Here are the top 15 soccer stories we’re following today...
1. PORTLAND POWER THROUGH
It may have gotten a little nervy at the end, but the Portland Timbers defeated the Seattle Sounders 3-2 on Thursday night (watch highlights here) to come away with a 5-3 aggregate win and put them in their first Western Conference Championship. The Timbers were two goals up in the first half in what Darlington Nagbe called "probably the best 45 all season." It was a sentiment echoed by Caleb Porter, albeit with a note of caution. While the Timbers enjoyed knocking off their rivals for their fans, they now switch their focus to the next hurdle, another series against Real Salt Lake. What did the Armchair Analyst make of Portland’s performance?
2. RSL TOPPLE CHAMPIONS
Real Salt Lake were finally able to banish their demons and win a crucial cup game at home. Trailing by a goal heading into Thursdays second leg, Sebastian Velasquez scored in the first half to take the game to extra time before Chris Schuler scored the eventual winner to make it 2-0 on the night (watch highlights here) and 2-1 on aggregate. Jason Kreis was full of praise for his team's performance, while Velasquez definitely picked the perfect time to score his first-ever MLS goal. For the LA Galaxy, their defensive struggles when dealing with set pieces came back to haunt them at the worst possible moment. What three things did the Armchair Analyst take away from RSL’s victory?
3. TAKE A BREAK
With the conference championships now set, it’s important that all teams be able to field their strongest lineup possible. For that reason, MLS has scheduled its playoff calendar around the FIFA international window. US national team boss Jurgen Klinsmann has said he will call up playoff participants and the break is already proving to be beneficial to at least one team, as the Houston Dynamo’s Boniek Garcia has been called up by Honduras. The Honduras squad also includes three other MLS stars whose seasons have already finished. If you’ve got any questions you want to ask Garcia, you can take part in FutbolMLS.com’s first ever Google+ Hangout.
4. GLASS HALF-FULL OR HALF-EMPTY FOR RED BULLS?
With the disappointment of their playoff exit still so fresh, it’ll be hard for New York players and fans to look at the positives. But was this season really a failure? After all, the club still landed its first trophy. Meanwhile, the New York Post tries to get to the bottom of conflicting reports about Mike Petke’s new contract.
5. START THEM YOUNG
Clint Dempsey’s season is over. While it’s fair to say he hasn’t quite gelled with his new Seattle team just yet, he is still one of the most technically gifted players the US has ever produced. However, could Dempsey have been even better if he’d been discovered sooner? That’s the opinion of Thomas Rongen, the man who first found him and now works as Toronto FC Academy director.
6. BACKING BERHALTER
Now that the new Columbus Crew coach is in place, what comes next for the club? Gregg Berhalter says he already sees things he can build the team around. Whatever they may be, the LA Galaxy staff, with whom Berhalter has previously worked, have no doubt the new boss will be a success.
7. PAREJA GOING NOWHERE
It looks like Oscar Pareja will remain head coach of the Colorado Rapids. It emerged on Thursday that club president Tim Hinchey had already denied a request from another team to speak to Pareja about a vacant position and was prepared to do so again. “I don’t care who else calls, I’m going to turn them down, too.” Is Pareja OK with this? According to Hinchey, “Our coach wants to stay here. He’s told me so.”
8. MONTREAL MOTIVATION
With the news that Montreal will be taking some extra time to assess their coaching position, it leaves Marco Schällibaum in a strange kind of limbo. However, Schällibaum himself seems quite understanding when it comes to the position he finds himself in: "When you have a season that starts well and finishes as poorly as our did, there are questions that arise."
9. TALENT TUG OF WAR
They may not be household names but Dani Cuevas and Benji Joya were shaping up to be two of the hottest offseason prospects for a number of MLS clubs. However, it seems it’s not just teams north of the border that have made inquiries about the former US U-20 internationals and now interest is apparently stirring southwards as well.
10. MATTOCKS APOLOGIZES
After causing a few raised eyebrows with his comments on Jamaican TV, Darren Mattocks has apologized to anyone he may have offended. The Whitecaps may still want him back, but others aren't so convinced by his mea culpa. Does the Jamaican international need some tough love at this point?
11. COACHING THE KIDS
If the Vancouver Whitecaps really plan on putting an emphasis on developing their young players, then they could probably do a lot worse than turning to current US Under-17 national team coach Richie Williams, a man who has worked alongside Jurgen Klinsmann, Caleb Porter and Tab Ramos, to bring on the next generation. According to reports, Williams interviewed for the vacant head coach position on Thursday.
12. MUCH ADU ABOUT NOTHING
It seems that Freddy Adu is, once again, looking for a new club. A report from Brazilian outlet Lance on Thursday stated that Bahia will not be offering Adu a new deal when his current one expires next month, citing “technical deficiency” as one of the main reasons. Adu has played just 155 minutes across all competitions for the Brazilian club.
13. BEING FLEXIBLE
With the league's current TV deals expiring after the 2014 season, both ESPN and NBC, MLS’ current partners, have said they want to continue their relationships. They have some ideas on how to improve ratings as well, including considering flex-scheduling as one option. Philly.com also caught up with veteran broadcaster Arlo White to discuss some of the differences between American and English broadcasts as well as what it was like having Tim Howard in the broadcasting booth.
14. FIRED UP FOR TITLE CHALLENGE
While the Chicago Fire’s season may be over, there is one Fire player still in action. Not only that but 19-year-old Kellen Gulley has a chance to win silverware on Saturday when the Atlanta Silverbacks take on the New York Cosmos in the NASL Soccer Bowl. Gulley hopes his experiences this year, hopefully ending in a title, can help him win a place in the Fire’s squad. Watching Gulley in action could be one of the many things new Chicago boss Frank Yallop says he needs to do this offseason.
15. RESPECT THE STACHE
We all know that Zlatan Ibrahimovic isn’t afraid to call people out on things he takes issue with. However, maybe he should have thought twice before commenting on Sacha Kljestan's mustache. If Kljestan's quick response hadn’t been enough, he could always just ring Oguchi Onyewu.