Regular Season

Lineups:

The Portland Timbers squeaked by Nashville SC 1-0 at Providence Park in Week 2. This game was decided by just one chance, when Diego Valeri notched the game winner in the 12th minute. Not much else happened in both final thirds, in what must be described as an uneventful game.

Nashville started off well, but Portland soon grew into the game and struck the opening goal in the 12th minute. A Portland cross was cleared to the top of the box, but Andy Polo headed it back into the mixer. Then, in the left side of the box, Diego Valeri sweetly struck a half volley into the upper far post.

Following the goal, Portland sat back for the most part, but Nashville lacked enough quality (think Diego Valeri) in the final third to find an equalizer. Instead the expansion club could place only a sole shot on target out of five total. Portland wasn’t much better, though, taking no shots after the 24th minute and a mere three total. Portland never looked anywhere close to doubling its lead. 

The first forty five was also rather slow paced, and although possession was almost 50-50, instead of trading possession frequently, there were more longer passing sequences from both teams, but mainly Nashville.

In the second half, Nashville kept the ball in the host’s half, and racked up on corners, but remained stripped of any sort of dangerous chance while Portland barely got out of its own half. Fun game, right? 

Anyway, Nashville’s best opportunity of the match came in the 70th minute. Panamanian Aníbal Godoy struck a powerful shot from outside the eighteen to the bottom right corner of the goal, but Steve Clark made a diving save.

As the match got closer and closer to the final whistle, Nashville pushed more so for an equalizer, but none was found. Instead, in the 93rd minute, a looping Walker Zimmerman header from the right corner of the six narrowly missed the back post. That was the nearest Nashville came to its first ever goal from open play, but it was not to be.

Portland were not at all convincing, and did not threaten the visitors’ goal except for the Valeri volley. The Timbers failed to take a single shot for over two thirds of the game, and totaled an expected goals of .18. The entire attacking corps, especially striker Felipe Mora, had muted to no impact. Defensively, the Timers benefitted from a weak opposing attack, but still looked shaky and could have given Nashville an equalizer if the Music City club was more clinical.  Nonetheless, a win is a win, and Portland very much needed this one if an early season crisis was to be avoided. 

Nashville, one of the four MLS teams yet to earn a point, looked toothless, but at least tried to score. It took 14 shots, and only 4 landed on target but still earned an xg of 1.11. The attack was able to pass the ball nicely in the final third, but did nothing daring enough to find a way through Portland. Next, the set piece delivery from Nashville, which was supposedly a strong suit, was rather subpar. Many of the nine corners never resulted in shots and were easily cleared, and the same went for free kicks. 

From Nashville’s first two games, we’ve seen two consistent themes; that of solid defense and that of a blunted attack that desperately needs reinforcements. Nashville didn’t embarrass themselves, however, and were definitely close to equal with Portland. A few decent attackers and this team could be tons better.

Nashville will look to rebound at Toronto FC on Saturday the 14th (4:00 ET, ESPN+). Portland, meanwhile, are on the road for the first occasion this season, at New England Revolution Sunday (1:30 ET, ESPN+).

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2020 Regular Season

Lineups:

 LAFC handed Inter Miami CF a 1-0 loss in Miami’s first ever MLS game. The expansion side was beaten only by a spectacular chip from Carlos Vela at the Banc of California Stadium.

Five minutes in, a Vela cross from near the right edge of the box found Rossi in the left side of the six yard box. Rossi sent a header across the goal but Luis Robles made a diving save to keep the game level. Then, in the 9th minute LAFC had a goal ruled out for offsides. Mark Anthony Kaye capitalized from close range on a Diego Rossi cross, but the AR correctly called Rossi offside, and the goal did not stand.

For much of the early stages, LAFC kept the ball in Miami’s half and controlled possession, but couldn’t create many opportunities. Meanwhile, the visitors‘s main attacking strategy was to boot the ball to Superdraft pick Robbie Robinson, who was isolated up top. That caused Miami to not cause LA’s backline many problems, shown by its first shot of the match coming all the way in the 20th minute. The Florida side did begin to grow into the game soon after, though, and was a little more threatening.

