2018 FIFA World Cup Rundown

Starting with the first qualifying game that took place on March 12, 2015, the berths for the 2018 FIFA World Cup are all clinched, and now with the dust settled. With the Dec. 1 group stage draw inching closer, let’s have a glance at each of the some fun, and already think about who will be vying for the ultimate prize in Russia come next summer.

North/Central America: (Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama)

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Making its debut in the World Cup, Panama will be happy to just be there. Roman Torres (Seattle Sounders), the hero of the team from the last game of qualifying, will be looked at to be one of the leaders alongside keeper Jaime Penedo (Dinamo Bucuresti). But remember, this is their first time at the World Cup, so the pressure and physicality can be a cause for concern. As a new team in the mix, who knows what could happen?

As for Costa Rica, the country stunningly made the quarterfinals in 2014, so why not again? Keylor Navas (Real Madrid) in goal, Cristian Gamboa (Celtic) in defense, and with Bryan Ruiz (Sporting Lisbon) creating scoring chances up top, Los Ticos could look to surprise once again and maybe even make it back to the last eight.

America’s main rival will be interesting to watch next year, but how well can Mexico really do? They have a lot of quality, albeit getting up in age, but the team also have some interesting up-and-comers like Hirving Lozano (PSV) and Raul Jimenez (Benfica). Nothing less than the knockout stage will be acceptable.

Asia: (Australia, Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea)

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Back in the World Cup for the first time since 2006, Saudi Arabia will be hoping to make it to the knockout stage after failing on their last three tries. This team probably won’t break that streak in Russia, so captain Osama Hawsawi (Al-Hilal) will have his work cut out for him in trying to rally his squad.

For the first time, Iran has qualified for the big tournament in back-to-back attempts, although its track record won’t be anything to celebrate, as the country has only recorded one win (against the U.S. in 1998 no less) in 12 World Cup matches. Forwards Karim Ansarifard (Olympiacos) and Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan) will be the main targets for the squad looking to earn a second win.

It may have taken a playoff to gain a berth to Russia, but Australia have made it and are ready to make some noise. Ageless wonder Tim Cahill (Melbourne City) may be 38 come next year, but he’ll still be just as productive as ever. The midfield trio of Aaron Mooy (Huddersfield Town), Mile Jedinak (Aston Villa), and Tom Rogic (Celtic) will be vital for Australia’s chances to make it to the knockout stage for the first time since 2006.

Arguably the best team in Asia, Japan hasn’t had a test in qualifying apart from Australia, so it will be interesting to see how they stack up against bigger countries. Midfield and defense will be key for a squad that relies on possession. Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund), Yuto Yagatomo (Inter Milan), and Hiroki Sakai (Marseille) will be helping to shape the flow of the team in each game.

What will be the difference between South Korea making the knockout round and going home early is Son Heung-min (Tottenham) and Ki Sung-yeung (Swansea City). Both are great in developing plays in the midfield as well as having good attacking prowess (more so Son Heung-min). But like Japan, South Korea will need to rely on being keeping the game compact and playing possession. Hopefully for them, some shades of 2002 can happen, when they made it to the semifinals.

Africa: (Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, Tunisia)

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Back in the World Cup for the first time since 2006, Tunisia will be hoping to advance to the knockout rounds for the first time in five tries, but with possibly one of the weaker countries coming in to Russia next year, captain and goalkeeper Aymen Mathlouthi (Etoile du Sahel) will be one very busy man.

Morocco defeated favorites Ivory Coast for a spot in the tournament, and with the country having missed out on the World Cup since 1998, it will look to snatch a win and maybe make things interesting in whatever group it’s put in. Captain and defender Medhi Benatia (Juventus) will provide the big-tournament experience, while midfielders Sofiane Boufal (Southampton) and Hakim Ziyech (Ajax) will be the ones to spark the offense.

Defender Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli) of Senegal will be a busy man next month. In only the country’s second World Cup and first since 2002, the team have enough talent to compensate for a lack of defensive playmakers other than Koulibaly. The big focal points will come from the English Premier League contingent of Sadio Mane (Liverpool), Idrissa Gueye (Everton), and Cheikhou Kouyate (West Ham). Don’t be surprised to see the team advance out of its group.

Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) will pretty much be the main target for Egypt, and the striker will have plenty of pressure to deliver on the big stage, as Egypt is in the World Cup for just the third time in its history and first since 1990.  Mohamed Elneny (Arsenal) will be his partner in creating opportunities for one of the darling teams in Russia, with some neutrals cheering them on.

The African side most likely to advance out of the group stage and possibly go farther will be Nigeria. The side will be the one team from Africa that most will want to avoid. Rising stars Alex Iwobi (Arsenal) and Kelechi Iheanacho and Ahmed Musa (Leicester City) are still young and more than capable of scoring loads of goals for their country. And with other experienced players coming together, you never know how far the team can go.

