Bradley Wright-Phillips
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This Week in MLS - November 20, 2018

  • Wright-Phillips: NYRB-Atlanta series victor ‘will win MLS Cup’
  • Portland’s Villafaña: From humble beginnings to international opportunity
  • Atlanta United could defy its city’s sport history odds
  • MLS academy stars guide U.S. to showdown vs. Mexico for Concacaf U-20 title
  • Clubs have 2019 in sight as option exercise deadline nears Nov. 26
  • MLS Cup Playoffs: Conference Final Notes
 
Bradley Wright-Phillips: NYRB-Atlanta series victor ‘will win MLS Cup’
New York Red Bulls star striker Bradley Wright-Phillips concisely summed up his impression of the Supporters’ Shield winners’ upcoming series against No. 2-seeded Atlanta United: “[It’s] just a heavyweight clash,” Wright-Phillips said. “I do think whoever wins that [series] will win MLS Cup.”
 
The top-seeded Red Bulls head to Atlanta for Leg 1 of the Eastern Conference Championship on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium (7:30 p.m. ET / FS1, TSN, TVA Sports). The marquee series features the league’s top two regular season teams: NYRB (22-7-5, MLS-record 71 points) and Atlanta (21-7-6, 69 points).
 
While Atlanta has drawn hype with Josef Martinez’s league-record 31-goal season and MLS-record attendance figures, Wright-Phillips and the Red Bulls quietly put together the best season in league history. The English striker became the first MLS player to score 20 or more goals in three straight seasons while eclipsing 100 goals for his career. NYRB’s depth also shone against Atlanta without Wright-Phillips, as the Red Bulls garnered a 2-0 victory on Sept. 30 when he served a one-game, yellow-card accumulation suspension.
 
Wright-Phillips is back for this go-around, and if NYRB can maintain its all-time unbeaten record (3-0-1) against the second-year side, an MLS Cup destination would be in the Red Bulls’ cards.
 
Jorge Villafaña: From humble beginnings to international opportunity
Adversity and humble beginnings have paved Jorge Villafaña’s path from sweeping floors in a church to now playing for the U.S. Men’s National Team and winning league titles. His life-altering opportunity came at age 17, when the “Sueño MLS” reality show on Univision landed him in the Chivas USA academy, and opened his world to international possibility.
 
After signing a professional contract with Chivas USA, the young star became the longest tenured player in Chivas USA history (2007-13), but he was always destined for more. A 2014 trade that sent him to the Portland Timbers reaped all the benefits during his breakout 2015 season, as his defensive stronghold led the Timbers to becoming MLS Cup champions. With a title in hand, he joined Mexican side Santos Laguna on a two-year journey (2016-18) that earned him his first U.S. Men’s National Team call-up (2017) before culminating in a Liga MX Clausura championship last season.
 
Valuing family and his career, Villafaña returned to the Timbers after being robbed at gunpoint in Mexico in May 2018. Resettling and reemerging as a consistent starter, the California native and future of the U.S. MNT backline has an eye on championship number three in the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs.
 
Atlanta United could defy its city’s sport history odds
Atlanta United are the peach state’s best sports story of the year, and they’re closing in on a chance to clinch the city’s first professional sports championship since the Atlanta Braves won the World Series in 1995.
 
With immediate sights set on the two-leg, Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Championship, Atlanta’s most captivating team is following in the footsteps of 17 other pro teams that made conference finals appearances, including 11 Atlanta Braves (MLB) teams, two Atlanta Falcons (NFL) squads, three Atlanta Dream (WNBA) runs, and one Atlanta Hawks (NBA) campaign.
 
Since 1991, only 10 of those 17 Atlanta teams have advanced to the league’s title match, and only one has taken home the championship.
 
As Atlanta United prepare to host Leg 1 of the Eastern Conference Championship, could their home environment provide enough momentum to make Atlanta’s first championship appearance since the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI (2017)? Better yet, will the team that turned a fair-weather city into a fan favorite continue to change the city’s sports culture, and maybe sports history?
 
