Zack Steffen celebration after shootout at DC
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

This Week in MLS - November 6, 2018

  • Can Steffen, Crew SC dethrone Supporters’ Shield-winning Red Bulls again?
  • As two of the past three MLS Cup champions, Cascadia rivals battle for return
  • Portland’s Argentine duo entrusting childhood bond
  • SKC Super Sub Rubio’s impeccable scoring rate filters into postseason
  • Is it too soon for the Red Bulls to panic?
  • MLS products power U.S., Canada at Concacaf U-20 Championship
  • MLS Cup Playoffs: Conference Semifinal Notes
 
Can Steffen, Crew SC dethrone Shield-winning Red Bulls again?
Columbus Crew SC have a knack for postseason upsets, and if Leg 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals feels like familiar territory for the New York Red Bulls, it is because their previous Supporters’ Shield-winning side was ousted by Columbus.
 
Crew SC hold a 1-0 aggregate lead heading into Sunday’s second leg (7:30 p.m. ET / FS1, FOX Deportes, TSN, TVA Sports) and they will attempt to spoil the Red Bulls’ historic campaign, a season in which NYRB set an MLS single-season points record (71). In 2015, Crew SC defeated NYRB’s last Shield-winning side (2-1 aggregate victory) to advance to MLS Cup.
 
All eyes are on 23-year-old Crew SC goalkeeper Zack Steffen, who for a second straight year has risen in the postseason with clutch penalty kick shootout defending against D.C. United in the Knockout Round and a pivotal diving stop late against the Red Bulls to maintain a clean sheet in Leg 1 of the East Semifinals. Steffen’s claim to fame began last year when he lifted Columbus with two shootout saves at Atlanta. Though Crew SC came up just short against 2017 MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield winners Toronto FC in the East Finals, they solidified their panache for causing fits to higher-seeded clubs.
 
Can Steffen once again go on the road to dampen one of the league’s best teams, or is this Red Bulls side primed to continue its run toward a first MLS Cup?
 
As two of the past three champions, Cascadia rivals battle for return
The path to MLS Cup in the Western Conference has gone through Cascadia the previous three years, and Thursday’s match between rivals Seattle Sounders FC and the Portland Timbers could be the next step in making that four in a row. After each winning their first MLS Cup title during that stretch, the two Pacific Northwest clubs stake to superiority comes down to one crucial match in Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs action (10:30 p.m. ET, FS1 / FOX Deportes / TVA / TSN5).
 
After winning Leg 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals 2-1, Portland heads to Seattle in search of another postseason triumph, winning the only MLS playoff matchup between the rivals in 2015. While the steady presence of reigning Landon Donovan MLS MVP Diego Valeri has overseen the Timbers run to MLS Cup previously, Sounders FC have used midseason additions to fuel their run to Cup each of the past two years. With Nicolás Lodeiro helping Seattle to the title in 2016, the club will look to follow the same formula with Raúl Ruidíaz, who has 11 goals in 14 matches since arriving to the Emerald City in July.
 
Although Portland has the advantage thanks to a strong performance in the first leg, Seattle will look to home-field advantage and its experience in reaching MLS Cup each of the past two years to guide the club past its bitter rival.
 
Portland’s Argentine duo entrusting childhood bond
The Portland Timbers are charging through the postseason with an attack built on more than 20 years of friendship between Argentine midfielders Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco. The two, who first met as children in the Club Atlético Lanús academy, progressed into the professional ranks to bring Lanús its first-ever Primera División title in 2007 during a breakout year for the more experienced Valeri. After going around the world (to the Ukraine and England) and back again, the younger Blanco followed his compatriot’s path to Portland last year, where the two combined for Valeri’s memorable Landon Donovan MLS Most Valuable Player season that included 21 goals and 11 assists.
 
While Valeri has traditionally taken the lead to pave the way, Blanco’s Leg 1 game-winner could mean this postseason is his time to shine. From boyhood friends to MLS teammates, is this Argentine tandem destined for another championship?
 
SKC Super Sub Rubio’s impeccable scoring rate filters into postseason
It took a matter of seconds for top West seed Sporting Kansas City to reap the benefits of 25-year-old forward Diego Rubio’s impeccable scoring rate. The Chilean international came off the bench and after his first couple touches unleashed a 25-yard strike and an important away goal in the 61st minute of Sunday’s first leg of their 1-1 draw in the Western Conference Semifinals against sixth-seeded Real Salt Lake (SEE GOAL).
 
