MLS Playoff Recap (Leg 2 Conference Semis)

With the Conference Finals now set with their four teams, we look back at the crazy matches that took place over the weekend that were full of tension, wicked goals, and the swansong of an Italian legend.

Seattle Sounders vs Vancouver Whitecaps (2-0, 2-0 aggregate)

Before the first game of the series between the Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps, many believed that both matches would be close and played with a lot of tension. Even the prospect of goals being plentiful was an afterthought. The difference in the second game came from the foot of someone who wasn’t even on the team sheet in the previous matchup.

Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times

Just five days after a 0-0 draw in Leg 1, the Sounders advanced to the Western Conference Final on the back of two goals by Clint Dempsey. Although the series wasn’t the most exciting in terms of scoring opportunities or action, the second game had just enough key moments in play that were enough for the Sounders to get the victory.

A perfectly placed shot into the side of the net in the 56th-minute and an 88th minute sealer did the job for the reigning MLS champions as the team had the edge over its Cascadia rivals all night. The Sounders had the upper hand in the shots department, putting up double digits and limiting the Whitecaps to two shots in the first half alone.

As Seattle will be relishing the prospects of another finals berth, Vancouver will be left to wonder about how it wasn’t meant to be. Head coach Carl Robinson outwit Brian Schmetzer in terms of strategy, as the Whitecaps looked more defensive-minded like the first game, and the team had very few chances to score with the limited amounts of players rushing forward.

With the win, and the subsequent loss by rivals Portland Timbers against the Houston Dynamo, the Sounders will be going on the road first before coming back to CenturyLink Field looking to possibly go back to the MLS Cup Final.

Toronto FC vs New York Red Bulls (0-1, 2-2 aggregate (Toronto advances on away goals))

It wasn’t easy, but the favorites to win the MLS Cup this season survived to keep playing.

Toronto FC’s chance at making the finals for the second successive year was helped by the away goals rule, and despite losing at home 1-0 to the New York Red Bulls on Sunday night, their goal in New York in the first leg gave Toronto the edge.

The Red Bulls were the victors on the night thanks to a redirection off a Daniel Royer shot by Bradley Wright-Phillips in the second half, and New York could’ve possibly stunned the hosts to advance to the Eastern Conference Final if it wasn’t for Toronto’s keeper Alex Bono. With the lead at hand, Wright-Phillips had a golden opportunity to ice the game and series with a perfectly placed pass that led him on a breakaway, only for Bono to jump off his line and save the ensuing shot.

SI.com

But the goal and the would-be clincher were far from the biggest talking points of the match, as the tension generated from the first leg boiled over to the next game. The first half saw quite a few hairy moments between players and it all came to a head in the 34th minute after Tyler Adams of New York and Jozy Altidore of Toronto coming together, and then Sasha Kljestan coming to his Red Bulls comrade and getting in the face of Altidore. Those two didn’t end the bickering on the field, however, as they both got into it again at halftime while walking in the tunnel to the dressing rooms. Both received straight red cards from the referee and left their teams a man short for the entire second half.

As Toronto is now looking towards its next round of games, the team will have to it without its main strikers, as Altidore’s red, alongside Sebastian Giovinco’s yellow-card accumulation, which he added to against New York, means Toronto will have to go into the first leg of the Eastern Conference Final with their bench players needing to make an immediate impact.

New York City FC vs Columbus Crew (2-0, 3-4 aggregate)

The game may not have gone the way that the Columbus Crew had wanted, but the result didn’t dent their hopes in reaching the MLS Cup Final. For the second time in the last three seasons, Columbus will reach the Eastern Conference Final after defeating New York City FC 4-3 on aggregate, despite losing 2-0 at Yankee Stadium on Sunday night.

New York looked to become the first club to come back from a three-goal deficit in a two-leg playoff, and their first goal came early as in the 16th minute as Rodney Wallace was fouled in the box by the Crew’s Josh Williams. David Villa took the ensuing penalty kick and fired past Zack Steffen to give New York some life.

While there wasn’t anything to add to the goal department for the rest of the first half, the next 45 minutes provided another gift for New York, as Andraz Struna took a long-distance shot in the 53rd minute that went off the head of Jonathan Mensah of Columbus as he tried to clear the ball, but instead deflected it into his own net. Now with Columbus playing defense and holding on to a slim aggregate advantage, New York needed one more to seal the improbable comeback, but couldn’t make it happen despite being close on a couple of occasions.