Atlanta Professional Sports Championship Performances
 
Year
Sport
Atlanta Team
League Championship Result
1991
MLB
Atlanta Braves
Lost in 7 games in extra innings to Minnesota Twins
1992
MLB
Atlanta Braves
Lost to Toronto 4 games to 2
1995
MLB
Atlanta Braves
World Series Champions
1996
MLB
Atlanta Braves
Won first two games, then lost 4 straight games to New York Yankees
1999*
NFL
Atlanta Falcons
Lost 34-19 to Denver Broncos
1999
MLB
Atlanta Braves
Swept by New York Yankees
2010
WNBA
Atlanta Dream
Swept by Seattle Storm
2011
WNBA
Atlanta Dream
Swept by Minnesota Lynx
2013
WNBA
Atlanta Dream
Swept by Minnesota Lynx
2017*
NFL
Atlanta Falcons
Up 21-3 at halftime, lost 34-28 to New England Patriots
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
*Super Bowls for the 1998 and 2016 NFL seasons took place early the next year.
 
MLS academy stars guide U.S. to showdown vs. Mexico for Concacaf U-20 title
After securing a spot in the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup last week, the United States U-20 team sets its sights on its second consecutive Concacaf U-20 title when it takes on Mexico in the championship match on Wednesday in Bradenton, Fla. The U.S.’s efforts to win back-to-back Concacaf Championships has been fueled by MLS talent, as MLS academy products have scored over 80 percent (36 out of 44) of the team’s goals in the tournament entering the title match.
 
The 23-man U.S. squad, including the initial roster and replacement players, consists of 17 MLS academy products including Toronto FC forward Ayo Akinola who is tied for the team lead with seven goals scored in the tournament thus far, including the game-winner in Monday’s 1-0 victory over Honduras. Of those 17 MLS academy products, eight are currently signed to MLS Homegrown Player contracts and are active members of their respective MLS first team squads. The U.S. will be tasked with repeating history after the 2017 Concacaf Championship U.S. squad defeated Mexico in the title match to capture its first-ever title. That same U.S. squad would go on to quarterfinals appearance in the quarterfinals of the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup, one of two nations in the world to finish in the quarterfinals or better in both the U-20 and U-17 World Cups that year.
 
Clubs have 2019 in sight as option exercise deadline nears Nov. 26
For clubs who are no longer competing in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, all sights are on shaping their 2019 rosters. The league’s option exercise deadline is rapidly approaching at 1 p.m. ET on Monday, Nov. 26, as non-playoff teams need to notify the league office of which players’ options are being exercised and those who are receiving bona fide offers. (2018 MLS Offseason Calendar)
 
For the conference finalists who do not advance to MLS Cup, the deadline date is 1 p.m. ET on Nov. 30. For MLS Cup participants, the deadline is 12 p.m. ET on Dec. 9, the day after the league championship.
 
