Friday, October 30, 2015

It Happened in America: Montreal rolls Toronto, Portland beats SKC in instant classic

Montreal Impact 3-0 Toronto FC
After yesterday's excitement, tonight started off with a thorough Montreal beatdown of Toronto.

The Impact opened this one with three first half goals, and Didier Drogba only had one of them. Patrice Bernier got the party started in the 18th minute by finishing off a slick counter attack through some questionable Red defensing.. Then Ignacio Piatti carried it on in the 33rd by creating a turnover in the Toronto penalty area and finishing the goal himself.. Drogba finally contributed in the 38th by drilling home a gorgeous cross from Bernier. At halftime, it looked like Toronto's first ever playoff appearance would be very short lived

And very short lived they were. Montreal had nothing to do in the second half but defend their way to a simple 3-0 victory.

Toronto's defending was shady all night long. Their sloppy all night long. They never gave their threatening attacking trio of Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore any chance to create anything. By the time they were able to gain possession for extended periods, they were already down big and Montreal had their defensive shell firmly in place,

I really like this Montreal team going forward. Since Drogba made his debut on August 22, Montreal are 9-3-2 as they steamrolled their way into third place in the East. I love the matchup they have against the Columbus Crew over the next two weeks. While I think nobody can defeat the Red Bulls, Montreal is certainly the team with the best chance in the Eastern Conference.

Thanks to the emphatic Impact victory, the Red Bulls will travel to DC for the first leg against United on Sunday.

Portland Timbers 2-2 Sporting Kansas City (7-6 in penalties)
Well, they say save the best for last, and that's exactly what happened in the knockout round. A match that not only required extra time, but 11 rounds of penalties served as a wonderful dessert to this opening meal in the MLS Cup Playoffs.

The first half of this one looked a lot like the other three Kansas City-Portland throwdowns throughout this season. The Timbers were on the attack as the game began and actually came within inches of taking the lead in the fifth minute. Only the timely foot of Paulo nagamura on the goal line kept the game scoreless. Once Kansas City weathered the initial assault, the game morphed into the tight, chippy contest we were expecting. There weren't any true scoring chances, just solid defense and some fouls followed by some chirping between the two sides. At the halftime whistle, these two sides had played 315 minutes this season with only one goal between them.

Kansas City came out firing as the second half kicked off. Their best chance came off a Portland turnover in their own end that resulted in Dom Dwyer missing the upper corner of the net by mere inches. Despite the early pressure, it was Portland breaking the deadlock. Sporting failed to clear a corner and it resulted in Rodney Wallace breaking the Timbers' 327 minute scoreless streak against them in the 57th minute with a wonderful sliding shot through plenty of defensive traffic, 

Kansas City took a bit of a hit in the 83rd minute. Earlier in the match, goalkeeper Tim Melia took a boot to the face courtesy of Rodney Wallace. Wallace was cautioned for his hustle, but Melia was clearly shaken up. After having a rather heated talk with the trainer (likely over the results of the quick on field concussion tests), Melia remained in the game. About ten minutes later, clearly feeling the effects of the hit, he pulled himself from the match. Jon Kempin took over for him in the Sporting goal.

SKC must have used the departure of their keeper for motivation, as the found an equalizer in the 87th minute. Graham Zusi swung a cross in that found the head of Kevin Ellis just outside the six yard box for the tying goal. Extra time now loomed, as it probably had all game long, and as the final whistle of regulation went, the scores remained level.

In the sixth minute of extra time, Krisztian Nemeth used some fancy footwork to evade the Portland back line and roof a shot that left Adam Kwarasey helpless. Sporting Kansas City had their well deserved 2-1 lead. They would take that lead into the end of the first extra half, although Portland was able to get a couple half chances at a tying goal.

In the second portion of extra time, Kansas City used an effective game plan of keep away and time wasting to neuter any Timbers attack. When Portland did manage to gain control of the ball, they wasted their possession by forcing too many passes through the middle of the pitch instead of being patient and playing a wide attack. Despite these failures early on, a laser of a cross from Dairon Asprilla was met with a laser of a shot into a gaping goal by Maxi Urruti for the 117th minute equalizer. Penalties were now on the horizon, as they probably had been all along.

There was no more fitting way for this classic to end. Wouldn't you know it that five penalties was not enough. After the initial kicks, the scores were tied at three to send us to sudden death. Jorge Villafana sent his attempt straight into Kempin in goal, meaning Kevin Ellis could score to win. His shot was hammered into the left post. Dairon Asprilla strolled to the spot in round seven and confidently buried one, but Soni Mustivar followed suit. Darlington Nagbe tucked his round eight attempt inside the post to set up Jacob Peterson with a do or die moment where he kept his cool to score. Onward to the ninth shooter, where it was Jon Kempin stepping up and stoning Alvas Powell. Saad Abdul-Salaam came inches away from winning it. His shot looked to be cruising inside the left post, but instead clanged off it and across the goal mouth into the other post and harmlessly away. In the final shot before the goalkeepers took the spot, George Fochive scored for the Timbers. Amadou Dia scored down the middle to allow the goalkeepers the chance to go against each other. Adam Kwarasey, looking like a striker, nailed his attempt, then turned around and robbing his goalkeeping counterpart of the chance to keep the shootout going.

This was a playoff classic that kept everyone on the edge of their seat from start to finish. A pair of second half goals to send it to extra time, two extra time goals to bring on penalties, and every last man on the pitch being called upon to shoot for their club in a shootout that will be remembered for ages.

Portland survives this one to take on their Cascadia rivals, Vancouver Whitecaps, in the Western Conference Semi-Finals beginning on Sunday. That means Seattle will welcome FC Dallas to CenturyLink Field for the first of their two legs on the same day.

Here are all of your Conference Semi-Final matchups, all two-legged affairs beginning Sunday:
New York Red Bulls vs. DC United - 3pm - ESPN
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Portland Timbers - 5pm - ESPN
Columbus Crew vs. Montreal Impact - 7pm - FS1
FC Dallas vs. Seattle Sounders - 9:30pm - FS1

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