South America: (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Uruguay)

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It has taken for Peru 36 years to finally come back to the big stage, and the fans are still probably partying over qualifying. The large gap doesn’t mean that this team will be a pushover, as they certainly have players capable of getting them out of the group stage, with the likes of Jefferson Farfan (Lokomotiv Moscow) and Andre Carrillo (Watford) leading the offense.

One of the dangerous teams coming from South America is Colombia. Very close to making the semifinals last time, the country will have plenty of talent up front with the likes of Radamel Falcao (Monaco), James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich), and Juan Cuadrado (Juventus). With David Ospina (Arsenal) in goal, and a back line that’s young but very talented, watch out for Colombia making it to at least the quarterfinals again.

It’s hard to know what team will show up to Russia next year for Argentina. It’s talent rivals the best in the world, yet almost didn’t qualify for the tournament in the first place. Sure, all eyes will once again be on Lionel Messi (Barcelona) to finally deliver the silverware to the country, and he’ll have a ton of great support up top to do it with Sergio Aguero (Manchester City), Angel di Maria (PSG), and Paulo Dybala (Juventus). However, it’s the midfield and defense that look shaky. It’ll be up to the team to figure out if they can win it all once again, which they certainly can.

Uruguay was the best team in South American qualifying outside of Brazil. When you have the likes of Edinson Cavani (PSG) and Luis Suarez (Barcelona) leading the front line, you’re bound to be a pretty decent squad. The rest of the lineup is quite strong as well, with Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid) leading the defense and Cristian Rodriguez (Penarol) in midfield. With a good mix of young and old on the team, Uruguay can make it to the semifinals and maybe surprise a few by going a step further.

Without a doubt the best country in South America, Brazil will be one of the favorites to make the final next year. Neymar (PSG) and Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City) are just some of the attacking talent the Brazilian team will send to Russia. And if the side can shake off the ghosts of 2014, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them lifting the trophy.

Europe: (Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Iceland, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Serbia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland)

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Serbia is always a team that makes things tough for its opponents, and some of the players could be crucial for the country’s chances next year. Branislav Ivanovic (Zenit Saint Petersburg) alongside Aleksandar Kolarov (Roma) and Nemanja Matic (Manchester United) will have to carry a team that has few experienced players, and hope for a result or two.

Italy was supposed to defeat Sweden in the UEFA playoffs for one of the last World Cup spots, but the script was changed, and now the Swedes have a lot of momentum going to Russia. This team doesn’t have much in terms of talent, with Mikael Lustig (Celtic), Victor Lindelof (Manchester United), and Sebastian Larsson (Hull City) being the leaders here. But, there is someone who can show up if called upon, someone who wasn’t a part of the qualifying campaign due to injury but can still be a force to be reckoned with. It’s the one and only Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Iceland brought in a legion of new fans in last year’s Euro 2016, with the team making it to the quarterfinals, and now neutrals will once again look to the World Cup debutants and go along with the awesome ‘viking clap.’ This team isn’t the most skilled, but the passion and determination they have will be in droves Don’t be surprised to see Gylfi Sigurdsson (Everton) and company make it to the knockout stage.

Denmark will be relying on Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) to lead the team, but outside of him and Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester City) in goal, the talent level drops. However, team spirit is always a factor, and Denmark could get a result that makes the difference between going home early or continuing on.

Having done well in qualifying, Switzerland will be looking to continue that momentum to Russia. The team does have some fine players in defenders Ricardo Rodriguez (AC Milan) and Stephan Lichtsteiner (Juventus), and midfelders Granit Xhaka (Arsenal) and Xherdan Shaqiri (Stoke City). However, making it out of the group stage might be the team’s ceiling.

If the group it’s selected in is nice enough, Poland could definitely make a case for being in the Round of 16 next year. Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) will need to be scoring goals, and the rest of the squad can be quite good based on its experience in big matches.

Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona), Luka Modric (Real Madrid), and Ivan Perisic (Inter Milan) will be key for Croatia if they want to make it out the group stage, and the squad can certainly do it. While squad depth could be an issue, the team could make a good run to the quarterfinals, provided that Mario Mandzukic (Juventus) can lead the team in goals.

Never underestimate the the perk of being the World Cup host, although it can very depending on the team. South Korea made a stunning run to the semifinals in 2002, but South Africa was sent packing early in 2010. Russia will need its fans to be as boisterous as can be. Keeper Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow) will have a busy time next year, so the country will hope to do its citizens proud.

England could be a dark-horse in Russia, but you just never know with this team. Usually packed with talent, the team never seems to live up to expectations. The country next year will once again have superior players, with Harry Kane and Dele Alli (Tottenham) and Raheem Sterling (Manchester City) leading the way. But can this team finally gel and go far in the tournament? They certainly can. But like Argentina, it’s a toss-up on how they will really do.