Miami’s best chance of the half came in the 37th minute. Space opened up for Lewis Morgan at the top of the box, and the Scottish winger sent a shot to the bottom right corner but Kenneth Vermeer made a diving save. Miami had another look on goal in the 42nd minute, when a corner kick was volleyed goalwards by Rodolfo Pizarro in the center of the box. The ball lacked enough pace to beat Vermeer, however, and the keeper made a diving stop.

Then, in the 44th minute Carlos Vela scored a wonder goal to break the deadlock just before the interval. The Mexican received the ball in midfield and took it over one defender, around a few more, and to the top of the box. There Vela hit an exquisite chip over Luis Robles and into the back of the net. I’m not sure if I’ve caused serious damage to my jaw after how far it opened watching that piece of soccer sorcery.

LAFC weren’t very convincing, but nonetheless went into the break up 1-0 thanks to a beauty from birthday boy Vela. Other than that (and that was a lot), LA was a little off in the final third, but still controlled possession for the most part. Miami looked poor in the start of the match, but did grow into the game and forced Vermeer into a few saves. It wasn’t enough offensively, though, to cause panic for the Black and Gold.

Moving into the second half, LAFC had another goal disallowed just 33 seconds after the opening whistle. Rossi received a pass inside the six yard box and scored, but the sender, Brain Rodriguez, was offside when he got the ball.

In the 54th minute Pizarro almost got himself on the scoresheet. A cross from Lewis Morgan found Pizarro in the six yard box, but his sliding volley trickled wide, despite having Vermeer frozen.

In the 69th minute, a LAFC corner found Eddie Segura free of his marker inside the six yard box, but the Colombian finished poorly and skied his volley into the stands.

Rossi almost put the game to bed in the 86th minute. In a one-on-one with Robles, the Uruguayan, in the left side of the box, tried to send the ball into the lower far post corner of the goal, but Robles made a kick save to keep Miami alive. It was in vain, though, as LAFC held on to its one goal lead until the death.

The hosts were definitely not at their best in its season opener. That was mostly due to the Thursday night clash against Club León in the CCL, in which nine starters against Miami played the same role in the impressive 3-0 win that sent LA to the quarterfinals. Despite the tired legs, LAFC got the win over Miami, and proved its mettle by doing so in these circumstances. The offense didn’t always click, but the midfield was much closer to top shape, with new signing Francisco Ginella slotting right in.

Miami, on the other hand, were able to create a decent amount of chances, but no chance was so good as to say it should have been scored. Instead, Pizarro was able to get a few chances and show potential to cause havoc for other teams, but wasn’t consistently involved vs LA. The defense performed well, and only a fantastic chip could beat it. Nonetheless, this was a less than 100% LAFC, so how Miami will fare against better offenses on the day remains to be seen.

Up next for last season’s Supporter’s Shield winners is a home match vs the Philadelphia Union on Sunday the 8th. Inter Miami, meanwhile, will look to score its first ever MLS goal at Audi Field vs DC United Saturday the 7th.

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2019 MLS Cup

Line-ups

The Seattle Sounders (56 points, 2nd place) claimed its second MLS Cup with a 3-1 victory over Toronto FC (50 points, 4th place) in front of a record breaking crowd at CenturyLink Field. Although Toronto controlled much of the match, Kelvin Leerdam scored the opener in the 57th minute for Seattle which never looked back, and only a Jozy Altidore consolation goal marred the result. This is the third MLS Cup meeting between these sides, with Seattle having a record of 1W-1L-1T, but it won the draw on penalties. In the regular season the Sounders have a more dominant 9W-3L-2T record.

