It was a big day for MLS’ big-market teams on Thursday night. And they used the same formula to achieve success: a first-half goal and tenacious team defense.
First, the New York Red Bulls sealed passage to the MLS Cup playoffs with a 1-0 win over the Philadelphia Union to claim the 10th and final playoff berth and a resulting wild card match next week. Dane Richards got the header on the lone goal, which took a fortuitous bounce off the goalkeeper’s back. Watch the full match highlights here. (VIDEO)
Jan Gunnar Solli, the man with the overlapping run and cross on the Red Bulls’ game-winner, has issued a warning to the rest of the MLS playoff field following the postseason-clinching victory: “I think there are a lot of teams out there that don’t want to see the Red Bulls in the playoffs.”
It will come as a surprise to many that NYRB manager Hans Backe actually used a video of highlights from throughout the season to motivate his players prior to the victory against Philly. It worked. “It definitely put a bounce in our step going out there,” says defender Tim Ream.
The Red Bulls’ Swedish manager believes that his team is hitting form just in time: “If you look at the last month, we’ve been on a nice run. ... It looks like we hopefully are closer to a peak when you go into the playoffs.”
As for Philly, manager Peter Nowak outlined what he believed to be the key difference in the match: “The experience of the other team was a crucial factor in the whole thing.” The loss means the Union need a lot of help to finish No. 1 in the East and they’ll go into the weekend hoping they don’t drop into the wild card batch.
Nowak also had some veiled criticism of the officials, who called back a goal scored by Sébastien Le Toux in the second half: “All I can say is that we live in a country where you can criticize everybody, including the President and the federal government. But you cannot criticize the referees, and this is a bad sign going into the playoffs. I think from the beginning, you can see what the mentality from the four officials was.”
Union defender Carlos Valdés isn’t convinced that Le Toux’s free kick goal should have been called off: “I need to see the replay. ... But in my eyes, we scored — it was a goal.”
It wasn’t just any goal that got LA into the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals on Thursday night. Juninho’s spectacular long-distance blast was enough for LA to beat Motagua in Honduras and finish in first place in Group A: “I know how to shoot, so I just took it. ... That's what I'm becoming known for, that characteristic.” His goal can be seen here. (VIDEO)
They were counting the jerseys handed out by David Beckham on the night and where they went. Two lucky fans left the stadium with a Beckham shirt, while another went to ex-MLS player Amado Guevara. (SPANISH)
The Galaxy next head to Houston for a very meaningful match on Sunday (7 p.m. ET, Galavisión), at least as far as the Houston Dynamo are concerned. Not only is it the last match at Robertson Stadium for Houston, but it could also be win No. 100 in MLS for manager Dominic Kinnear, who will join an elite list in case of a victory.
Just like the Red Bulls feel that it’s important to enter the playoffs on a roll, Seattle manager Sigi Schmid feels good about having Fredy Montero on his recent scoring hot streak: 11 goals in 11 games in all competitions. But it wasn’t always like that earlier this season and Schmid has a hunch why: “The cast probably threw off his equilibrium and his balance a little bit. He's the kind of player who's very technical and does rely on that balance.” The Sounders travel to face Chivas USA on Saturday (10:30 p.m. ET, MatchDay Live).
When it comes to player acquisitions in Vancouver, Whitecaps CEO Paul Barber reveals that it’s a “collaborative” effort at his club regarding players in which Martin Rennie has an interest. He explains the process in this lengthy Q&A.
Whitecaps goalkeeper Joe Cannon remembers being an MLS fan during the league’s inaugural season and recalls when one player jumped into his arms in the stands. That’s why it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he “got down on his knees, and bowed to them like Wayne's World's ‘We're not worthy!’ routine” after a recent win. They close out against the Colorado Rapids (7 p.m. ET, MatchDay Live).
Heading back to San Jose, Chris Wondolowski is shooting for his second straight Golden Boot vs. FC Dallas (10:30 p.m. ET, MatchDay Live) but the Bobby Convey situation has captured the headlines this morning. He claims that “there is no chance” he will be back with the Quakes next year after confessing he didn’t want to play at left back. The ex-USMNT player says manager Frank Yallop hasn’t spoken to him in weeks.
Manager Jason Kreis has his Real Salt Lake squad focused on their season finale against Portland with the goal of clinching that No. 3 seed in the playoffs (9 p.m. ET, MatchDay Live). He remembers what happened in last season’s final match: “It was an away game in Colorado and we played really, really poorly. When we play that way, we lose most of the time. We went into the playoffs with no confidence and no flow. I want this game to be extremely meaningful.”
As D.C. United get ready to host Sporting Kansas City on Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET), local media are highlighting the play of Perry Kitchen, who played at defensive midfield and exhibited different qualities than regular Clyde Simms, according to this writer.
As far as Sporting KC are concerned, C.J. Sapong’s qualities have earned him the Rookie of the Year award, according to Soccer America.
There will be new NASL championship trophy, which will be hoisted by either the Fort Lauderdale Strikers or the NSC Minnesota Stars, who face each other in the final.
On the international stage, USA Today’s Michael Hiestand reports that FIFA on Thursday asked ESPN, NBC and Fox to submit second bids for the World Cup rights in 2018 and 2022 and a final decision could come as early as today.
The future of Juventus great Alessandro Del Piero, who will be closing a storied career with Juventus next summer, is now the subject of wagers as determined by the bookmakers. The most popular scenario thus far is a move to MLS. (PORTUGUESE).
In addition to college soccer featured on ESPNU (5:30 p.m. ET) and Fox Soccer (7 p.m. ET), there’s Friday Bundesliga action with Augsburg welcoming Werder Bremen on ESPN Deportes (2:30 p.m. ET).
Finally, here’s one of the rare red cards you’ll see coming from Europa League action yesterday. How exactly does a player’s boot end up flying near the face of an assistant referee? (VIDEO)
Timbers owner Merritt Paulson and NY’s Jan Gunnar Solli talk playoffs on ExtraTime Radio
Houston Dynamo share best memories of Robertson Stadium
MLS Cup Top 50 Moments: The PK that D.C. United still feel should have been awarded in 1998
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