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Giovinco, Altidore return for Leg 2 as Toronto battles Columbus

This Week in MLS – November 28, 2017
  • Giovinco, Altidore return for Leg 2 as Toronto battles Columbus in Eastern Conference Championship
  • Dynamo set sights on greatest comeback in postseason history
  • Record number of MLS participants await World Cup fates
  • Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs – Conference Championship game notes
Giovinco, Altidore return for Leg 2 as Toronto battles Columbus in Eastern Conference Championship
Toronto FC’s one-two scoring punch returns when the Reds host Columbus Crew SC in the crucial second leg of the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs’ Eastern Conference Championship on Wednesday at BMO Field (7:30 p.m. ET / FS1, TSN1/4/5, TVA Sports). Crew SC and Toronto played to a scoreless draw in the opening leg and now square off for the right to host 2017 MLS Cup on Dec. 9.
For Toronto, the host side receives a scoring boost with Sebastian Giovinco (yellow card accumulation) and Jozy Altidore (red card in Eastern Conference Semifinal) returning from suspension. Giovinco and Altidore combined for 42 percent of TFC’s goal scoring (31 of 74 goals) during a record-breaking 69-point campaign in the regular season. Columbus shut down the league’s top offense last Tuesday at MAPFRE Stadium, posting its second clean sheet of the MLS Cup Playoffs. Crew SC rookie goalkeeper Zack Steffen’s 0.69 goals-against average currently ranks fourth-lowest all-time in the MLS Cup Playoffs among goalkeepers who have played at least 300 postseason minutes.
The Eastern Conference Championship series winner returns to MLS Cup, where Toronto was the runner-up to Seattle Sounders FC in 2016 and Columbus was the runner-up to the Portland Timbers in 2015.
Toronto FC head coach Greg Vanney:
On the returns of Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore from suspension:
“With the additions of Jozy and Seba back, that’s going to pull the game forward a little bit more for us and give us two very different targets up at the top. The game will have a different view no matter what [compared to the opening leg]. When you add two guys like that back to the game, it’s going to have a different feel to it. … We’re going to play to move the game forward and to go after their goal.”
Columbus Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter:
On the ‘team of destiny’ rhetoric:
“People forget that we went 12 games unbeaten. We hadn’t lost a game since Aug. 5. We went three months without losing a game. I didn’t hear a lot of ‘destiny’ talk back in September. We’ve been plugging away. We’re a good team. We keep our heads down and we keep working. We want to play our game. It’s a really simple formula. … We want to host MLS Cup in front of our fans and we want to give them a great game – no better game than the MLS Cup. But we have to go out and do it.”
MLS Eastern Conference Championship Soundbytes:
Dynamo set sights on greatest comeback in postseason history
If any club can pull off one of the most unimaginable feats in MLS history, it’s likely going to be the Houston Dynamo on Thursday night at CenturyLink Field in Seattle (10:30 ET, ESPN/ESPN Deportes/TSN1/ TVAS2).
After finishing at the bottom of Western Conference last season, the Dynamo’s remarkable ride through the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs has already been one of incredible resilience. Their scoreless first leg in the Western Conference Semifinals was quickly erased by a two-goal outing in the Dynamo’s Leg 2 victory on the road at Portland.  
With an uphill climb following a 2-0 loss to Sounders FC in Leg 1 of the Western Conference Championship, Houston is carrying the inspiration of its home city, which is still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey – not to mention a hunger to find the back of the net in Seattle for the first time since 2011. Thursday’s showdown will be no easy task as Houston prepares to become the first team to recover from a two-goal deficit to win a conference championship series. However, if the semifinals are any indication of what’s in store, the Dynamo’s chances of netting two-plus goals in another road playoff win could be well within their reach.
Houston Dynamo goalkeeper Joe Willis:
On the team’s ability to rally from a two-goal aggregate deficit
“We know what we’re capable of. I think going into the game in Seattle, we’re not out of it yet. A lot of people have counted us out, but it’s two goals. If they can come here and put two goals on us, then there’s no reason why we can’t go there and put two goals on them.”
Seattle Sounders FC midfielder Cristian Roldan:
On the opportunity to clinch a spot in front of Seattle’s home fans
“It means the world to us, to Seattle, to our fans. They deserve it. We know we’re going to have a great crowd, and a crowd that’s rocking. That always helps us. To win it in front of them is going to be special. It’s much like the Supporters’ Shield in 2014; I was actually in the stands watching that. It was a pretty incredible scene. Hopefully we can do that and repeat.”
MLS Western Conference Championship Soundbytes:
Record number of MLS participants await World Cup fates
Twenty-five MLS players who participated in World Cup qualifiers in 2017 await their fates in Friday’s 2018 FIFA World Cup draw in Moscow. The 25 players, representing 10 countries that qualified for the World Cup, will discover their opponents for the group round of play in what could be a record-breaking year for MLS players at the World Cup (10 a.m. ET, FS1 / Telemundo /
The current record for MLS players to make a World Cup roster is 21 players representing six different countries at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Among those players that could play at the 2018 World Cup are five players still alive in the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs. Seattle’s Román Torres scored the game-winning goal to send Panama to its first ever World Cup, nearly a year after his heroic penalty kick to give Sounders FC its first ever MLS Cup title in 2016. Gustav Svensson and Nicolás Lodeiro, meanwhile, played important roles to help their respective countries clinch World Cup berths. Houston defender Adolfo Machado and Toronto FC midfielder Armando Cooper join Torres in a group of six MLS players to represent Panama in World Cup qualifiers in 2017.   
