MLS News
FC Dallas vs. Vancouver Whitecaps: Keys to the Western Conference Knockout Round
MLS News
Tuesday, 28 October 2014 06:56

The MLS playoffs begin on Wednesday, with FC Dallas hosting the Vancouver Whitecaps in the Western Conference knockout round. The winner will face the Seattle Sounders in the conference semifinals.

Dallas and Vancouver split the season series. Each team earned a win, a draw and a loss in three matches. However, the Hoops have won all five games at Toyota Stadium against Vancouver since they entered the league.

That makes this matchup all the more intriguing. Here are the main storylines and keys to the game.

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MLS Player Power Rankings After Matches from October 24-26
MLS News
Tuesday, 28 October 2014 01:05

After eight months of play and plenty of terrific individual performances, the Major League Soccer regular season came to an end Sunday.

During the final set of regular-season games, some players gave voters for the Most Valuable Player award more to think about, while a few were sidelined with injuries. 

Others played a part in major goals that handed their respective teams the upper hand in regards to playoff qualification and seeding. 

Here's a look at the final regular-season edition of the MLS Player Power Rankings. 

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Chivas USA Contracts as MLS Announces Realignment, Los Angeles Market Strategy
MLS News
Monday, 27 October 2014 12:10

In a move everybody saw coming, MLS club Chivas USA will officially cease operations effective immediately, as the league will realign its current structure with plans to add a second team in Los Angeles in 2017.    

MLS commissioner Don Garber confirmed the news to Sports Illustrated's Brian Straus, while releasing a statement on the new franchise:

As part of our new strategy for Southern California—a major hotbed of soccer participation and fan support—we believe that engaging with a new ownership group which has the resources and local community ties, and a plan for a dedicated soccer-specific stadium, provides us with the best chance for success.

He also wrote a letter to the club's fans, via the MLS' official website:

Dear Chivas USA Supporters,

Later today, the League will announce a new strategy for the Los Angeles market. After conducting a comprehensive strategic review of the market and Chivas USA’s operations, we will announce that effective this afternoon, Chivas USA will cease operations. This was a very difficult decision. We want to thank you, the fans, for ten years of unconditional support. We are grateful for your commitment to the club and to the sport.

Chivas went through a multitude of issues in the front office and never managed to escape the shadow of its bigger brother, the LA Galaxy. And with the on-field product suffering in recent years, the league's vote in favor of the team folding was unanimous.

Plans regarding the new Los Angeles franchise will be made clearer Thursday, although several big names in sports are already known to be a part of the group that will control its operations, including Henry Nguyen and Vincent Tan.

As part of the realignment, Sporting Kansas City and the Houston Dynamo will move to the Western Conference, while Orlando City and New York City FC will make their debut in the Eastern Conference. Here's a glance at the new-look MLS:

Atlanta and the new Los Angeles franchise will join in 2017, bringing the total of clubs back to 22.

The biggest question now revolves around the future of the players still in the Chivas squad. As shared by Goal's Cristian Nyari, there are plenty of immediate contributors who suddenly find themselves out of a job:

As reported by Straus, the MLS will hold a dispersal draft in November, with details on how the process will work yet to be announced. The deadline for teams to exercise contract options falls on Dec. 1, and players without a guaranteed contract beyond this season could find themselves without a club.

Perhaps the biggest name is Erick Torres, the Mexican super-talent on loan from Guadalajara. The MLS has the right to purchase his contract, and following his excellent season for Chivas, the league is widely expected to do just that.

Chivas USA won the Western Conference regular-season title once during its existence, in 2007.

 

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5 Things We Learned from MLS Matches from October 24-26
MLS News
Monday, 27 October 2014 04:45

In the final weekend of the Major League Soccer season, there was still plenty to play for, highlighted by the Supporters' Shield race, one final playoff spot up for grabs in the West and the MLS single-season goal-scoring record on the line.

Catch up on all the action, and see all of the important goals in this week's edition of "Five Things We Learned from MLS."

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MLS Team of the Week for Matches from October 24-26
MLS News
Monday, 27 October 2014 00:42

The final week of the Major League Soccer regular season saw plenty of individuals step up to score in games with a ton of playoff implications. 