Toronto had the majority of possession in the first half but were unable to create clear cut chances. Toronto’s best chance came when from the left side of the box Nicolas Benezet sent a low shot to the right side of the goal, but Seattle’s goalkeeper, Stefan Frei was able to paw the ball away. Meanwhile, Seattle set a deep backline but were also kept pinned into its own half by a solid Toronto midfield. An excellent example of Seattle’s play came early in the second half when, on a counterattack, over thirty yards separated Seattle’s defensive group, still in its half, and its attacking counterparts who were well into the opposing half but lacked support. Still, towards the end of the half the Sounders almost took the lead. On a counterattack Nicolas Lodeiro sent a cross from the sideline to Raúl Ruidiaz at the top of the box. The Peruvian took the bouncing ball into the center of the box and struck a shot directly at Toronto’s keeper, Quinten Westberg. This was the third MLS Cup first half between these sides to end scoreless.

The opening ten minutes of the second half were similar to the first forty five, but in the 57th minute Seattle took an against the run of play lead. Leerdam received a pass in the right side of the box and took the ball slightly inside before sending the ball across the goal. The ball took a huge deflection off TFC defender Justin Morrow and found its way in the left side of the goal, the first goal the Sounders have scored in three MLS Cups. In the 73rd minute Toronto almost put the ball in its own net when Omar Gonzalez sent a head level back pass to his goalkeeper at the top of the box, but Westberg made a fantastic reaction save to avert an embarrassing error. Seattle still doubled its lead in the 76th minute when from the top of the box substitute Victor Rodriguez sent a beautiful curling effort into the right side of the goal.  Although Altidore came off the bench and brought a new element to TFC’s attack, the visitors still could not find a way through Seattle, which iced the match in the 90th minute. From inside his half Gustav Svensson sent a long ball over TFC’s backline to Ruidiaz in a one-on-one duel with Chris Mavinga. The striker won the battle and from the top of the box chipped Westberg to add a third for Seattle. Toronto was able to score a consolation goal in the 93rd minute when a Pozuelo cross was met by Altidore on the penalty spot, and the American nodded the ball into the left side of the goal. TFC could not stage and miracle comeback, and Seattle won the 2019 MLS Cup with a 3-1 victory over Toronto and lifted its second such trophy in four years.

This is the twelfth straight unbeaten home playoff match for the Sounders and a huge victory in front of 69,274 fans, a CenturyLink Field record and the second most in MLS Cup history. Seattle was not the better side for much of the match, especially in the first half when Seattle rarely threatened forward and became stuck in its own half, holding only 34% of possession. However, the Leerdam goal brought life to Seattle and with Toronto pressing numbers forward, TFC was exposed defensively against a lethal Sounders offense. Meanwhile, the defense was solid, and despite having questionable tactics it was able to keep Toronto from quality chances. Seattle will be competing in the Concacaf Champions League next year, with that competition kicking off in February, before the 2020 MLS regular season in March. On the other hand, Toronto’s unbeaten run of 13 matches came to a close in disappointing fashion. Despite dominating the first 60 minutes, TFC lacked offensive talent and Altidore came in too late to make a substantial impact. Although Toronto had almost double the possession that Seattle did, both sides found 14 shots each and the Sounders put one more shot on target than TFC. Toronto will resume MLS play in the 2020 regular season.


Western Conference Final

Line-ups

The Seattle Sounders (56 points, 2nd place) stunned LAFC (72 points, 1st place) with a clinical 3-1 victory in the MLS Cup Playoffs at Banc of California Stadium. The Sounders booked its spot in its third MLS Cup in four years and hoisted the Western Conference Championship trophy, as well. Seattle was the better side throughout the match, and although Eduard Atuesta scored an early free kick for the hosts, a brace from Raul Ruidiaz and a goal and two assists from Nico Lodeiro gave the Sounders the victory. In the first playoff meeting between these sides the Sounders picked up its first ever win over LAFC, with the regular season record at 3W-0L-1T in LA’s favor.

