Alberth Elis - Houston Dynamo - celebration
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It's Redemption or Repeat Heading into Conference Championships

This Week in MLS – November 6, 2017
  • And Then There Were Four: It’s Redemption or Repeat heading into Conference Championships
  • Fifteen MLS players continue to fight for World Cup berths during FIFA break
  • Nikolić, Kamara called into national team camps after more than a year away
  • Former MLS Coach of the Year Sarachan set for first USMNT camp, debut at Portugal
  • Quotables – Comments from World Cup playoff contenders
 
And Then There Were Four: It’s Redemption or Repeat heading into Conference Championships
With only four teams remaining in the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs, the first legs of Conference Championships series take center stage on Tuesday, November 21.
 
In the East, a surging Columbus Crew SC will face the highly touted Toronto FC as both clubs focus squarely on righting the wrongs of postseasons past. Columbus, which has so far outscored opponents 4-3 in playoff matchups, will seek redemption from a 2015 home MLS Cup loss to the Portland Timbers. In similar fashion, Toronto last season hosted Seattle Sounders FC at BMO Field, falling short of championship glory in a dramatic penalty kick shootout. Since both Eastern Conference clubs maintain the highest regular season points totals among remaining playoff teams, the winner of this two-legged series will once again host MLS Cup.
 
In the West, a tale of two turnarounds will be front and center when Houston Dynamo face Seattle Sounders FC. The Dynamo finished at the bottom of the Western Conference last season, but experienced a historic single-season turnaround to make the playoffs, while carrying the pride of a city still recovering from Hurricane Harvey. After Sounders FC’s midseason turnaround to make the 2016 playoffs, the reigning MLS Cup champions have been unrelenting in their continued quest for a repeat performance. 
 
 
Fifteen MLS players continue to fight for World Cup berths during FIFA break
The Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs have been whittled down to four clubs, and outside of league play, 15 MLS players are gearing up for another set of playoffs… to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. MLS represents seven countries prepping for their respective World Cup Playoffs and final stages of qualifying.
Honduras is filled to the brim with a lineup headlined by Western Conference Finalists the Houston Dynamo. Alberth Elis, Boniek Garcia and Romell Quioto, fresh off their conference semifinal series victory against the Portland Timbers, as well as FC Dallas defender Maynor Figueroa, hope to now push the CONCACAF region through their two-leg inter-confederation playoffs against Australia. Honduras hosts the first leg on Friday, Nov. 10 at San Pedro Sula and heads to Sydney for the second match on Wednesday, Nov. 15.
 
CONMEBOL’s Peru, led by Vancouver Whitecaps FC’s Yordy Reyna and Orlando City SC midfielder Yoshimar Yotun, travels to Wellington to face Oceania’s New Zealand on Saturday in the first leg of their playoff series. The All Whites feature five MLS players, including Whitecaps FC goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic who anchored the defense during both September qualifiers. The matchup, capped off by the Nov. 15 leg in Lima, will likely mean an MLS presence from one of these two nations in Russia.
 
In the UEFA playoffs, Seattle Sounders FC and Sweden midfielder Gustav Svensson – a key cog off the bench for Seattle during the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs – faces Italy on Friday, Nov. 10 and Monday, Nov. 13. Montreal Impact midfielder Blerim Džemaili will attempt to reach his third FIFA World Cup with Switzerland, but will need to get past Northern Ireland (games Thursday, Nov. 9 and Sunday, Nov. 12) to add to his 2006 and 2014 tournaments.
 
In addition to these 15 MLS players still vying for a spot in the World Cup, 20 MLS players have represented six FIFA World Cup-bound countries during qualifying, including CONCACAF’s Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama, UEFA’s Belgium and Spain, and CONMEBOL’s Uruguay.
 
