Takeaways from the 2016 MLS conference semifinal second legs

A classic Rapids win

Did you really expect anything different from the 2016 Colorado Rapids?

Pablo Mastroeni’s side did what they have all season in their PK win over the Galaxy in the MLS Western Conference semifinal: hold out as long as possible and win on a flukey goal.

The Rapids beat the LA Galaxy at home in the second leg of their playoff series, 1-0 over 120 minutes and then 3-1 in penalty kicks. You could say they were on the front foot for most of the game, but all they really did was camp out in the attacking half and make the game as boring as possible.

Needing at least a 1-0 win to stay alive, Mastroeni put out an attacking starting XI. Jermaine Jones, starting for the first time since the Fourth of July, was in his classic box-to-box midfield role behind strikers Kevin Doyle (who technically played in the 10 space) and Dominique Badji. This attacking ideology resulted in this wonder-strike from Shkelzen Gashi.

After that, they kept possession and poked around at the Galaxy’s backline (particularly Ashley Cole) for the next 80 minutes. It was not entertaining, to say the least. But it worked well enough for Colorado, and after three LA players missed PKs, they are through to the Western Conference final.



Stars don’t show up for LA

 Gio dos Santos missed a PK and was silent for the majority of the game. Steven Gerrard and Robbie Keane failed to make an impact as substitutes. Landon Donovan and Mike Magee were subbed off earlier than they would have liked. Jelle Van Damme was the only star for LA who had a good game. They could have used the field-stretching pace and 1v1 abilities of Emmanuel Boateng, who was ruled out with a hamstring injury. Instead, they go out with a whimper against a team that, on paper, they are clearly superior to.


Montreal park the bus

The Montreal Impact busted a lot of people’s brackets with their 3-1 aggregate win over the New York Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference semifinal. They certainly busted mine.

Going into Sunday’s second leg at Red Bull Arena, the Impact had a 1-0 lead and were playing against a team that is historically bad in playoff games they’re supposed to win. With the lead, they parked the bus even more than they usually do, and, thanks to a couple goals on the counter from Ignacio Piatti, they sunk the Red Bulls.

The Impact have a formula, and so far, it’s been working to perfection. They sit really deep, make sure their elderly midfield don’t have to run too much, and hit teams in transition courtesy of Piatti, Matteo Mancosu, and Dominic Oduro. With super-sub Didier Drogba, they have another element to show off in the last 20 minutes of games.

Now, they’re entering the Eastern Conference finals with a vibe reminiscent of the Columbus Crew and the Portland Timbers last year.




 Remember early in the year when Bradley Wright-Phillips was missing every chance that came to him and there was talk of him being benched? Well, the entire New York Bulls team is basically at that stage right now. They’ve lost two straight games after not losing for five months and they missed a record number of chances inside the six-yard box, a couple of them by BWP. The expected goals metric agrees with the ‘snakebitten’ hypothesis.

Sacha Kljestan broke his nose in the first half and the medical team took 10 minutes to stop the bleeding. That epitomized the Red Bulls MLS Cup playoff run this season.

Ali Curtis and the New York organization have some work to do in the offseason. That doesn’t mean a full-scale shakeup — after all, the current roster’s been pretty solid over the last two years, I’d say — but they have to do something if they’re going to find success in the postseason, which is clearly what this fansbase desires more than anything else.


NYCFC get humiliated

You think the Red Bulls had a bad day? Just look at their cross-town rivals.

New York City FC were absolutely demolished by Toronto FC at home in the second leg, losing 5-0 and 7-0 on aggregate. Sebastian Giovinco decimated everybody in sight and Patrick Vieira went home angry.

There’s not much else to say other than that it was really bad for NYC and really good for TFC. Now we’ve got an all-Canadian Eastern Conference final, and it is going to be good.


Not a great two weeks for Patrick Vieira

NYCFC’s coach Patrick Vieira had the full support of his team and the fanbase going into their playoff series against Toronto FC, but in the process of trying to find a game-breaking way to beat TFC, he’s lost some of the momentum he’s built for himself.

He’s been praised in the past for always sticking to his play-out-of-the-back-at-all-costs mantra — most notably by Fox Sports’ Alexi Lalas on Sunday’s broadcast — but he has moved away from that recently. In the first leg, Vieira played defensively and tried to counter Toronto from the flanks, exploiting the space left by wing-backs Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour. It worked for a while, but it crucially collapsed late on, with scrappy goals from Jozy Altidore and Tosaint Ricketts doing them in.

In the second leg, needing a 2-0 win at the minimum, he was able to put a full-strength starting XI out — Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard started — but again, they neglected possession and fell victim to TFC’s press, leading to an early goal that eliminated NYC from the get-go.

Giovinco, playing angry after his inexcusable MVP snub, finished with a hat-trick and Toronto won 5-0, winning 7-0 on aggregate.

Remember that this is the first senior team Vieira has ever managed. There’s a learning curve.


What could have been for FC Dallas

After the end of the first leg, it was pretty clear that FC Dallas had no chance of advancing. They were creamed by the Sounders at Century Link Field last week and needed a minimum of a 3-0 result at home on Sunday to stay alive. There wasn’t much hope.

Dallas did manage to beat Seattle in the second leg, but they lost the series 4-2 on aggregate and will head home without the historical treble. They had a better game-plan and better execution the second time around, though, and they leave their fans to wonder what could have been.

[Photo: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports]

About Harrison Hamm

Sports stuff for The Comeback. Often will write about MLS. Follow me on twitter @harrisonhamm21.