Postseason soccer hits the Big Apple in decisive leg of MLS Cup Playoff Conference Semifinals
Soccer fever is hitting New York this week. After a scintillating first leg of Conference Semifinal action, the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs continue with four pivotal matchups on Sunday highlighted by a pair of contests in the Big Apple. With all four home teams winning in the first leg, home-field advantage will be all the more important as Colorado Rapids, FC Dallas, New York City FC and New York Red Bulls get their chance to host the second and final leg of the series.
Looking at recent history in the 2015 MLS Cup Conference Semifinals, the higher-seeded team trailed following the first leg in three of the four matchups, with all four home teams pulling out victories to advance to the Conference Championship. A thrilling slate of action is in store on Sunday as any of the four matchups could swing either way as teams battle to keep their title dreams alive.
New York City FC seeks its high octane offense for inaugural home playoff game
In need of a victory, New York City FC hopes the beginner’s luck continues when hosting its franchise first playoff home match on Sunday at Yankee Stadium vs. Toronto FC (6:30 p.m. ET, FS1/FOX Deportes/TSN). After falling behind 2-0 in the first leg, NYCFC will try to become only the third team ever, and first since 2004, to come back from a two-plus goal deficit and win a playoff series. Goals can be expected with NYCFC scoring a league-best 62 goals this season, while conceding 57, tops among all teams qualifying for MLS Cup Playoffs this season. With the two-goal deficit in mind, New York City FC has recorded seven victories of two-plus goals this season, including three of its final four regular season matches. MVP candidate David Villa will look to continue his tremendous form at Yankee Stadium after finishing with five goals and three assists over the team’s final five home matches this season.
But it’s never easy when MVP candidate and reigning Landon Donovan MLS MVP Sebastian Giovinco suits up opposite. The Italian international led the league in combined goals and assists for a second consecutive season and already has one goal and one assist in two postseason matches this year. Also a constant threat on the pitch is U.S. Men’s National Team striker Jozy Altidore, who has two goals and an assist in playoff action, continuing his epic run of 12 goals and four assists in his last 16 appearances across all competition. With everything clicking, Toronto FC will be motivated more than ever to continue its playoff run, as the club looks to make the Conference Championship for the first time in club history.
In the teams’ only encounter at Yankee Stadium this season, a 2-2 draw on March 13, Villa finished the game with a brace while Giovinco tallied a goal and an assist.
With a shared past and win in hand, Montreal head to NYRB for fiery showdown on ESPN
The second leg of the semifinal matchup between New York Red Bulls and Montreal Impact is guaranteed to set off fireworks as the two clubs face off at Red Bull Arena on Sunday at 4 p.m. ET (ESPN, ESPN Deportes, TSN, RDN). With both head coaches once sharing the same team bench, it will be more than just playoff stakes on the line. Tabbed to lead the Impact in its inaugural MLS season in 2012, current New York Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch helped create the foundation Montreal has continued to build on, which included working alongside former assistant and now head coach Mauro Biello, and the acquisitions of current Impact players Patrice Bernier, Callum Mallace, Evan Bush and Hassoun Camara. But after a surprising exit after just one season with the Impact, Marsch has reinvigorated his coaching career with the Red Bulls, leading the team to two consecutive first-place finishes in the Eastern Conference. Marsch has also brought Montreal flair to the Red Bulls squad, adding former Impact players Felipe and Karl Ouimette.
With emotions set to run high, the Impact head to NY confident after securing a 1-0 win at home behind a golazo from Italian postseason hero Matteo Mancosu, who has three goals and one assist in just two playoff matches for Montreal. The midseason addition has added incredible attacking depth to a dangerous Impact side that already features the likes of Argentine maestro Ignacio Piatti and striker Didier Drogba.
Although Montreal claims an advantage, the Red Bulls will make sure Red Bull Arena is as inhospitable as possible on Sunday where it is 2-0 vs. Montreal this season and where it recorded a league best 13 home wins. Led by Golden Boot winner Bradley Wright-Phillips and league-assist leader Sacha Kljestan, the Red Bulls are no stranger to comeback victories, recording four this season all at Red Bull Arena, including a 3-1 victory over the Impact on August 13.