FIFA World Cup Qualifying Schedule
(MLS-connected countries in bold)
Thursday, Nov. 9
Northern Ireland vs. Switzerland (UEFA playoffs)
 
Friday, Nov. 10
Honduras vs. Australia (inter-confederation playoffs)
Sweden vs. Italy (UEFA playoffs)
 
Saturday, Nov. 11
New Zealand vs. Peru (inter-confederation playoffs)
 
Sunday, Nov. 12
Switzerland vs. Northern Ireland (UEFA playoffs)
 
Monday, Nov. 13
Italy vs. Sweden (UEFA playoffs)
Senegal vs. Madagascar (CAF qualifying)
 
Tuesday, Nov. 14
Burkina Faso vs. Cape Verde (CAF qualifying)
 
Wednesday, Nov. 15
Australia vs. Honduras (inter-confederation playoffs)
Peru vs. New Zealand (inter-confederation playoffs)
 
 
Nikolić, Kamara called into national team camps after more than a year away
Dozens of MLS players will also be participating in international friendlies during the November FIFA window, highlighted by a pair of the top scorers in the league making a return to their respective national teams following a lengthy absence. Both Chicago Fire forward Nemanja Nikolić, the 2017 MLS Golden Boot winner, and Columbus Crew SC forward Ola Kamara were called to represent their respective national teams in friendlies after more than a year away from international play.
 
A finalist for both the Landon Donovan MLS MVP and MLS Newcomer of the Year Awards after scoring a league-leading 24 goals this season, Nikolić receives his first call to represent Hungary since October 2016. Nikolić is one of three MLS players to be called up by Hungary for the pair of friendlies, joining New England Revolution midfielder Krisztián Németh and D.C. United midfielder Zoltán Stieber.
 
Another player who used his stellar play in MLS to break his way back into his national team scene is Columbus Crew SC forward Ola Kamara. The 28-year-old finished this season fifth in the Golden Boot race with 18 goals and was one of two players to rank in the top five of goals scored each of the past two seasons, helping push Crew SC to the Eastern Conference Finals in the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs. Kamara receives his first call to represent Norway since September 2014.
 
Additional MLS players participating in November friendlies will be announced in the coming days.
A complete list of MLS players called up for international duty to date can be found here.
 
 
Former MLS Coach of the Year Sarachan set for first USMNT camp, debut at Portugal
Longtime MLS coach Dave Sarachan, who was named the U.S. Men’s National Team interim head coach in October, is set to lead the squad for an international friendly against Portugal on Tuesday, Nov. 14, in Leiria, Portugal.
 
This week’s camp will mark Sarachan’s return to the head coaching foray since a six-year run with the Chicago Fire. After serving as an assistant coach for USMNT that included a trek to the 2002 FIFA World Cup, Sarachan took over the Fire head coaching duties the following year. He debuted in tremendous fashion, winning the MLS Supporters’ Shield, earning a trip to MLS Cup, capturing the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and garnering 2013 MLS Coach of the Year honors. Sarachan’s tenure in Chicago featured an array of talent that included two-time MLS Defender of the Year and current Atlanta United technical director Carlos Bocanegra and current Houston Dynamo veteran DaMarcus Beasley.
 
Sarachan has been a part of five MLS Cup squads while serving as either an assistant or associate head coach for Bruce Arena. He helped D.C. United to two championships as an assistant coach and the LA Galaxy to three MLS crowns as an associate head coach.
 
The USA, which will announce its roster shortly, faces a Portugal side that features five players from its UEFA Euro 2016 championship squad, including longtime defender Pepe.
 
 
Quotables – Comments from World Cup playoff contenders
Soundbytes from players participating in World Cup playoff matches during the upcoming FIFA window can be found HERE. Below are highlights of the players’ comments.
 
Alberth Elis (Honduras) – Houston Dynamo forward
“My move to MLS has been very important. I’ve had continuity, played a lot of games and that has helped me raise my level of play. I think I’ve gotten better game by game. Now, I’ll go to my national team and look to continue to play at this level and with the same hopeful attitude we have here.” 
 
Blerim Džemaili (Switzerland) – Montreal Impact midfielder
“It’s a big honor because you play for your country, you play for your people, your family, for everything and I think that’s something big, I think it’s everybody’s dream, every football player’s dream, so I think it’s big honor.”
 
Yoshimar Yotún (Peru) – Orlando City SC midfielder
“Wow. I dream about this every day. I think it’s something that every player wants. Representing your country in a World Cup must be incredible, and I’m close to achieving that dream. We have two very important games coming up, and we’ll have to fight, but since this process started, our goal was always to qualify for the World Cup. And believe me, since this all started, I’ve dreamt about the World Cup. I wake up and think that we’re so close to going. I think we deserve it and it would be incredible.”
 
Kip Colvey (New Zealand) – San Jose Earthquakes defender
“It would mean the world, I have been thinking about it since I was a little kid. I think it’s everyone’s dream to play in the biggest stage of world football, it would mean a lot.”

 

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