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Wallace’s shot off the post in the 70th minute was the closest that Patrick Vieira’s team could get to accomplishing their goal, and now with New York going no further in the playoffs, Columbus will be excited to take on the best side in the MLS in Toronto.

There was one bright moment during the match, and that was Andrea Pirlo playing in the final match of his illustrious career. Coming on in the final few minutes, the former Juventus and AC Milan midfielder gave the fans in New York and those watching on TV one last look at a player who has won everything from a UEFA Champions League title and the World Cup with Italy in 2006.

Even with the loss, Columbus knows that the first leg of the Eastern Conference Final will have its side favored, with the team starting the series at home, just as it did against New York. Add to the fact that Toronto will be without star forwards Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco due to suspensions, and MAPFRE Stadium will be raucous come November 21st.

Portland Timbers vs Houston Dynamo (1-2, 1-2 aggregate)

What a story this has turned out to be for Houston. Looking back at last season, the Dynamo were nowhere near the playoff chance. In fact, the team was at the bottom of the Western Conference. And now, the MLS Cup Final is only two games away.

Dylan Remick and Mauro Manotas canceled out Portland’s goal by Dairon Asprilla and earned the Dynamo only its second win away from home all year, and now a date with the Seattle Sounders awaits for Houston as it looks to continue its improbable quest to the final.

After a scoreless affair in the first leg in Houston, the passionate crowd inside Providence Park came to life at the end of the first half when Asprilla collected a cross and finished the play off with a thunderous shot in the 39th minute, but Remick, who was at fault for Portland’s goal, quickly made amends for the mistake just minutes later, scoring on a great half-volley shot to level the game and give Houston that all-important away goal.

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Even with all of the injury concerns that limited Portland’s threats on goal, they continued to push forward and give the Dynamo all they can handle. But Houston were able to resist the pressure and put the game away in the 77th minute, as Manotas rifled a long-distance effort past Timbers keeper Jeff Attinella that stunned both Portland and the crowd. The Timbers had nothing left for the final few minutes, and were left to wonder just what might have been.

The Portland Timbers knew coming into this game that the injuries that had plagued them from the first leg as well as during the season would be a big concern, and it certainly didn’t get any better for the team as the game progressed. Vytautas Andriuskevicius left the game through injury, and teammate Darren Mattocks couldn’t make it 15 minutes before having to be subbed off because of a head injury. With Diego Chara and Fanendo Adi already missing from picking up knocks in previous games, Portland’s depleted roster was the big turning point of the series, one that couldn’t be overcome.

November 21st is the date set for the first match between the Dynamo and the reigning MLS champs Seattle Sounders, and with Houston looking to have defender DaMarcus Beasley come back from injury, the team could very well continue to write its impressive story and knock off the Sounders.

WXC 70 takeaways

WXC did it again Saturday night with another great night of fights for the metro Detroit area. If you were not there, don’t worry. You will be able to catch it on UFC Fight Pass at a later date.

The card was full of good matches from top to bottom, and I have a few takeaways from last Saturday.

Drew Morais Continues his climb!

If I told you after Morais retired early in 2016 that he would come back, and be on a four fight win streak would you have believed me? Well, that’s just what he has done. “All Day” Morias has come back with two first round finishes: one by submission and one by knockout of a previously undefeated prospect out of Boston, and two wins by decision. Morias stepped up to this fight with about a three week notice, and used his length in the standup and wrestling to neutralize Manny Alfaro for a win by unanimous decision to improve to 8-4.

What is next for Morais? It looks like a fight between him, and Deven “Bad News” Brown. This could be a fun contest, but Morais may get another fight with current WXC Featherweight champion Bobby Moffett. Time will tell what’s on the card.

A Three Minute Round in a Pro Fight?

The first professional fight of the night was between Marcus Maulding and Ken Hunt. Sounds like an entertaining fight, right? Well, the first round was rewarded to Maulding. He came out like his aggressive self, and Hunt was weathering the storm. Maulding was able to secure a takedown, and was working for a rear-naked choke near the end of the round. Hunt was able to come back in the second round, and score a TKO early. But, something needs to be done because the fans were robbed of two minutes of an entertaining first round, and we will never know if Maulding could have finished the fight with two minutes left to work or if Hunt could have turned the tables earlier and scored a first-round finish himself.