Colorado Rapids banking on continued stellar home form in face of streaking LA Galaxy on ESPN
While Colorado’s 1-0 loss at LA Galaxy was not an ideal outcome, the Rapids appear as likely as any team to climb out of its first leg deficit when returning home for the second leg on Sunday at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, where it finished the season undefeated, just the fifth team in MLS history to accomplish the feat (2 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN Deportes/TSN).
Colorado amassed 11 home victories in the regular season (11-0-6 home record), seven of which were shutouts, as the team set an all-time league record for the lowest goals-against average at home in a season (0.41 goals allowed per game). The team’s stingy defense that allowed a mere seven home goals all season is led by goalkeeper Tim Howard, a favorite of newly minted soccer fanatic and comedian Leslie Jones.
Howard made three tremendous saves on Sunday to keep his team alive and is making a strong pitch to coach Jurgen Klinsmann for the starting goalkeeper spot in the U.S. Men’s National Team’s first hexagonal matchup against rival Mexico on November 11 in Columbus. Likely to suit up for Mexico opposite Howard in the international contest is LA Galaxy forward Giovani dos Santos, who scored the game-winner on Sunday and giving him one goal and two assists in three career MLS postseason matches. Despite holding the upper hand entering the contest, the Galaxy will need another dose of dos Santos magic in Sunday’s second leg, previously losing its only match of the season at Colorado 1-0 on March 12.
FC Dallas needs to make history vs. Seattle Sounders FC in order to continue elusive treble hunt on FS1
While FC Dallas’ bid for a historic treble took a major hit in the first leg of the Western Conference semifinals with a 3-0 loss at Seattle Sounders FC the squad has continuously proven its mettle at home with an impressive 12-1-4 record this season and will need more of the same for Sunday’s second leg at Toyota Stadium (9 p.m. ET, FS1/FOX Deportes/TSN). No MLS team has ever completed a comeback from a three-plus goal deficit after the first leg of a playoff series, but Dallas is no ordinary squad, becoming the first club in league history to record consecutive 60-plus point seasons. It’s been a tale of two seasons for Dallas and Seattle depending on the host, with Sounders FC winning 5-0 at CenturyLink field on July 13 in addition to Sunday’s first leg victory, while Dallas has compiled a pair of home victories this season — a 2-0 result on May 14 and a 2-1 win on October 16.
Seattle will look to continue its own impressive comeback story on Sunday, now boasting an in-form attacking unit led by Rookie of the Year candidate and U.S. Men’s National Team forward Jordan Morris, whose 12 goals this season were tops ever for an American rookie in MLS. Joining Morris with a strong run of form is Designated Player and two-time World Cup participant Nelson Valdez. Mired in a season-long scoring drought entering the postseason, Valdez has played hero for Sounders FC with two goals, including the game winner in the Knockout Round. Nicolas Lodeiro, meanwhile, continues to produce at a phenomenal pace for Seattle with two goals in the first leg of the Western Conference semifinals and now has six goals and eight assists across all competitions since joining the team this summer.
2016 MLS Cup host scenarios begin to unfold
After the results of the first legs of the conference semifinals, possibilities have increased an Eastern Conference club could play host to MLS Cup 2016.
Of the eight clubs still alive in the MLS Cup Playoffs, only the Montreal Impact cannot host MLS Cup. But the other three Eastern Conference clubs — New York Red Bulls, New York City FC and Toronto FC — would all host the league’s championship match were they to win the Eastern Conference Championship, if the LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders FC maintain their leads following their victories in last weekend’s conference semifinal first legs.
MLS Cup 2016 will be played at the host venue of the finalist with the most regular season points. The top two clubs in points following the regular season — FC Dallas and the Colorado Rapids — both have deficits to overcome if they are to reach the Western Conference Championship. The next three clubs in points were the top three teams in the Eastern Conference.