Despite a good start to the match from a sharp Seattle, LAFC opened the scoring in the 17th minute via a beautiful free kick from Atuesta on the host’s first shot of the match. From the left-center of the field, thirty yards out, the Colombian sent an effort over the wall and into the near post netting. LAFC almost doubled its lead in the 19th minute when Brian Rodriguez dribbled the ball to near the endline in the left side of the box and sent a powerful shot to the far post. However, the Sounder’s keeper, Stefan Frei pawed the ball away to keep Seattle within one. That save would prove important, as the visitors equalized in the 22nd minute via Ruidiaz’ fifth postseason goal. The Peruvian received a pass a few yards out of the box and used a nifty turn to take the ball into the center of the box where he rifled a shot into the upper right corner of the goal. Seattle turned the match on its head by taking the lead in the 26th minute. From the right side of the field Joevin Jones played a central pass to Lodeiro a few yards out of the box, and the Uruguayan sent a low, curling strike into the bottom right corner of the goal. Los Angeles controlled the ball for much of the half but could not create chances for a game tying goal while Seattle showed excellent defensive resolve and overall was the better side.   

LAFC pressed for an equalizer out of the gate in the second half but were again thwarted by Seattle, who almost scored a third in the 57th minute. From the edge of the box on a counterattack Jordan Morris laid the ball back to the top of the box where Ruidiaz sent a low first-time effort narrowly wide of the far post. However, Ruidiaz would notch his brace in the 64th minute to continue a fantastic performance from the striker. He received a pass from midfield at the top of the box and finished to the lower left corner of the goal. For the remainder of the half LAFC had the majority of the ball but never threatened Seattle’s goal, as attacking players were unable to find space in the final third. Nouhou Tolo almost iced the match for the Sounders in the 93rd minute. Ruidiaz played Nouhou into a one-on-one with the LAFC keeper Tyler Miller in the center of the box, but the keeper made a kick save to keep the match at 3-1. That scoreline held for the remainder of the match, and Seattle lifted the Western Conference Championship trophy.

LAFC were stopped from capping a record-breaking regular season with its first ever MLS Cup and were second best against the Sounders. The defense was very poor against Sounder’s counterattacks and was sliced apart multiple times. It committed mistakes to allow Lodiero to be under no pressure on his goal and Ruidiaz to dribble through the backline in route to scoring his first of the night. In all three of LA’s home playoff matches, it has conceded three goals and is now ten matches without a shutout. Also, despite having 69% of the possession, LA could only place four shots on target and 14 in total, many of which did not concern Seattle. LA will begin competitive play in the Concacaf Champions League in February 2020 before the MLS regular season. Meanwhile, Seattle advance to its third MLS Cup via an unbreakable defensive showing and a clinical offense. The defense allowed LAFC no space in the final third and the lone goal came from a brilliant individual effort. The attack used its opportunities effectively, scoring three times from only five shots on target. Of note, Seattle have never dropped points from winning positions at half time this season, now with twelve wins in those matches. Seattle will host Eastern Conference Champion Toronto FC (50 points, 4th place) on Sunday, November 10th in the 2019 MLS Cup, the third time in four years those sides have met in the Cup final.


Western Conference Semi-final

Line-ups

LAFC (72 points, 1st place) won a wild 5-3 thriller against the LA Galaxy (51 points, 5th place) at Banc of California Stadium in the MLS Cup Playoffs. This is another storybook addition of the LA rivalry, which has a goals-per-game of 5.3 over six meetings. Both Carlos Vela and Zlatan Ibrahimovic put their names on the scoresheet, but a second half Adama Diomande brace won the match for LAFC. This is LAFC’s first ever win over the Galaxy, with the all-time record now at 1W-2L-3T in favor of LA.