Another dark-horse in Russia next year, Belgium will have arguably one of the best squads in terms of depth. From Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea) in goal, to Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham) in defense, to Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), and Eden Hazard (Chelsea) up front, this team is scary, and come the knockout rounds. They can give the best teams a run for their money.

They did win Euro 2016 last year, but Portugal isn’t exactly the favorites to win the World Cup, despite having some quality players. This is without a doubt Cristiano Ronaldo’s (Real Madrid) team, and he’s the glue of the side, like how Messi is to Argentina. Portugal can certainly make the quarterfinals with the players they have, but anything above that will be a challenge.

After an embarrassing World Cup in Brazil four years ago after winning the previous edition of that, Spain will be looking to bounce back in a big way. The forward position will be lacking in depth, but it’ll be the midfield area where Spain will be riding on to win games. Isco (Real Madrid) and Andres Iniesta (Barcelona) will be the leaders, and David de Gea (Manchester United) will be one of the best keepers in Russia. No early exit this time for Spain, and making the semifinals isn’t out of the question too.

The amount of talent and depth that France will have come next year is astounding, so much so that a theoretical ‘B’ team could be dangerous. The forwards of Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid) and Kylian Mbappe (PSG) are just some of the attacking talent at the side’s disposal, and each part of the field will be covered by very experienced players. A semifinal berth is the minimal expectation for the country.

Like France, the reigning World Cup champions Germany are loaded on talent and depth. Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich) will be back from injury, and Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich) and Timo Werner (RB Leipzig) will be looking to score loads of goals. The midfield is where the talent shines, with anyone from Mesut Ozil (Aresnal), Toni Kroos (Real Madrid) looking to shine. Germany have made the semifinals in the last three World Cup’s, so another berth in the final four shouldn’t be questioned.

MLS Playoff Recap (Leg 1 Conference Finals)

The final four in the MLS Playoffs squared off last week, so here are the recaps of the two matchups before the second legs take place this week.

Columbus Crew 0 – Toronto FC 0

More than two weeks after their last games, the Columbus Crew and Toronto FC took the field at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus for an Eastern Conference Finals showdown last Tuesday night, with both clubs failing to score leaving the match at a draw.

Both teams came in knowing that scoring early, and often would be key based on the last playoff round. Now the stakes are even higher with the second leg in Toronto on Tuesday being the decider.

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In Leg 1 of the Conference Semifinal round against New York City FC, the Crew were able to put up four goals, and had its fair share throughout the match, including a close effort by Artur in the 72nd minute. The Crew were unable to produce a result, with the team now looking to score an all-important away goal in Leg 2.

Without Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore in this game due to suspension, Toronto failed to register a shot on goal, while Columbus had a few good chances throughout — the best chance came in the 85th minute when Harrison Afful had his point-blank shot saved by Toronto keeper Alex Bono.

Bono was the center of attention again during the most controversial play early in the second half when the Crew’s Pedro Santos was seemingly tripped by the keeper while running on goal. Replay showed that Santos looked to be falling before coming into contact with Bono.

Next match: Wednesday, November 29 in Toronto (7:30pm)

Houston Dynamo 0 – Seattle Sounders 2

The champions of last season looked to be favorites to lift the trophy once again, and the Seattle Sounders went into Houston, and are coming home for Leg 2 after defeating the Dynamo 2-0 last Tuesday night at BBVA Compass Stadium.

Swedish international Gustav Svensson started the scoring early for Seattle, with an 11th minute goal coming off a Nicolas Lodeiro corner kick. The big turning point came less than 20 minutes later, as the referee awarded a penalty to the Sounders after Joevin Jones was brought down by Dynamo defender Jalil Anibaba resulting in a straight red card. However, Lodiero couldn’t find the net as keeper Joe Willis gave Houston a lifeline with a save.

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The red card hindered the Dynamo to advance in numbers in the event of a counterattack, even with the two-goal deficit brought upon them by the Sounders later in the game.

But, the two-goal lead would become reality as former Dynamo Will Bruin gave his new club more of a cushion, scoring just before halftime off a cross by teammate Jones.

A big storyline heading into the match was the amount of players that wouldn’t play for the Sounders. Both Osvaldo Alonso and Jordan Morris missing the game due to injury, and keeper Stefan Frei also had suffered an injury just before kickoff. Backup goalie Tyler Miller came in to deputize, and did his part to ensure the shutout, despite only a few shots on target from Houston.

Seattle won’t be going into Leg 2 without some lineup changes, as Morris is still unsure about his fitness, and starting defender Roman Torres will miss due to suspension.

Next Match: Thursday, November 30 in Seattle (10:30pm)

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.

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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.

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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)

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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)

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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.