Conference Semifinal Leg 2 Preview

I think we can definitively say Eastern Conference soccer is fun and Western Conference soccer is not. Would anyone be opposed to just watching Toronto, RBNY, Columbus and NYCFC play a four-team round robin tournament for MLS Cup? Fine, we’ll stick with the current format.

Most of the games are Sunday, so prepare for a day filled with MLS Cup Playoffs. The Seattle Seahawks play at Century Link on Sunday afternoon, though, so we get the Sounders v. Whitecaps on a special Thursday night edition of MLS Cup Playoffs.

Best matchup of the conference semifinals leg 2: New York City FC v. Columbus Crew SC – Sunday, November 5, 5:00PM, ET, ESPN

You might be asking why I’m choosing the game with the widest margin as the best matchup of the second leg. Yes, the Crew absolutely dominated NYCFC at MAPFRE Stadium on Tuesday night. They got out to an early lead with Ola Kamara’s 6’ goal and didn’t really look back, aside from the 78’ slip up (literally) when David Villa scored his first ever MLS Cup Playoffs goal (what?).

If you just look at the box score, at first glance you might wonder how Columbus won by three goals. NYCFC outshot Columbus 19-14 and held 62.2% of possession. But when you look at the shot chart, it’s easy to see who was the better attacking side. The Crew edged NYCFC 7-3 in shots on target, but even those that were technically off target were much better shots. The Crew were a very consistent attacking threat all game long.

crew nycfc shot map.PNG

What’s worse for NYCFC is they lost their starting center back Alexander Callens to a video review-issued red card for an elbow to the face of Crew forward Justin Meram. Callens has literally played every single minute for NYCFC in MLS play this year, and now they’ll miss him for their most important game of the season. That’s less than ideal for a do-or-die game where you’re in a three goal hole.

Despite all of this, I think this will actually be a fun game to watch. New York City is fighting for their playoff lives, and being back “home” at Yankee Stadium will be a big advantage. NYC will come out fast, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Villa score another goal or two relatively quickly. When it’s all said and done, I think Columbus squeaks by, but it certainly won’t be by a three goal margin.

Worst game of the conference semifinals leg 2: Portland Timbers FC v. Houston Dynamo – Sunday, November 5, 7:30PM ET, Fox Sports 1

Did any of you watch the first game? Yeah, well, you get it. That was probably the most boring game of the playoffs so far.

Portland went into the game knowing if they earned a draw they’d have a significant advantage going home for the second leg, and they played like it. They weren’t pressing very hard, only possessed the ball 46.9% of the game, shot nine times and got a mere two shots on target. Pretty bad, right? Strangely enough, Houston only shot the ball nine times and had two on target as well.

Things got worse this week for Houston when it was announced that starting keeper Tyler Deric will be suspended for the match pending an investigation into an alleged domestic violence incident. That means Joe Willis will be in the net for Houston. The Timbers will press hard and early to test the backup keeper. Even without their star striker Fanendo Adi (who may be out for the rest of 2017), the Timbers should be able to control this game and put it away fairly easily.

The rest:

Thursday, November 2

Seattle Sounders FC v. Vancouver Whitecaps FC – 10:30PM ET, Fox Sports 1

Houston v. Portland wasn’t the only snooze fest in the Western Conference playoff matchups. Vancouver hosted Seattle at BC Place on Sunday night where the two teams drew 0-0. In fact, this game may have even been worse than the Dynamo v. Timbers game. I mean, look at this shot chart…

vancouver shot chart.PNG

Yeah. That’s not good.

Vancouver got off seven shots to Seattle’s six, but the Sounders were the only side to get a shot on target, and they only managed to do that once. Possession was split fairly evenly, with neither side really dominating on the ball.

That will very likely change this weekend. The Sounders were without many of their starters on Sunday, including Clint Dempsey who was serving a red card suspension. Deuce will likely return to the starting lineup, and it’s possible Osvaldo Alonso and Gustav Svensson will, too. If the Whitecaps weren’t able to put a weak Sounders team away at BC Place, why would we expect that to change on the road at Century Link facing a near full-strength Sounders side?

I fully expect Seattle to handle business at home without much issue, setting up a Western Conference Finals showdown with their most hated rival.

Sunday, November 5

Toronto FC v. New York Red Bulls – 3:00PM ET, ESPN

Toronto FC was the only team to go on the road and earn a victory outright in any first leg. TFC was able to go into Red Bull Arena and beat RBNY 2-1. Victor Vazquez opened the scoring early for Toronto with his 8’ goal, but the Red Bulls were able to tie it up just before half due to a Daniel Royer penalty kick. Ultimately, it was another free kick goal from Giovinco in the 72’ that gave Toronto their 2-1 lead.

Statistically speaking, New York actually dominated the game in nearly every category. They outshot Toronto 12 to 6 (4 to 2 on target), and they possessed the ball a whopping 64.4% of the time. They earned nine corners to Toronto’s three, and they had better passing accuracy in nearly every category except for crosses.

Despite all this, Toronto heads home to BMO with a massive 2-1 lead. Those two road goals loom large, which will make it that much more difficult for RBNY to catch Toronto who lost one game at home all year. The Red Bulls have performed admirably this offseason, upsetting Chicago in the knockout round and playing well against Toronto at home. They should be proud of what they’ve done and what they could do next season.

Having said that, I know anything is possible, but I fully expect Toronto to hold (or build upon) their lead and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Hot take of the week: New York City FC will make that series competitive. I’m not sure if they’ll be able to come back from a 4-1 deficit, but that road goal was huge. NYCFC is Certainly capable of a 3-0 scoreline to beat Columbus, but I think the Crew find one goal and sneak past NYC to face Toronto in the Eastern Conference Finals.

GIF of the week: It’s not a GIF, but given all the talk of changing the playoff format, TMLS decided to weigh in with our own plan. Questions, comments and critiques are welcome.