2 1/2 year layoff no problem!

There was another return to the cage as Eric Ramirez returned  after a long absence from the cage, and he looked great. Ramirez didn’t look like a man who hasn’t seen action in that long.  His original opponent for this fight fell out, and was replaced by No. 2 ranked Flyweight in the state Jesse Bazzi. Bazzi was able to use his length early in the fight. But early in the second round, Ramirez was able to secure a guillotine choke the put Bazzi to sleep and secure the win by submission.

Entertaining Lightweight Scrap

The co-main event was a razor thin split decision between between two former teammates in a highly entertaining fight. The first round was completely controlled by Moe Shatri winning it with a bunch of big shots. The second round went to Brandon McLaughlin when he secured a takedown, and got to Shatri’s back for what seemed like forever. The third round was a toss up round, and it all depended on what the judges decided was more important. No matter the outcome of the fight, neither guy could have been completely upset with it.

I think a rematch would be a super fun fight again between these two. Having said that, seeing Shatri taking on Kyle Prepolec would be a good test for Moe going forward as well.

MLS Playoff Recap (Leg 1 Conference Semis)

With all of the first legs of the MLS Conference Semifinals done and dusted, here are the recaps and big talking points for each of the four games that took place over the weekend:

Vancouver Whitecaps vs Seattle Sounders (0-0)

Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

The Cascadia rivals left Vancouver with a 0-0 draw Sunday night, and a place in the Western Conference Final will be battled out in Seattle on Thursday. Although short on goals (and shots for that matter), the match was tense for the full 90 minutes. And save for an almost own goal by a clearance off the line that hit the crossbar by Vancouver’s Kendall Waston, very few attacking chances were created.

Both Seattle and Vancouver were short on attacking options coming into the match, with Clint Dempsey and Jordan Morris out for the Sounders due to suspension and injury, respectively, and coach Brian Schmetzer including Harry Shipp into the lineup. For the Whitecaps, Carl Robinson lost a couple of his main players to injury in their last playoff match against San Jose, so Nosa Igiebor earned a rare spot on the team sheet.

As the return leg looms for both sides, one goal could be all that takes for a team to advance. Both teams looked content to not push the envelope too much on Sunday, and there’s no certain way to tell who has the upper hand out of the two. But, a raucous crowd at CenturyLink Field will provide the Sounders a big boost in their quest to repeat as MLS champions. The Whitecaps know that one away goal could be enough, as the Sounders would then have to score two to lead the aggregate.

New York Red Bulls vs Toronto FC (1-2)

A match that few expected to be competitive, the Red Bulls gave Toronto a run for its money before falling 2-1 Monday night at Red Bull Arena. Coming into the playoffs, many were questioning whether anyone could actually knock off Shield winners in Toronto FC, a record-setting team that has a place among the best teams in league history.

For most of the match, it was looking like New York might be able to, even after Toronto’s Victor Vazquez scored within the first ten minutes. Soon after, the match produced many fouls, close chances on goal, and a Red Bulls team taking control of the pitch, and it all paid off right before halftime with a converted penalty by Daniel Royer.

The second half saw New York unable to produce the game-winning goal, and when Toronto had their chance with a free kick just past the box, up stepped up star Sebastian Giovinco, with his beautiful curler that past keeper Luis Robles.

Although pulling a goal back, the result leaves the Red Bulls with a challenging task as they look to upset Toronto when they visit on Sunday in the second leg.

Houston Dynamo vs Portland Timbers (0-0)

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The second game of two on Monday night of the MLS Cup Playoffs took place in Houston, as the Houston Dynamo and Portland Timbers played to a scoreless draw at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston.

Portland came into the match already ravaged by injuries to some of its starters, and over the course of the night all three substitutions were because players were forced to sub off before 90 minutes were over. Even with that, the Timbers were able to prevent a goal, and take the result on the road back home. And like Seattle’s situation, the team knows that any result with goals puts them in the Western Conference Final.