The two biggest goals were scored by Seattle and Vancouver, who earned the Supporters' Shield and final playoff spot in the Western Conference respectively. 

In the final match of the regular season, we saw one player's chase for history end in style.

Due to the amount of attacking stars from this weekend, we opted to go with a 4-3-3 to include as many forwards as possible. 

Here's a look at the final regular-season MLS Team of the Week. 

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MLS Cup Playoffs 2014: Dates, TV Schedule, Live Stream and Predictions
MLS News
Sunday, 26 October 2014 22:40

The MLS Cup playoffs are officially set. 

With the Seattle Sounders' capture of the Supporters Shield on Saturday, and the Columbus Crew avoiding the knockout round with a 2-1 win over Philadelphia on Sunday, we now know the path for each of the 10 playoff contenders. 

We enter the playoffs on some interesting comments from Seattle—and future Tottenham—right-back DeAndre Yedlin:

It's certainly a compelling debate, and supporters of Yedlin's argument will point to many of the top leagues around the world that determine their champion based on season-long results. 

No matter how you feel about the importance of the MLS Cup, though, one thing is certain: It's a month-long tournament featuring some of the best players in North America. There will be heaps of entertainment, excitement and stellar play. 

Let's take a look at what's in store. 

 

Schedule

Note: Schedule courtesy of MLSSoccer.com

 

Some may point to Yedlin's comments as a lack of motivation for Seattle, but recent history for Supporters Shield winners is perhaps the more concerning fact for the Sounders, as illustrated by ESPN Stats & Info:

Unfortunately for this Seattle native, there's a good chance that trend continues. 

While it's difficult to pick against a team with the unbelievable attacking power of Clint Dempsey and MVP candidate Obafemi Martins, along with Yedlin's electrifying runs down the sideline, a looming matchup against the Galaxy could prove difficult. 

Yes, the Sounders beat Bruce Arena's squad in the finale to capture the Supporters Shield. But remember, the Galaxy were far from full strength without Omar Gonzalez or Robbie Keane. 

Reuters Sport's Simon Evans put it simply:

With Keane at full strength, the Galaxy beat the Sounders, 3-0, in Seattle and drew them in Los Angeles after allowing a pair of late goals.

In fact, LA almost always gives Seattle trouble, losing just five times in 19 matches since the Sounders' move to MLS. As long as Keane, Landon Donovan and Gyasi Zardes are healthy, that will once again ring true in the Western Conference finals. 

On the other side of the playoffs, DC United's defense will be enough to get it through the East, but it won't stop the Galaxy from earning a third MLS Cup title in four years—a fine present for Donovan's MLS swan song. 

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Winners and Losers from MLS Matches from October 24-26
MLS News
Sunday, 26 October 2014 22:08

Major League Soccer saw an incredible end to its regular season, and there was plenty of drama over the final three days of play.

Seattle became the first team to bring some clarity to the playoff picture by winning the Supporters' Shield on Saturday afternoon, while a few other sides locked up postseason seeds with major wins. 

On the other end of the spectrum, a few sides were forced to suffer a rough end to their respective seasons.

Here's a look at the winners and losers from the final regular-season weekend in MLS. 

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Seattle's Sigi Schmid Throws Tactical Knockout Punch to Win Supporters' Shield
MLS News
Saturday, 25 October 2014 15:30

For the second consecutive match against the LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders manager Sigi Schmid played his tactics to perfection. 

Following a 2-2 draw at StubHub Center six days ago, all the Sounders needed was a draw at home in front of 57,673 boisterous fans at CenturyLink Field to clinch the Supporters' Shield. 

For the second game in a row, Schmid opted to take a more defensive approach to his starting 11 by aligning Brad Evans in front of DeAndre Yedlin on the right side. That move was made in order to shut down the attacking threat on the left wing put forth by the Galaxy.

The plan once again worked, as the Galaxy were held to three shots on target in a game where they held 59 percent of the possession, per MLSSoccer.com. 

