Category: MLS

Andrea Pirlo thanks New York City FC after final game as a player

Columbus will play Toronto FC in the Eastern Conference Final after NYCFC failed to score the third goal they needed.
With Andrea Pirlo set to retire at the end of the year, Ale Moreno feels MLS need to bring in productive players.

Italy legend Andrea Pirlo has thanked New York City FC and its fans after retiring as a player.

Pirlo, 38, had said last month that he intended to retire at the end of the Major League Soccer season and posted a farewell message on social media after his side lost to Columbus Crew SC in the Eastern Conference semifinals. 

Pirlo, a 2006 World Cup winner with Italy, wrote on Twitter: “Last match in MLS. As my time in NYFC comes to an end I would to say few words. I want to thank everybody for the kindness and support they have shown me in this incredible city.

“Thank you to the amazing supporters, thank you to the coaching staff and everybody that work behind the scene, thank you to my teammates.

“Not only my adventure in NY comes to an end but my journey as a football player as well, that is why I would like to take the opportunity to thank my family and my children for the support and love they always give me, every team that I had the honor to play for, every teammate I have been pleased to play alongside, all the people that made my career such incredible and last but not least, all the fans around the world that always showed me support. You will always be on my side and in my heart.”

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Major League Soccer's final four: Columbus, Toronto, Houston, Seattle

With two stars out for Toronto FC in the first leg, Steve Nicol says Columbus have a chance to put the tie away early.

After a weekend that had a little bit of everything, Major League Soccer’s final four is set. As is so often the case in the MLS Cup playoffs, the postseason has seen its share of upsets, with the Houston Dynamo’s victory over the Portland Timbers, the top seed in the west, the most notable.

The Dynamo’s win sets up a date with the Seattle Sounders who booked their place in the conference final by overcoming the Vancouver Whitecaps. There was drama and bad blood as well in the east, with Toronto outlasting the New York Red Bulls, while Columbus continued its run (despite plenty of off-field distractions) by hanging on to get past New York City FC.

Here are the storylines to follow in the conference finals.

1. How will the international break affect the teams that are left?

The four remaining teams must now wait over two weeks before they play again thanks to the international break. For sides like the Sounders and Dynamo that are banged up, the respite isn’t the worst thing to happen, as it will give some preferred starters the chance to heal up and get closer to their best. That said, the Dynamo’s Honduran contingent (Alberth Elis, Romell Quioto and Boniek Garcia) will be contesting a World Cup qualifying playoff against Australia, so the concern there is that Houston won’t be as rested as Seattle will.

Toronto won’t mind the break either; the time will be needed to get its collective head — one that it lost to a degree against the Red Bulls — back together.

About the only team that might rue the time off is the Crew. Columbus saw its 12-game unbeaten streak across all competitions snapped in Sunday’s 2-0 defeat to NYCFC but, overall, the Crew has been in arguably the best form of any of the remaining sides. At the very least, the break will give Gregg Berhalter ample time to come up with a tactical plan to thwart TFC.

2. Crew’s date with destiny still on

Columbus will play Toronto FC in the Eastern Conference Final after NYCFC failed to score the third goal they needed.

The Crew’s run so far has borne an uncanny resemblance to the movie “Major League.” As a consequence, #SaveTheCrew isn’t just what goalkeeper Zack Steffen has been doing during the playoffs, but it’s become a galvanizing force of fans backing the team, this despite owner Anthony Precourt’s public flirtation with moving the franchise to Austin, Texas.

But give Berhalter and his players credit. They’ve managed to tune out the noise surrounding the team’s future and have been playing for the present. The concerns about the team’s defense, and in particular central defender Jonathan Mensah, will persist, but Berhalter has enough pieces playing well that a trip to its second MLS Cup final in three years is well within reach for the Crew.

3. Toronto’s depth to be tested again

New York Red Bulls were winners in a cagey, ill-tempered second leg in Canada, but Toronto FC still advanced on aggregate.

TFC’s deep roster has been lauded throughout the season, and with good reason. It seemed like no combination of injuries and international absence was enough to knock the Reds off their stride. But now manager Greg Vanney will have to look to his bench again when the stakes are highest. Starting forwards Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco will be suspended for the opening leg against Columbus on Nov. 21 — Altidore for his rather foolish exchange with the Red Bulls Sacha Kljestan, and Giovinco for the silly pair of yellow cards he received over two legs.

It seems likely that Tosaint Ricketts will be asked to deputize for Altidore, while Victor Vasquez will slide into the Giovinco role, leaving one of Jonathan Osorio or Armando Cooper to move into Vasquez’s normal role deeper in midfield.