With regular starter Erick Torres starting on the bench, the Dynamo were only able to muster two shots on target all night. Relying on counterattacks to get the offense going, Houston couldn’t put its strategy to good use. The same can be said for the Timbers, as being hampered by injuries caused a lack of production on their opponent’s side of the pitch. Only four shots were taken between the two clubs in the entire match.

The big talking point was in the 30th minute when Portland’s Larrys Mabiala looked to have taken down Alberth Elis in the box, given the Dynamo a penalty, but the video review system that’s been recently implemented in the MLS overturned the call.

With Houston now looking ahead to snag a vital game in Portland, the Timbers will be heading back home for the second leg desperately hoping for at least some of their stars to be healed by Sunday. Mabiala, Diego Chara, and Darlington Nagbe all picked up injuries during the game, and with almost a week to rest, the Timbers, even with a home match looming, will possibly be on the backfoot.

Columbus Crew vs New York City FC (4-1)

The final Leg 1 match and biggest upset of the weekend took place Tuesday night with the Columbus Crew thrashing New York City FC 4-1. Having not lost since early August, the Crew continued their hot run of form and looks to have already ended the tie, as no team over the course of two legs in the MLS Playoffs have ever come back from a three-goal deficit.

Ola Kamara got the party started for Columbus at MAPFRE Stadium, scoring off a rebound to put his side up within six minutes. Somehow the early goal was the highlight of the first half, as both sides couldn’t produce any more before halftime. Some of the close calls included the Crew’s Justin Meram missing an open net and New York’s David Villa hitting the post.

The second half became the focal point of the night, as right from the whistle, action came left and right. NYC’s Alexander Callens received a straight red card a few minutes in after the video review system showed that he swung his arm and elbowed Meram during a corner kick. Brazilian midfielder Artur took the advantage given to the Crew and made his opponents pay dearly, scoring a few minutes after the red, and Meram would increase the lead to three after NYC keeper Sean Johnson made a mistake on a relatively easy save.

David Villa trimmed the lead to two for the away side, and NYC looked to be taking a not-so terrible deficit back to the Bronx, however Harrison Afful dazzled in his dribbling skills and got around multiple defenders to give Columbus a forth on the night, making sure the gap would stay at three.

This is the second year running that New York started its playoff campaign as favorites and then losing in the first leg of its playoff matchups. Like last year against Toronto, the deficit was too much for the team, and now are hoping for a miracle and some luck back home.

Lions’ Lack of Awareness, Running Game Is All Too Familiar

It’s the same old problems. It’s the same old Lions.

Photo by Daniel Meers of the Detroit News

Nine months ago Lions General Manager Bob Quinn was blunt. How could he not? The Lions were next to last in the running game (30th out of 32 teams) in 2016, and haven’t finished better than 28th in the past three seasons. Lions were down to Zach Zenner, Dwayne Washington and table scraps after starter Ameer Abdullah was lost to a foot injury after only two games, then backup Theo Riddick missed in the final four regular-season games with a wrist injury.

Quinn vowed for changes.

“Listen, I’m always looking to upgrade. That’s what my job is. I think the players understand that,” he said in a news conference.

“I think the number of new players that we brought in this year and the number of guys we tried out and worked out, I think it was eye-opening to a lot of people. My eyes are always open. If we can get somebody better, then great.”

Granted he put his money where his mouth was by signing former Packer T.J. Lang, and Rick Wagner to help bolster the offensive lines, but he failed to take a running back with his draft picks. Tion Green was added as an undrafted free agent.

But the pains of a running game have shown their head again this season as the Lions are still near the bottom of the league at 29th, and the headaches continued Sunday against the Steelers.

Matt Stafford had previously connected with tight end Darren Fells, and again to T.J. Jones to put Detroit on the doorstep on the four yard line at home in front of a national TV crowd from beating an NFL blue blood.

The next play was a hand off to Washington who lowered his shoulder and bowled over the Steelers defense, and was just shy of putting the Lions a head. But instead of extending the ball a few inches for a touchdown, the Lions saw the goal line as a cliff hanging disaster.

The next plays was an incomplete pass, then another Washington run that went no where, and the Lions were still down 13-12, and stared down yet another field goal opportunity that would once again secure the lead. But the Lions fumbled that idea, and went for another touchdown try, unnecessary mind you, and still came up short.

