Monday, November 9, 2015

It Happened in America: Dallas through on penalties, Crew come back late over Montreal

New York Red Bulls 1-0 DC United (2-0 aggregate)
Red Bulls did not have to do much to win this game. They had their away goal and clean sheet from the first leg, all they needed to do was not royally mess things up and they would be through to the Eastern Conference Final. For the first half they were quite successful. They may not have scored, but they kept United off the board and continued their strong defensive efforts by not allowing a shot on goal.

That isn't to say that DC United had been totally pacified. They were able to break forward a couple of times leading to some moderate chances, but nothing that made you wonder why they didn't score. The same could be said for the Red Bulls. Other than an early free kick from Mike Grella, they never truly threatened to score either. What they did do best, however, was hang onto the ball. They held 68% of the ball, which went a long way towards keeping DC scoreless.

As the second half wore on, New York had less and less motivation to press forward. They kept nine men behind the ball in order to prevent United from concocting a late equalizer. In second half stoppage time, they took advantage of DC throwing numbers forward and managed to get Bradley Wright-Phillips to get past the back line and tap the winner into a wide open net.

New York advances to play the Crew in the Conference Final beginning on Sunday, November 22 in Columbus.

Columbus Crew 3-1 Montreal Impact (4-3 aggregate)
Columbus was a little behind the eight ball after Montreal's win in the first let, so a lightning fast start would have been nice, Kei Kamara headed home cross in the fourth minute to give them that quick opening. Kamara came inches away from another headed goal in the 12th minute. Only the crossbar got in the way of his thunderous effort.

After trying to find their footing for a great deal of the rest of the first half, Montreal started making an impact as the 40 minute mark approached. Dilly Duka found the equalizer in the 40th minute when he found the ball in a scramble at the edge of the six yard box. He was offside on the play, but the referee's assistant did not raise the flag and the goal stood.

Montreal looked like they would let that goal stand as the one to put them through to the Conference Final. This was especially true after Evan Bush saved an Ethan Finlay penalty in the 67th minute. Turns out Finlay had other plans. In the 77th minute, he levelled the aggregate score by latching onto a loose ball and finding the open net.

This set up extra time where none other than Kei Kamara played the hero for Columbus. His 111th minute back post header sent the Crew into an Eastern Conference Final date with New York Red Bulls.

FC Dallas 2-1 Seattle Sounders (3-3 aggregate) (4-2 in penalties)
It looked like Seattle's stout defense would hold out long enough to earn the scoreless draw that would get them into the Western Conference Final until the most bonkers final ten minutes you will see anywhere. It began in the 84th minute when Tesho Akindele banged home a cross from Je-Vaughn Watson. That was enough to send Toyota Stadium into a frenzy, but Seattle was able to squash that before the smoke cleared.

Chad Marshall got his head to a corner in the final minute before stoppage time, leaving Dallas with five stoppage time minutes to find another goal to send this into extra time. They did jsut that seconds after the Marshall goal. Walker Zimmerman banged home a Blas Perez cross to rile up the home fans once again.

Extra time began with the same fury the second half ended with, only without the goals. Dallas was on the front foot and had several great chances right from the kickoff. Tesho Akindele had the best chance of extra time when he bolted down the end line and took a close range shot that Stefan Frei got a hand to. Clint Dempsey almost drew a penalty in the dying minutes, but he went to ground theatrically enough for the referee to waive away his protests.

Penalties were next. Jesse Gonzalez made two huge saves on Andreas Ivanschitz and Chad Barrett. Ryan Hollingshead buried the winner in the fourth round as Dallas never missed in the shootout.

Seattle crashes out of the playoffs once again, this time after the Conference Semi-Finals. FC Dallas moves on to the Western Conference Finals and will play the Timbers in Portland for the first leg in two weeks.

Vancouver Whitecaps 0-2 Portland Timbers (0-2 aggregate)
The Timbers travelled into Canada knowing a non-scoreless draw was all they needed in order to advance to the Western Conference Final. AFter an eventful first half, they had their huge away goal. Vancouver took a bit of a hit in their attacking game, too. In the 25th minute, Kekuta Manneh had to be subbed out with an ankle injury. He already had a couple of nice scoring chances in the match, including one that hit the pots, glanced off Adam Kwarasey, and barely out for a corner kick. Mauro Rosales was his replacement.

Portland's first half goal came courtesy of Fanendo Adi in the 31st minute. Diego Valeri got himself free along the endline following a throw and was able to pick out the darting Adi. The Nigerian blasted his shot into the roof of the net to give the Timbers what was essentially a two goal lead. Extra time was now impossible as Portland was able to break any tied score with their crucial away goal.

One would think defending would be the Portland plan heading into the second frame, but they instead transformed themselves into a possession based, short triangle passing team. It was something you would expect to see out of an Arsenal team when they are up a goal on Watford, or something. The Whitecaps showed little desire to advance as Portland toyed with them throughout the second 45 minutes.

When Vancouver did finally start throwing men forward, they never could put together a cohesive attack. In stoppage time, Adi and Diego Chara ran a counter attack that resulted in the second Portland goal that put this one far out of Vancouver's reach.

The Timbers advance to the Western Conference Final for the second time in three years. In 2013, they fell to Real Salt Lake 5-2 over the two legs. Now they try their hand against the FC Dallas, the top seed in the West.

Conference Final Schedule
First Leg - Sunday, November 22
Columbus Crew vs. New York Red Bulls - Kickoff TBA - FS1
Portland Timbers vs. FC Dallas - Kickoff TBA - ESPN

Second Leg -Sunday, November 29
New York Red Bulls vs. Columbus Crew  - Kickoff TBA - FS1
FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers - Kickoff TBA - ESPN

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