SKC’s super sub has scored five goals off the bench this year between regular season and postseason play. According to Opta, Rubio’s 2018 season average of one goal for every 33.4 minutes as a substitute is the second-best goalscoring rate for an MLS player with five or more tallies off the bench since 2010 (including both the regular season and MLS Cup Playoffs). Sunday’s goal – scored just 38 seconds after Rubio entered the match – is also the second-fastest of any substitute in league history since 2002, when such records became available.
 
Rubio tallied eight goals and six assists in just 781 minutes during the regular season, and Sporting will hope Rubio maintains that production rate heading into this Sunday’s second leg against RSL at Children’s Mercy Park (3 p.m. ET / ESPN, ESPN Deportes, TSN, TVA Sports).
 
Is it too soon for the Red Bulls to panic?
After falling 1-0 to Columbus Crew SC in Leg 1 of the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs Conference Semifinals, the regular season favorites and the No. 1-seeded New York Red Bulls are in the hot seat heading into Leg 2 on Nov. 11.
 
With at least 90 minutes to go, is it too soon to panic? Maybe not.
 
History of the two-leg series has proven that the higher-seeded team has advanced only 42 percent of the time after losing the first leg on the road. However, only 43 percent of time has the lower seed advanced overall.
 
The good news is that home-field advantage will be on their side at a raucous Red Bull Arena this Sunday. Hosting teams during Conference Semis own a 44-15-13 second-leg advantage all-time, and the Red Bulls are undefeated in their six at home. The last time they suffered a loss in Harrison, N.J. was on July 28 – ironically against Crew SC.
 
The pressure is on, but will the home team deliver?
 
MLS products powering U.S., Canada at Concacaf U-20 Championship
The future of the United States and Canada continues to be driven by MLS academy products as both nations look to win the 2018 Concacaf U-20 Championship and secure a spot at the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup in the process.
 
Behind the leadership of 13 MLS academy products, including eight current Homegrown Players on first team rosters, the United States is well on its way to securing its second consecutive Concacaf U-20 title after winning the 2017 version behind standouts including MLS breakout stars Tyler Adams (New York Red Bulls) and Brooks Lennon (Real Salt Lake). This year’s U.S. men’s squad will look to repeat behind captain Matthew Real, one of three players from the Philadelphia Union on the squad. Real is joined by fellow Union defender Mark McKenzie, who finished the 2018 MLS season third in AT&T MLS Rookie of the Year voting and has scored two goals for the undefeated American squad through three matches.
 
Canada meanwhile is paced by 15 MLS first team or academy players, more than double the total of MLS academy products compared to the 2017 squad. The Reds are off to a strong start in group play, as MLS academy products have scored all five goals in the nation’s two victories thus far. Toronto FC paces all MLS clubs with six academy products on the roster, while the Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps FC each have four standouts.
 
The group stage of the tournament concludes on Saturday, when the six group winners will compete for four available spots at the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup.
 
 
MLS Cup Playoffs: Conference Semifinal Round Notes
 
WESTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS – LEG 2
Thursday, November 8, 2018
No. 2 Seattle Sounders FC vs. No. 5 Portland Timbers, 10:30 p.m. ET (FS1, FOX Deportes, TSN, TVA Sports)
  • The Timbers won the first leg of their conference semifinal series 2-1 at Providence Park on Sunday afternoon.
  • The Timbers have won all three meetings between the teams in the MLS Cup Playoffs, also winning both matches in the 2013 Western Conference Semifinals, when won the tie 5-3 on aggregate – winning 2-1 at CenturyLink Field, then 3-2 at Providence Park.
  • The Timbers won two of the three meetings during the regular season, winning once at each ground. The Timbers’ 3-2 win at CenturyLink Field on June 30 was their first win ever in Seattle in an MLS regular season game (Sounders FC were 7-0-3 leading up to that match), though the Timbers won there in the MLS Cup Playoffs meeting between the clubs.
  • Sounders FC came into the MLS Cup Playoffs opener riding a five-game winning streak, along with the New York Red Bulls, the first clubs to win their final five league games since 2004 (when overtime in regular-season games was ended).
  • Raúl Ruidíaz scored the Sounders FC goal, his fourth consecutive game with a goal dating back to the end of the regular season. Ruidíaz scored 10 goals in 14 league games since his arrival in Seattle, the fastest to the 10-goal mark in the Sounders’ MLS history.
  • Diego Valeri assisted on the Timbers goal after netting a pair in the Knockout Round win vs. FC Dallas, involved in three of the Timbers’ four goals scored in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
  • The Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers have met 103 times in all competitions, the most between two U.S.-based clubs, the second-most in U.S./Canadian soccer history. Since their first meeting in 1975 in the old North American Soccer League, Seattle has won 51 times and Portland has won 38, with 14 draws. In MLS league play, Sounders FC have won 10 matches, the Timbers have won seven, and six have been draws.
 
WESTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS – LEG 2
Sunday, November 11, 2018
No. 1 Sporting Kansas City vs. No. 6 Real Salt Lake, 3 p.m. ET (ESPN, ESPN Deportes, TSN, TVA Sports)
  • The teams reached a 1-1 draw in the first leg of their Western Conference Semifinal Series at Rio Tinto Stadium on Sunday evening.
  • Damir Kreilach assisted on the RSL goal after netting a pair in the Knockout Round win vs. the Los Angeles Football Club, involved in three of Real’s four goals scored in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
  • RSL have not lost to Sporting this season. In league play, RSL claimed a 4-2 win on July 4 at Rio Tinto Stadium; the teams then reached a 1-1 draw on Sept. 30 at Children’s Mercy Park.
  • Sporting have defeated Real at home just once since 2013, that win coming last season (1-4-4 in their past nine league matches between the teams at Children’s Mercy Park).
  • Before this year, the teams had met just once in the MLS Cup Playoffs – in MLS Cup 2013 at a frozen Children’s Mercy Park. Alvaro Saborío gave Real the lead early in the second half, but Aurelien Collin netted the leveler with just inside a quarter-hour to play. The match went to a penalty shootout, which lasted 20 rounds before Sporting KC prevailed 7-6.
 
EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS – LEG 2
Sunday, November 11, 2018
No. 2 Atlanta United vs. No. 3 New York City FC, 5 p.m. ET (ESPN, ESPN Deportes, TSN, TVA Sports)
  • Atlanta United took the first leg of their conference semifinal series, winning 1-0 at Yankee Stadium on Sunday evening. It was the first win ever for the club in the MLS Cup Playoffs, in its second postseason match.
  • Eric Remedi scored the Atlanta United goal, his first since his arrival in MLS – and the first of his professional career, playing three seasons without a goal with CA Banfield in Argentina before coming to the league.
  • The win in the first leg was the first for the visiting team in the all-time series between the clubs. The teams played to two draws in league play this season, a 2-2 draw on April 15 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and a 1-1 result on June 9 at Yankee Stadium. Last year, in Atlanta United’s inaugural campaign, each team won 3-1 on their home ground.
  • NYCFC have lost the opening leg of all three of their aggregate-goal series in the MLS Cup Playoffs, falling 2-0 to Toronto FC in the 2016 Eastern Conference Semifinals (eliminated 7-0 on aggregate) and dropping a 4-1 decision to Columbus Crew SC in the East semis last year (losing 4-3 on aggregate).
 
EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS – LEG 2
Sunday, November 11, 2018
No. 1 New York Red Bulls vs. No. 5 Columbus Crew SC, 7:30 p.m. ET (FS1, FOX Deportes, TSN, TVA Sports)
  • Crew SC took a 1-0 win in the first leg of their Eastern Conference Semifinal Series at Mapfre Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
  • Crew SC have not lost to the Red Bulls this season. The teams reached a 1-1 draw on June 9 at Mapfre Stadium. Then on July 28 at Red Bull Arena, there were own goals for both teams as Crew SC had a three-goal lead in the opening half-hour before holding on for a 3-2 win. Crew SC were the only Eastern Conference team the Red Bulls did not defeat in the regular season.
  • The teams have met three times in the MLS Cup Playoffs – the biggest encounter coming in MLS Cup 2008 at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., where the Crew claimed their only league championship in a 3-1 win. The teams last met in the postseason in 2015, with Crew SC winning 2-1 on aggregate in the Eastern Conference Championship. Crew SC have won all three previous playoff meetings with the Red Bulls, now having won five of the six postseason matches between the clubs.
  • Federico Higuaín assisted on the Crew SC goal vs. the Red Bulls after netting both of the club’s goals in the Knockout Round match. Higuaín has four goals and five assists in 14 career matches in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
  • The Red Bulls came into the MLS Cup Playoffs opener riding a five-game winning streak, along with Seattle Sounders FC, the first clubs to win their final five league games since 2004 (when overtime in regular-season games was ended).
Series: 
Topics: 

Stay connected: The all-new, completely redesigned, FREE official MLS app is your best mobile source for scores, news, analysis and highlights. Download:  App Store  |  Google Play