LAFC started the match flat and sat back, which allowed the visitors time on the ball. The Galaxy’s best chance from that span came in the 8th minute when a low Cristian Pavon shot from distance deflected off a LAFC defender and pinged into the post. LAFC began to look more dangerous and hit the crossbar itself in the 15th minute, on a Vela freekick from thirty yards out. However, LAFC only needed to wait one more minute to score the opener. Diego Rossi received the ball at the top of the box and laid a pass to Vela in the left side of the eighteen. The Mexican cut the ball slightly inside and sent a low strike into the right side of the goal. The match was without many chances until later in the half. First, in the 38th minute, a Galaxy freekick from the left sideline was sent to the center of the box where Dave Romney headed directly at Tyler Miller, the hosts’ goalkeeper. LAFC doubled its lead in the 40th minute after an intricate passing movement. Brian Rodriguez dribbled from the sideline into the center of the field where he played a one-two with Latif Blessing to send Rodriguez into the left corner of the six-yard box. Rodriguez then played a soft pass across the goal to Vela who tapped into the open net. Cristian Pavon almost immediately cut the Galaxy’s deficit in half when he capitalized in the 41st minute. Ibrahimovic received the ball at the top of the box and drew multiple defenders which opened space for a pass to Pavon in the left side of the box. The Argentine slotted the ball into the far post to tally his 4th goal of the season. Despite LA’s good start, the first half largely belonged to LAFC, who controlled the play and kept the ball out of dangerous areas for the Galaxy.

LAFC created the first quality opportunity of the second half in the 52nd minute. From inside the box on the endline Jordan Harvey played the ball back to the left side of the box where Vela sent a first time chip to the back post. However, Bingham pawed the ball out to keep the Galaxy within one. LA equalized the match at 2-2 just 3 minutes later after a defensive miscue from LAFC. A lofted Steven Beitashour back pass from outside the box bounced off the chest of Tristan Blackmon and fell to Ibrahimovic in the left side of the box. The Swede powered the bouncing ball to the near post where it trickled through the legs of Miller. The hosts almost pulled back ahead in the 61st minute when a Vela cross bounced through the box and was powered towards the near post by Rossi. Bingham again made the save, this time blocking the low shot out of play. On the ensuing corner the ball was flicked on to Adama Diomande at the back post, but the Norwegian headed into the base of the post. In the 65th minute Jonathan dos Santos picked up an uncontested ball just out of the box and powered a low volley to the left side of the goal, where a diving Miller made a strong save. LAFC scored the fifth goal of the match and gave itself a 3-2 advantage in the 67th minute. Vela possessed the ball a few yards out of the box and played a through ball to Rossi near the top left corner of the six-yard box. The Uruguayan finished a left footed attempt to the bottom right corner of the goal in his 17th goal of the season. Just a minute later LAFC increased its lead with a goal from substitute Diomande. On a counter from midfield Lee Nguyen played a pass to inside the box where Rossi took the ball to the endline and sent a cross to the top of the six yard box. There, an unmarked Diomande nodded into the net from close range to give LAFC breathing room. However, the Galaxy scored in the 77th minute to keep itself in the game. From the right sideline Romain Alessandrini sent a free kick into the center of the box where a wide-open Roy Feltscher headed the ball into the left side of the goal. Then, in the 80th minute Diomande notched his brace to ensure a LAFC win. On a counterattack he received the ball in midfield and dribbling all the way to the top of the six-yard box where he sent a shot into the left side of the goal. That goal tied this match as the highest scoring playoff match in MLS history with the scoreline of 5-3 holding until the final whistle.

It first must be stated how wild this match was, with the two teams combining for an expected goals of only 4.5 but actually putting almost twice that in the back of the net. Overall, LAFC deserved the victory after having more quality in the final third and controlling the majority of the match, which it was able to do despite having 42% of possession. LAFC had an optional defensive performance, which included the miscommunication and goalkeeping error on the second goal before allowing Feltscher to be wide-open in the center of the box on the third. On the other hand, the attack led by an impactful Vela and supersub Diomande was lethal and sliced through the Galaxy many times. LAFC advances to the Western Conference Final and hosts the Seattle Sounders (56 points, second place) on Tuesday the 29th. Meanwhile, this may have been Ibrahimovic’s final match for the Galaxy with reports linking him to both Europe and retirement. The Swede’s time in MLS has delivered spectacular moments, but the Galaxy did not take advantage of it to lift a trophy. Throughout the season the defense had been poor, and this match was no exception. For example, Diomande was unmarked in the six-yard box on the fourth goal and also able to dribble through the entire backline in route to the fifth LAFC strike. LA will continue MLS action in the 2020 season.