MLS Cup Playoffs: Conference Final Notes
 
EASTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP – LEG 1
Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018
No. 2 Atlanta United vs. No. 1 New York Red Bulls, 5 p.m. ET (ESPN, ESPN Deportes, TSN, TVA Sports)
  • Atlanta United won both legs of their conference semifinal vs. New York City FC, taking the second leg 3-1 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium to win the series 4-1 on aggregate. Atlanta United have two wins and a draw from their three games in their history in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.
  • Josef Martínez scored a pair of goals, the first of his career in the MLS Cup Playoffs. Martínez has scored 33 goals in league and MLS Cup play this season, tying the all-time single-season record set by Roy Lassiter in 1996 (27 regular season, 6 MLS Cup Playoffs).
  • Brad Guzan conceded a goal in the MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time since Oct. 27, 2007, when he was with Chivas USA. The goal ended his personal shutout streak at 400 minutes, the fourth-longest in MLS Cup Playoffs history.
  • The Red Bulls won the second leg of their Eastern Conference Semifinal Series vs. Columbus Crew SC by a 3-0 scoreline, winning the series 3-1 on aggregate. The Red Bulls have reached the conference championship for the fifth time in their history.
  • Daniel Royer scored a pair of goals in the second leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinal vs. Columbus, the first goals of his career in the MLS Cup Playoffs. It was the sixth two-goal game in the postseason by a Red Bulls player, the first since Bradley Wright-Phillips in 2014. Royer also added an assist, the second time in Red Bulls club history a player was involved in three goals in a single playoff match (also: Mike Sorber, 1 goal, 2 assists, 9/30/1998 at CLB).
  • The teams met twice during the regular season, and the Red Bulls won both. Wright-Phillips scored a pair of goals four minutes apart in the second half to propel the Red Bulls to a 3-1 win on May 20 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium – their second victory in two visits to Atlanta. On Sept. 30, Royer and Tim Parker netted goals in each half as the Red Bulls eased to a 2-0 win at Red Bull Arena.
  • The Red Bulls have never lost to Atlanta United. The teams met twice in Atlanta United’s inaugural MLS season – and the Red Bulls came away with points from both. The Red Bulls won 2-1 on March 5, 2017, at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta United’s first league match; the teams played to a scoreless draw on Oct. 15, 2017, at Red Bull Arena.
 
WESTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP – LEG 1
Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018
No. 5 Portland Timbers vs. No. 1 Sporting Kansas City, 4:30 p.m. PT (FS1, FOX Deportes, TSN, TVA Sports)
  • The Timbers have reached the Western Conference Championship for the third time in club history, after defeating Seattle Sounders FC on penalty kicks after their semifinal series was tied 4-4 on aggregate. Sounders FC won the second leg 3-2 in overtime (Seattle led 2-1 through 90 minutes) at CenturyLink Field on Nov. 8, after the Timbers took the home leg 2-1 on Nov. 4 at Providence Park. The Timbers were involved in a penalty shootout for the second time in their MLS history, the first coming in the 2015 meeting with Sporting Kansas City.
  • Diego Valeri added his second assist in the MLS Cup Playoffs; he has a goal and/or an assist in all three Timbers postseason games this year, with two goals and two assists. Valeri has four goals and seven assists in 14 career matches in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
  • Sporting have reached the conference championship stage for the seventh time in their history, defeating Real Salt Lake 5-3 on aggregate, taking the second leg 4-2 at Children’s Mercy Park on Nov. 11.
  • The four goals scored by Sporting equaled the club record for a game in the MLS Cup Playoffs, matching a 4-1 win vs. the LA Galaxy on Sept. 28, 2002. Sporting put an end to a six-game winless streak in the MLS Cup Playoffs, winning a postseason match for the first time since 2013. The streak is tied for the fourth-longest in MLS playoff history.
  • Daniel Salloí scored a pair of goals, his first career goals in the MLS Cup Playoffs. The two goals matched the SKC club record for a playoff game, set three times earlier (Miklos Molnar, 2000; Davy Arnaud, 2004; Teal Bunbury, 2011).
  • The teams have met once in the MLS Cup Playoffs – in the Knockout Round in 2015. The match was leveled at 1-1 three minutes before full time on a goal by SKC’s Kevin Ellis, then leveled again with two minutes remaining in extra time on a goal from the Timbers’ Maximiliano Urruti. In the penalty shootout, both goalkeepers took attempts as it reached the 11th round of kicks – Portland’s Adam Kwarasey scored, then saved the attempt from SKC’s Jon Kempin, as the Timbers eventually won MLS Cup. The 22 penalty kicks in the shootout are an MLS record.
  • The teams met twice in the regular season. Diego Rubio netted a pair of goals as Sporting eased to a 3-0 win on Aug. 18 at Children’s Mercy Park; they reached a goalless draw on June 9 at Providence Park.
  • Sporting have come away with points on six of their eight visits to Providence Park, including four victories; the Timbers have gained points on three of their past five visits to KC (one win, two draws).
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