The ball was snapped, and Stafford’s options were slim, and he tucked the ball and was sacked for a loss. Three

Photo by Kirthmon F. Dozier Detroit Free Press

plays later, Ben Roethlisberger found JuJu Smith-Schuster over the middle and Smith-Schuster sprinted 97-yards for a 20-12 lead with three minutes left in the third quarter.

Why not be secure and take the lead when your defense was holding the Steelers in check? Why not rely on a kicker you extended earlier in the week? Why stop listening to conventional wisdom?

The Lions defense who held Le’Veon Bell to his second lowest rushing total this season with 76 yards. Antonio Brown was held in check with 70 yards on five receptions, was waiting for its offense to pick them up, and it refused.

Instead, Detroit Lions totaled 482 yards (71 on the ground). That total became the third-most in NFL history for a team that failed to score a touchdown.

Yes, the Lions weren’t completely sunk by the decision to go for it when they didn’t have to. They did get another opportunity late in the fourth quarter. But the passing game stalled, and Stafford on third down checked from a pass to a run where Riddick was stopped for a loss of two yards from the six yard line. And, the Lions failed to score because a field goal wouldn’t have won the game.

Instead, had they gone for the field goal in the third quarter, and the game played out exactly how it did, the Lions would have been down 20-18 and could have kicked a short field goal to take the lead.

But that didn’t happen. The opportunity was lost. Now here we are. Back to where the Lions started clinging to hopes and dreams instead of grabbing their destiny by the throat and taking positive steps forward.

The Minnesota Vikings sit atop of the NFC North at 6-2. The Green Bay Packer-less Aaron Rodgers are 4-3. And the Lions are 3-4 with a tough loss after a bye-week, and a Tuesday trade deadline staring at them in the face.

There is still much of the season to play. They still face the Packers next week, and the Vikings on Thanksgiving with the Browns and Bears in between them.

But at some point, you have to be a different team instead of the same old Lions.

SRD Weekly Fantasy Football – Week 5 Advice

The first quarter of the season is through, and it has been an extremely strange yet exciting start to the fantasy season.

The busts of this year have been identified, but will they bounce back? Are they worth holding onto, or is a guy like Cooper, Crowder or Crowell better served on the waiver wire? The waiver wire/player claims after Week 4 are usually pretty crucial. We have a better sense of what teams have the favorable matchups, and what players are more involved than others.

Alex Smith, currently the No.2 QB behind Tom Brady, is the biggest surprise at the position. Cam Newton shook off a rough start against the Patriots, who look like one of the weakest defense of the years and ranks as such. Several different players have seen 20+ point games vs the Patriots, including Kareem Hunt’s coming out party, and a two-touchdown game from Devin Funchess this past weekend.

The leader of AFC East? The Bills. Their defense looks like a good one to stay away from overall. The Lions are also looking tough on that side of the ball, and have forced plenty of turnovers early on.

The Rams’ Todd Gurley continued his early-season rampage vs the Cowboys this past week, and Steelers running back LeVeon Bell gave you the kind of game you expect from a top-3 pick. It was a cold week for the position overall, but players like Alvin Kamara, Lamar Miller and Leonard Fournette were able to get it done.

Latavius Murray will take over lead-back duties in wake of the Viking’s Dalvin Cook’s torn ACL. The Seahawks running back situation is as clear as a magic 8-ball, and one that I am avoiding for now, as better options are available this week. Alex Collins is slowly taking over as the Ravens early-down runner, Andre Ellington is one of the most targeted RBs this year, and Giants’ Wayne Gallman, a sneaky pickup, may just become the G-Men’s starting back after this week.

Other notable pickups are Eli Manning, JaRon Brown, Danny Amendola. For those looking for some Tight-End solidarity, you could do a lot worse than Austin-Sefarian Jenkins. I think players such as Crowder, Terrance West and Paul Perkins are absolutely worth dropping at this point.

In Week 5, I really like Frank Gore vs the 49ers. He is a strong RB2 play and is due for a bigger, 15-point game. This matchup feels like a good time for the veteran to break out a little. I also think that Golden Tate vs the Panthers, Randall Cobb vs the Cowboys and Carson Wentz vs the Cardinals at home are good to as starters.