Sunday, September 20, 2015

Sunday MLS: Red Bulls clinch playoffs, Union set Houston back

Portland Timbers 0-2 New York Red Bulls
The Timbers and their goal scoring issues welcomed in the Red Bulls and their second fewest goals conceded into Providence Park.

The Red Bulls controlled a great deal of the early play, but never had a real clear cut chance to score a goal. The Timbers were forced to use ineffective counter attacks throughout the first half hour. The best chance either team had came in the 29th minute when Diego Valeri got wide with space on a counter, but Luis Robles came up big with a leg save. After the clock struck 30, the Timbers began to settle into the game and hold on to more of the ball. They had weathered the initial Red Bull storm and were hopefully trying to gain some reward. A reward that never came.

The Red Bulls had the next best chance of the game at the 35 minute mark. Gonzalo Veron dispossessed Liam Ridgewell in the Portland end, leading to a quality shot that just drifted wide of the far post after beating Adam Kwarasey easily. That set the table for the Red Bulls taking the lead in the 44th minute. Felipe Martins, with acres of space, launched a perfectly placed shot into the top corner from about 30 yards out. The second goal came right before halftime from a Damien Perrinelle header.

Both Red Bulls goals were the results of some poor defending from Portland. On the first goal, Felipe had no pressure on him as he had all the time in the world to launch his shot. On the second goal, Perrinelle was hardly challenged as he rose to head the ball in. This game went from being a scoreless draw where the Timbers may have actually been the better team to the Red Bulls cruising into the break with a commanding lead. The entire swing took less than five minutes.

After nearly getting a third goal off a corner in the opening minute of the second half, New York curled back into a defensive shell. They clogged their own penalty area with nine players forcing Portland to take shots from distance, if they were even able to shoot. Will Johnson took a blast from outside the box that found nothing but the cross bar in the 52nd minute. Their other unbelievable chance came in the 82nd when Fanendo Adi connected his head to a corner and fired it down with pace, but somehow Robles was able to get his hands to it. Robles came up huge once again on a Diego Valeri free kick in the 87th minute. Valeri's original kick took a deflection, causing the New York keeper to adjust on the fly. Nat Borchers came flying in for the rebound, but Robles recovered in miraculous fashion to deny the bearded defender.

The Red Bulls become the first team to seal their birth in the MLS Cup playoffs for this year. Their next goal will be the realistic one of securing the top spot in the Eastern Conference. They currently stand a point ahead of the Columbus Crew with a game in hand.

Portland will continue with the frustration of being unable to score goals. It isn't like they haven't had any chances, either. Today they had numerous successive chances in the second half that ended in either miraculous saves or spectacular near misses. They are still in the playoffs by a point over San Jose, and they have the added virtue of an extra game left to play, but they will need to start turning near misses and great saves into routine goals if they want to stay in that position.

Philadelphia Union 2-0 Houston Dynamo
Houston strolled into PPL Park hoping to move a little close on the Portland timbers for that sixth and final Western playoff spot. You would think playing the Union would be a good way to gain three points for just about any Western Conference team, but things rarely go according to plan in MLS.

The Union got themselves off to a quick start. Tanquillo Barnetta put them in front with a nice move through the Houston defense in only the third minute. That would be it for the first half however. CJ Sapong would score his eighth of the year in the 63rd to double the Union lead. Even when ahead, when you would expecting the Union to defend their way to the final whistle, they were controlling a great deal of the ball and making Houston work for any attacking chances. That control allowed them to cruise to a seemingly easy two goal victory.

The Dynamo can probably kiss their playoff chances goodbye after this loss. they are seven points behind the Timbers after this loss with only five games left. They also have San Jose and Real Salt Lake between them and sixth place, so there will probably be just a little too much for them to overcome.

The Union have been virtually eliminated for a while now, although they have a slim chance to catch Montreal in sixth place. They are only three points behind the Impact. But Montreal has three games in hand over the, so it's probably a lost cause.

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