Schmid let the game play out until the 73rd minute, when he opted to bring on Guatemalan winger Marco Pappa in favor of Evans. 

Six days after the same substitution produced two goals to earn a road draw, Pappa scored both goals in the 2-0 victory to hand Seattle its first Supporters' Shield in franchise history. Goal USA's Seth Vertelney gave an update on Seattle's history-making path: 

Once Pappa entered the match, the Galaxy had no answer for what the Sounders were throwing at them. Pappa benefited from a smart, quick free-kick taken by Obafemi Martins in the 85th minute. Then in the 90th minute, he slotted home the second strike after a defensive lapse by Galaxy 'keeper Jaime Penedo let Pappa walk in on goal. 

There is no debating how valuable a player such as Martins or Clint Dempsey is to the Sounders, but what some may not realize is that role players like Pappa are crucial to the team's success as well.

Schmid, whose side suffered embarrassment in the form of an early playoff exit in 2013, was fully aware of that, which is why he let Pappa stay on the bench until it was time to go in for the kill. 

By the time Pappa found his way onto the turf in Seattle, the match was on the verge of a full-blown fistfight between the enforcers on both sides of the ball. 

With things getting chippy, it was time for an attacking adjustment to be made in order to switch up the pace of the match. Bleacher Report UK highlighted a tense encounter between Los Angeles and Seattle:

Schmid did that nine minutes before LA manager Bruce Arena, whose side was playing without star forward Robbie Keane, and the Seattle boss reaped the rewards after the match.

Arena's first substitution in the 82nd minute saw Alan Gordon replace Baggio Husidic, but it was too little, too late for the Galaxy, who were in need of a win to clinch the top seed in the Western Conference and the Supporters' Shield. 

The wrong tactical change was also made by Arena during that switch, as he decided to move Gyasi Zardes out on the left wing instead of Landon Donovan. 

While Zardes may have more pace than Donovan at this point in the respective careers of the two players, Donovan is the more experienced player. It should have been Donovan who was playing out on the left wing during the final eight minutes tearing into the tired Seattle defense, but that was not to be. 

There can be an argument made that the Galaxy's attack wasn't as potent as usual due to the loss of Keane. Or you could point to the absence of the suspended Omar Gonzalez as to why the defense broke throughout the final minutes. 

Those arguments do have some merit, but when the all-time league leader in goals and assists is out on the pitch, excuses should not be made. The Galaxy also received one heck of a defensive effort from Leonardo, who was thought to be the weak link of the back four with Gonzalez out. 

Looking back at the match, it was not the individual performance of one particular player that defined the result, it was an astute managerial decision that did. 

With the Supporters' Shield now in the possession of his club, Schmid can now set his sights on winning the MLS Cup with the same superb tactics that took away the consistent scoring threat of the Galaxy in order to earn home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. 

 

Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.

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New York Red Bulls Help Fulfill the Dreams of 5-Year-Old Girl with Rare Disease
MLS News
Friday, 24 October 2014 10:51

MLS' New York Red Bulls made one of their classiest signings yet, and it helped fulfill the dreams of a five-year-old girl. 

Red Bulls brought on Irelyn Maloney on a one-day contract. Young Irelyn was born with Familial Mediterranean fever (FMF), which is a rare genetic disease that has prevented her from competing in sports. 

Irelyn always wanted to become a footballer, so the Red Bulls helped her make good on that with a contract. She even scored in training! 

She donned the No. 31 shirt of her favourite footballer, Luis Robles, and got her own locker. 

"If she could play soccer every day, and every minute of every day, she would," he mother, Shannon, told the Red Bulls' official website. "She wears her cleats to school, she wears her cleats to the food store and to the doctor's. She just absolutely adores it." 

She added that Irelyn's had 40 hospital stays and six surgeries in five years. 

In spite of this, prior to her visit with Red Bulls, she got to compete in an actual match. Earlier this month her sister's team held a special game that she competed in as part of the Twin County Soccer Association. 

[New York Red Bulls]

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Seattle's Attack Set to Thrive at Home with Galaxy's Omar Gonzalez Suspended
MLS News
Thursday, 23 October 2014 22:54

The entire dynamic of the season-ending home-and-home series between the Seattle Sounders and LA Galaxy changed in the 88th minute of Sunday's 2-2 draw at StubHub Center. 

