Sunday, November 22, 2015

It Happened in America: Columbus keeps it clean against NYRB, Dallas gets away goal, but Portland bags three at home

Columbus Crew 2-0 New York Red Bulls
Nine seconds. That's all it took for Columbus to play a long ball off the opening kick of that fell to Kei Kamara, then find Justin Meram, then the back of the net. It was the fastest goal in MLS Cup Playoffs history, and it gave the Crew a start that was better than a dream.

New York had a strong response. Five minutes into the match Sacha Kljestan had a point blank shot go just after it was saved by Steve Clark. The end to end action in the first 20 minutes was very easy on the eye, to say the least. The Red Bulls had other chances besides the Kljestan near miss. Columbus took to their usual vicious counter attacking style that almost resulted in a second goal multiple times. Columbus and they're defense first attitude rode that 1-0 scoreline into halftime.
Columbus has history on their side heading into the second half. The Crew had been perfect in nine playoff matches where they led at halftime.

In the second half, the Crew was able to turn their counter attacks into some pretty dangerous possession. Any shots they allowed New York to take were harmless ones from distance. They played an effective game of keep away that lead to their second goal in the 85th minute. Substitute Cedrick Mabwati showed some fantastic footwork on his way through the Red Bull back line before getting a quality shot on Luis Robles. The rebound fell to a wide open Kei Kamara who was there for what might be the easiest goal he's ever scored.

That, as they say, would be that. Columbus takes a huge two goal lead and a clean sheet into the second leg next weekend in suburban New York. Not only do the Red Bulls need to penetrate a stout back line, but they need to do so at least twice without conceding to a dangerous counter attacking side that can turn around and score almost at will.

Catch next Sunday's second leg from Red Bull Arena at 7:30pm on FS1.

Portland Timbers 3-1 FC Dallas
The Timbers came close to getting almost as quick of a start at Columbus did. At the 30 seconds hath, Darlington Nagbe led a counter attack and latched a pass onto Lucas Melano, who has his shot stopped by Jesse Gonzalez. Portland was, by far, the superior side for the first half. They managed to hold 60% of the possession while out countering the high counter attacking FC Dallas. They got their goal off a corner taken by Nagbe that feel to an unmarked Liam Ridgewell for the tap in goal in the 23rd minute.

Neither side was interested in slowing down the frantic pace in the second half, especially Portland. After cries for a free kick j just outside the Dallas penalty area went unheard in the 54th minute, Dairon Asprilla created a turnover and ripped home a golazo into the upper corner of the goal to give the Timbers a huge two goal lead.

Dallas wasn't let down by the deficit. At the 61 minute mark, minutes after Liam Ridgewell was subbed off for Norberto Paparatto due to injury, FC Dallas got their away goal courtesy of David Texeira.

The match took on a more cautious tone after that goal. Portland was wary to send numbers forward out of fear of getting caught without proper defense against Dallas's high speed attackers. Alexei Lalas said it best when he pointed out that there was a level of contentment for both teams at 2-1. Portland was happy to take a lead into the second leg while Dallas was perfectly fine pocketing their away goal and fighting back on their home turf. After all, they came back from down 2-1 in the second leg against Seattle, why couldn't they do it again with Portland?

The Dallas plan went awry when Portland wasn't content with only two. On a corner at the 90 minute mark, Paparatto got the first touch with his head. That was spotted by Gonzalez, but the mad scramble that ensued resulted in Nat Borchers getting his boot to the ball over the line to give Portland a massive third goal before the second leg. That goal greatly changed the complexion of the tie. Instead of being in a virtual tie on their way to Dallas (who owns the best home record in MLS this year), the Timbers gained themselves a little cushion for leg number two. An away goal for them at any point in the match next Sunday probably seals a trip to the final.

Although they gave up three goals, FC Dallas's away goal means the result of second leg is far from predetermined. They will have an uphill climb, for sure, but a comeback is not out of reach. The second leg kicks off at 5pm Sunday on ESPN from Frisco, Texas.

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