It was quite the week as the MLS Conference Finals are finally set. Here’s a look back at the second leg of the knockout stages and a preview of the following round.
What a week in the MLS it has been. Two teams duke it out in a penalty shootout, while the others were mostly one-sided. However, there was no shortage in drama. Now only the four best teams remain. Indeed, there will be a new champion this season. Neither of the finalists from last year made it this far.
Let’s take a look back at the action and look forward to the next round.
Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers
By far the most exciting matchup of the playoffs, these two Northwest rivals really went at it. The Timbers won the first leg 2-1 and that made the Sounders uncomfortable as they had to fight back at home. However, the second leg turned out to be spectacular.
If you said “Wow!” after this game, then these teams did their jobs. Thanks to the mistakes Seattle made in the shootout, Portland advances.
The first half was quiet. However, the 68th minute sparked the game to life. Timbers Goalkeeper Jeff Attinella fumbled across in front of the goal and the ball fell to Raul Ruidiaz, where he smashed into the back of the net and gave the Sounders the lead. Sebastian Blanco tied it up for Portland in the 78th minute, followed by Ruidiaz tying the aggregate back to 2 a piece in the 90th minute.
The match went into extra time and Darion Asprillia put the Timbers back in front in the 93rd minute. Nicolas Lodiero tied the aggregate back up in the 97th minute. In fact, Lodeiro’s goal would end up sending this game to penalties with the score at 3-2. The reason for that is because an away goal counts more than a home goal does. Since Portland won at home and scored two away goals, they had the upper hand for most of this match.
Unfortunately, the Sounders dealt with a number of injuries to some key players. Among the missing, Chad Marshall, three-time MLS Defender of the Year, and versatile midfielder Cristian Roldan.
In the shootout, both teams were trading shots. Unfortunately, Will Bruin’s attempt hit the left post, and Osvaldo Alonso’s attempt was saved by the Timbers keeper Attinella. 4-2 was the final and Portland advances.
Their opponent will be an interesting one and a formidable team. Up next, Sporting Kansas City
Sporting KC vs. Real Salt Lake
As mentioned before, the rest of these weren’t as exciting, but still had some drama nonetheless. Sporting KC had some ground to make up but put the pressure on from the beginning.
Remember, RSL had some of the worst defensive stats and were on losing slide before sneaking into the playoffs and upsetting LAFC in the first round. Unfortunately, their defensive lapses caught up to them in this leg of the series. Diego Rubio opened things up for Sporting KC in the 14th minute, followed by Daniel Salloi in the 19th minute. RSL didn’t score until the 60th minute when Sebastian Saucedo netted.
Things began getting interesting after that. In the 67th minute, KC put a better grip on the game when Ille Sanchez hit a penalty that further secured their victory. Not without a scare, however. RSL pulled one back when Damir Kreilach scored in the 70th minute. Remember RSL’s poor defense? It came back to bite them in stoppage time. Salloi caught the RSL defense on a bad pass and took the ball for the fourth and final goal of the night.
Sporting KC advances 5-3 on aggregate to face the Portland Timbers in the Western Conference Finals. That series should prove to be really interesting.
New York Red Bulls vs. Columbus Crew SC
Things in the East proved to be a bit easier. In one bracket some of the original MLS teams faced off while on the other half the MLS newcomers faced off.
In the 17th minute, Alex Muyl scored and leveled up the aggregate score. Unfortunately for Columbus, their first leg goal is all they would get in this series. During the second half, the Red Bulls really aimed to pull away. In the 73rd and 76th minutes, Daniel Royer scored to put the series away for good. In fact, this game reminded fans why they were they had the best record in the league. After this game, they improved to 15-2-1 at home.
The Red Bulls next opponent is no pushover. In fact, they are super dangerous for an MLS newcomer.
Atlanta United FC vs. New York City FC
After winning their first leg in New York 1-0, Atlanta came into their home fixture ready to finish the series off.
Things got started in the 25th minute when NYCFC defender Ismael Tajouri-Shardi fouled Franco Escobar in the box. Josef Martinez took the spot kick and buried to give AUFC the lead and the extra cushion on the aggregate score. Indeed, they would need the cushion. Miguel Almiron added a second goal in the 43rd minute.
However, things got a bit interesting when Maxime Chanot pulled one back for NYCFC. With the away goal, City only needed to score one more to tie it up and send the game to extra time. That moment would never come, unfortunately. Martinez scored again in the 83rd minute to seal the victory.
Atlanta United won the game 3-1 (4-1 on aggregate) and advance to face the New York Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals.
With both Conference Finals all set, the action will begin on November 25th. Atlanta and New York kick off at 4 pm, followed by Portland and Kansas City at 6 pm.
Hardworking, loyal, and passionate. I love the people that surround me because they allow me to be who I am. A lover of sports, video games, and life itself. I am a son, a brother, an uncle, and a person who holds nothing but love in his heart. I do this for Rosa Maria Magana and Edward Magana. A.k.a my folks in heaven. Music and sports keep me alive and well.