Outside of clubs still alive in the postseason, the Montreal Impact saw Laurent Ciman (Belgium) and Blerim Džemaili (Switzerland) advance out of a difficult UEFA federation for spots in the World Cup. Elsewhere in North America, three MLS players represented Mexico in LA Galaxy’s Jonathan and Giovani dos Santos, and LAFC’s Carlos Vela. Eight MLS players saw action for Costa Rica, highlighted by Vancouver Whitecaps FC defender Kendall Waston who scored a game-winning goal to secure a spot for Los Ticos in the World Cup.
Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs – Conference Championship Game Notes
Wednesday, November 29
No. 1 Toronto FC vs. No. 5 Columbus Crew SC (7:30 p.m. ET, FS1, TSN1/4/5, TVA Sports)
  • The teams meet in the return leg of their Eastern Conference Championship after playing to a goalless draw in the first leg Nov. 21 at Mapfre Stadium in Columbus.
  • Toronto FC were shut out at the attacking end for a second consecutive game, now 198 minutes since their last goal scored. TFC were not shut out in back-to-back games at any point during the league campaign, blanked in three matches overall during the regular season.
  • Crew SC were shut out at the attacking end for the third time in four matches in the MLS Cup Playoffs this season, including for a second consecutive game. Crew SC were shut out five times during the 34-game league campaign, the last coming on July 26. Crew SC have not scored a goal in their last three away matches in the MLS Cup Playoffs, now 385 minutes since their last road goal in the postseason.
  • TFC are winless in their last two MLS Cup Playoffs matches at BMO Field. TFC have two losses in their last four home matches in all competitions, after a 15-game home undefeated streak in league play was put to an end on Sept. 23.
  • TFC have not scored a goal in their last 230 minutes in the MLS Cup Playoffs at BMO Field, after ending in a scoreless draw in 2016 MLS Cup vs. Seattle (4-5 on penalties). Their 1-0 loss to the Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference Semifinals was their first attacking shutout in 22 matches in all competitions, the first since a 3-0 loss at the New England Revolution on June 3.
  • Crew SC goalkeeper Zack Steffen was not credited with a single save in recording the shutout in the first leg, his second shutout this year in the MLS Cup Playoffs (in four starts). Steffen has a 0.69 goals against average in the MLS Cup Playoffs, the fourth-lowest all-time (among goalkeepers with at least 300 minutes played in the postseason).
  • Both Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore will be available for selection in the second leg, after missing the first leg through suspension. In the five league and MLS Cup matches when neither Giovinco and Altidore appeared this season, TFC went 2-2-1.
Thursday, November 30
No. 2 Seattle Sounders FC vs. No. 4 Houston Dynamo (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN, TSN1, TVA Sports)
  • Sounders FC claimed a vital 2-0 win in the first leg of the Western Conference Championship on Nov. 21 at BBVA Compass Stadium. Just three times in MLS playoff history has a team hosted the first leg and lost, then won the second leg on the road to advance; in all three instances, the visiting team in the return match had to overturn a deficit of just one goal.
  • Sounders FC extended their undefeated streak in all competitions to five matches, with four wins and a draw, with shutouts in all five matches, now 452 minutes overall since conceding their last goal. They return home for the second leg having not lost at CenturyLink Field since May 6 – a 1-0 loss to Toronto FC. Sounders FC are now undefeated in their last 14 home games in all competitions, not having a goal in their last four home matches (425 minutes).
  • Sounders FC have never lost to the Dynamo in Seattle. In eight league meetings all-time, Sounders FC have won six, with one draw, outscoring Houston 11-2. Sounders FC also won a U.S. Open Cup match at home vs. Houston; the teams played to a scoreless draw in Seattle in the 2009 MLS Cup Playoffs.
  • The last goal scored by the Dynamo at CenturyLink Field came March 25, 2011, in a 1-1 draw. The Dynamo have not scored in their last 498 minutes of league and MLS Cup play in Seattle.
  • Sounders FC have now not allowed a goal in their last 557 minutes in the MLS Cup Playoffs, the longest consecutive shutout streak in league postseason history. The last goal conceded by Sounders FC in any competition came on Oct. 1, in a 2-0 defeat at Philadelphia Union – 60 days before the date of the second leg of the Western Conference Championship.
  • Sounders FC goalkeeper Tyler Miller recorded three saves in posting the shutout in his MLS Cup Playoffs debut. Miller last played in a match on July 19, a 4-3 win vs. D.C. United at CenturyLink Field, his second career appearance in his two Major League Soccer seasons.
  • Dynamo goalkeeper Joe Willis saved a penalty kick, the second in his career in the MLS Cup Playoffs – the third goalkeeper in MLS Cup Playoffs history to save two penalty kicks (also Evan Bush and Matt Reis).