respect the game!!! Next sunday we'll do everything to change the score! Lets go Rapids! #Gashi #SG11 @MLS
 
Felipe (‏@FeliMartins8): Just the first half,not the result we want but now see you on Sunday for a BIG GAME.Nobody ever said would be easy but we're ready #RBNY
Ashley Cole (@TheRealAC3): Good first leg win now we look forward to nxt Sunday well done boys #LAvCOL  
 
Conference Semifinal Game Previews
Western Conference: Colorado Rapids vs. LA Galaxy – 2 p.m. ET (ESPN, ESPN Deportes, TSN)
  • Giovani dos Santos scored his first career goal in the MLS Cup Playoffs in the first leg, giving the Galaxy a 1-0 win Sunday at StubHub Center. It was the seventh consecutive postseason game the Galaxy have won in Carson, dating back to the 2012 Western Conference Championship.
  • The Rapids return home for the second leg having not lost at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park this season, going 11-0-6 on their home ground, the fifth team in MLS history to go through the season undefeated at home.
  • The Rapids have now lost their last four games in the MLS Cup Playoffs, dating back to the 2011 Western Conference Semifinals, when they lost both legs to Sporting Kansas City. They lost to Seattle Sounders FC in the Knockout Round in 2013 in their last postseason appearance before this year.
  • The Rapids won the only meeting of the teams in the regular season at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, a 1-0 win on March 12 as Marco Pappa scored the game’s lone goal five minutes into second-half stoppage time. The win ended a two-game Galaxy winning streak in Commerce City.
  • The Galaxy win in the first leg of the conference semifinals was their first in four meetings between the teams this season. The Rapids won one; the other two ended in draws, both at StubHub Center, where the Rapids last won in 2013.
 
Western Conference: FC Dallas vs. Seattle Sounders FC – 9 p.m. ET (FS1, FOX Deportes; TSN)
  • Nelson Haedo Valdez has scored goals in back-to-back games in the MLS Cup Playoffs this season – and now has three goals in five career games in the MLS postseason, following his goal in Sounders FC’s 3-0 win in the first leg Sunday at CenturyLink Field. Valdez went the entire league campaign in 2016 (24 appearances, eight as a starter) without netting a goal; his last goal in MLS league play came Aug. 16, 2015 – on his debut for the club, vs. Orlando City. Valdez scored in the Knockout Round win vs. the LA Galaxy last year; he also scored in the U.S. Open Cup fifth round this year.
  • Nicolas Lodeiro scored a pair of goals in the first leg triumph in Seattle, the first two-goal game in Sounders FC history in the MLS Cup Playoffs, in the 22nd postseason game in eight appearances all-time.
  • FC Dallas face a real challenge in the second leg, after the first-leg defeat in Seattle. Just twice since MLS went to two-leg aggregate goal series in the MLS Cup Playoffs have teams faced three-goal deficits after the first leg – and neither were able to overturn the margin (2012 Western Conference Championship: LA 3, SEA 0 [aggregate ended 4-2]; 2011 Western Conference Semifinals: RSL 3, SEA 0 [aggregate ended 3-2]).
  • FC Dallas did win both regular season meetings at Toyota Stadium, a 2-0 win on May 14, and a 2-1 win October 16. In the two meetings during the year at CenturyLink Field, Sounders FC outscored FC Dallas 8-0. Sounders FC have won the last seven league meetings between the teams in Seattle, and eight of the 10 meetings there all-time, having outscored FC Dallas 11-0 there over the last two seasons.
  • The teams are meeting in the Western Conference Semifinals for a third consecutive season. Last year, FC Dallas won the series on penalty kicks after the two legs finished 3-3 on aggregate, each team winning 2-1 at home; the season prior, Sounders FC advanced on away goals, after the series ended 1-1 on aggregate.
 
Eastern Conference New York Red Bulls vs. Montreal Impact – 4 p.m. ET (ESPN, ESPN Deportes; TSN)
  • The Impact remain undefeated for their history at Stade Saputo in the MLS Cup Playoffs following the 1-0 win in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on Sunday. Matteo Mancosu scored the game’s lone goal; the Impact have outscored their opponents 6-1 in the three postseason matches in Montréal.
  • The defeat for the Red Bulls was their first in any match since July 3, a 2-0 defeat by New York City FC which was their first-ever defeat in the Hudson River derby. The Red Bulls ended the season riding a 16-game undefeated streak in league play; the loss was the first for the Red Bulls in 20 matches in all competitions.
  • The Red Bulls were shut out at the attacking end for the first time since July 10, when they reached a scoreless draw with the Portland Timbers at Red Bull Arena – a result which started their long undefeated run.
  • The Red Bulls have won all seven league meetings lifetime with the Impact at Red Bull Arena, including victories in both regular season contests this year, a 3-1 win Aug. 13 at Red Bull Arena, and a 1-0 win on Sept. 24.
  • The home team has won every meeting between the clubs this season. The 1-0 win in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals for the Impact came after a 3-0 win in the only league meeting between the teams at Stade Saputo, a 3-0 win March 12.
 
Eastern Conference: New York City FC vs. Toronto FC – 6:30 p.m. ET (FS1, FOX Deportes; TSN)
  • Jozy Altidore scored for a second consecutive match in the MLS Cup Playoffs, netting the opener in TFC’s 2-0 win in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinal Series on Sunday at BMO Field – his first postseason goals in MLS since 2006. Altidore ended the regular season scoring 10 goals in his last 14 league matches, since July 31.
  • All 14 players who played for New York City FC made their MLS Cup Playoffs debuts in the club’s first match ever in the postseason in the 2-0 first-leg loss at BMO Field.
  • Toronto FC’s win in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals was their first ever against New York City FC. In the five league meetings all-time between the clubs, NYCFC has won two, with three draws.
  • The teams have met three times over their history at Yankee Stadium, with the teams reaching a 2-2 draw in The Bronx this season in the only regular season meeting there between the teams, on March 13. NYCFC won one meeting in 2015, a 2-0 victory; they also reached a wild 4-4 draw.
  • In MLS history, only twice has a team come back from two-plus goals down after the first leg in the MLS Cup Playoffs to win a series, in 14 such occurrences. The last was the 2004 Kansas City Wizards, who beat the San Jose Earthquakes 3-0 at home in the Western Conference Semifinals after losing 2-0 in the first leg in San Jose. In 2003, the Quakes lost 2-0 away in the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinals, then conceded the opening two goals in the home leg, before scoring five unanswered goals to win the tie in extra time.