Galaxy center-back Omar Gonzalez, who was already on a yellow card, picked up a second caution for his tackle on Seattle's Gonzalo Pineda. 

As Gonzalez walked into the tunnel, the hopes of LA returning from Seattle Saturday with the Supporters' Shield, and the top seed in the Western Conference playoffs, disappeared. 

Gonzalez, who spoke to LAGalaxy.com about the decision Wednesday, was not happy with the decision made by referee Ismail Elfath. 

I had a few days to think about it and look at the play again and from my standpoint, it wasn’t a yellow. I think that I went to the ground because I thought that I was going to the ball and I did get the ball first. He continued running and then tripped over me.

Since returning from the World Cup, Gonzalez has been in terrific form in the middle of a back four that has seen its share of injuries in 2014. 

Saturday afternoon's match at CenturyLink Field was supposed to be a great test for how the healthy back four of A.J. DeLaGarza, Dan Gargan, Robbie Rogers and Gonzalez would hold up in a testy road environment. 

Instead, the Galaxy will most likely use the unreliable Leonardo at center-back alongside DeLaGarza, which means Seattle should have a field day attacking on its home turf. 

Due to the defensive-minded lineup that Seattle manager Sigi Schmid trotted out Sunday, the Sounders only played with their best attacking lineup for 24 minutes. 

And what a 24-minute span that was, as the Sounders charged back to score twice in a three-minute span to make Saturday's match worth everything. 

Schmid aligned his starting 11 Sunday in a defensive fashion so that DeAndre Yedlin could receive help marking Landon Donovan from Brad Evans. 

The plan worked to near perfection, as the duo of Evans and Yedlin only committed one major mishap, which led to the Galaxy's first goal. 

Now that Seattle will be playing at home, expect Schmid to put his best attacking lineup on the pitch so the team can get off to a fast start. 

As we saw in the second half at StubHub Center, the Galaxy defense can't handle Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins, Lamar Neagle and Marco Pappa when all four are out on the pitch. 

Pappa and Neagle bring plenty of width to the Seattle attack, which can leave Gargan and Rogers isolated on the wings in defense.

When Martins holds possession in the middle of the field, like he did in the buildup to Seattle's equalizer, he draws more attention to himself, which allows a wide player like Neagle to prance into the box unmarked. 

With so much space in between the wingers and the penalty area when the ball is out on the wings, Martins and Dempsey are able to make runs to connect with passes from the wing players. The News-Tribune's Don Ruiz relayed Dempsey's comments:

Containing the runs from two of the top scorers in the league will be a difficult task for 90 minutes without Gonzalez in the middle to command the Galaxy back line. 

DeLaGarza is a respected defender in the league, but Leonardo has suffered through his share of struggles all season long. 

Add in the noise made by the 54,000-plus fans at CenturyLink Field, and you have a recipe for disaster at the back for Bruce Arena's side. 

Another motivating factor for the Seattle front line to pounce early at home will be the embarrassing defeat the Sounders suffered at the hands of the Galaxy back on July 28. 

In that game, the Galaxy attack tore apart Yedlin on the left wing and left with a 3-0 victory that will surely be in the minds of every Sounders player Saturday. 

In Yedlin's defense, that was his second league match after the World Cup and the whirlwind ride he experienced after Brazil due to his breakout performance for the United States. 

The young defender, who is headed for Tottenham once the season ends, showed plenty of poise against Donovan in the first round of this home-and-home series, which leads us to believe he will show no fear again, even if Evans is left out of the lineup in favor of Pappa. 

Lest we forget, Seattle has motivation to win everything in its path this season after the awful late-season collapse in 2013 that saw it fall to rival Portland in the Western Conference semifinals. 

The Sounders have already won the U.S. Open Cup in dramatic fashion in September with a 3-1 win over Philadelphia in extra time, and they could well be on their way to trophy No. 2 with Gonzalez out and the Supporters' Shield on the line. 

 

Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90. 

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