The situation certainly isn’t unfamiliar for Vanney. Toronto’s record when both Altidore and Giovinco weren’t on the field this season is 2-2-0, but the playoffs are a different beast, and how TFC copes on the road in front of what will no doubt be an intense Columbus crowd will largely determine if the Reds will be hosting MLS Cup for the second year in a row.

4. Is it Dempsey time?

Clint Dempsey netted both of Seattle’s goals as they cruised into the Western Conference final with a 2-0 win.

The MLS Cup playoffs haven’t always been kind to Seattle forward Clint Dempsey over the years. Prior to the second leg against Vancouver, Dempsey had managed just four goals and three assists in 19 postseason appearances. His strikerate with the Sounders was a bit better, but still a rather pedestrian three goals in 10 matches. But after bagging both goals in the second leg, Dempsey’s numbers are now a quite respectable five in 11.

Given that Jordan Morris, Victor Rodriguez, Ozzie Alonso, and Gustav Svensson have been nursing injuries, Dempsey’s performance came at an opportune time. The aforementioned break figures to help the Sounders heal up. But this seems like the playoff year where Dempsey will really shine, and a repeat performance will almost certainly catapult Seattle into its second consecutive MLS Cup final.

5. Will Houston crash the MLS Cup final party?

Houston overcame an early Portland goal to shock the Timbers and progress to the Western Conference Final against Seattle.

Not many expected the Dynamo to prevail against top-seeded Portland on the road, but Wilmer Cabrera’s side did exactly that. This is a side that on the one hand seems like a mish-mash of spare parts, but it’s also one that has grown over the course of the season, and in the process it has revealed that there is more to its game than just the simple defend-and-counter. It has also shown it can get results on the road when it needs them.

The two teams split the season series at one win apiece, though it’s worth noting that they haven’t played each other since early June. Defensively, Houston has been stellar over the last month, conceding just three goals in its last seven matches across all competitions. Offensively the team has done just enough.

Given its outstanding home form this season — it went 12-1-4 — as well as the recent history of lower seeds prevailing over higher seeds, another Dynamo ambush could be in the offing.

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.

Wilmer Cabrera thrilled the Houston Dynamo are 'not on vacation yet'

Houston overcame an early Portland goal to shock the Timbers and progress to the Western Conference Final against Seattle.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Barely a year after finishing at the very bottom of Major League Soccer’s Western Conference, the Houston Dynamo are heading for the conference final after knocking off the top-seeded Portland Timbers on Sunday night at Providence Park.

First-year Dynamo coach Wilmer Cabrera likened the turnaround to a dream — one that’ll live on for at least a few more weeks before the West finals kick off on Nov. 21 against the Seattle Sounders.

“Now we continue dreaming and thinking about the possibilities that are in front of us,” Cabrera said. “We’re not on vacation yet.”

The atmosphere was electric before and throughout Sunday’s match. But it wasn’t hostile, Cabrera said, “the environment was beautiful” and the underdog Dynamo rose to the occasion.

While many league observers were prematurely rubbing their hands together at the possibility of a Sounders-Timbers conference championship, Houston approached the game with quiet confidence and grew into the match as it progressed.

Dylan Remick’s volley on the stroke of half-time was pivotal, cancelling out Dairon Asprilla’s earlier strike and giving Houston the away-goals tiebreaker and tilting the momentum toward the visiting locker room during intermission. Mauro Manotas sealed the victory with 13 minutes remaining, theatrically cupping his hands behind his ears in front of the Timbers’ Army in defiance.

“We were excited to show that the Houston Dynamo has the quality,” Cabrera said. “There’s a reason why we’re in the playoffs. There’s a reason why we’re in the finals of the Western Conference. No one has given us anything. We have earned everything on the field.”

Houston Dynamo celebrate
Houston players celebrate after Dylan Remick helped it draw level with Portland on Sunday night.

Timbers coach Caleb Porter could only lament what might have been.

His squad dealt with an extraordinary run of bad injury luck leading up to the game. Midfielder Sebastian Blanco missed the first leg after accidentally dropping boiling water on his own foot while cooking early last week and started Sunday’s match on the bench. Diego Chara broke his foot during Game 1, and in the final play of training on Saturday, defender Roy Miller tore his Achilles while leaping during a set-piece drill.

Darlington Nagbe and David Guzman both played hurt, and forward Darren Mattocks was substituted out in the 13th minute after suffering a head injury.

“That’s the story of the season, for good and bad,” Porter said. “The bad is that we weren’t at full strength very often this year. But we still got 15 wins, which tied the club record and won the West while playing with a lot of different guys. Tonight, we were as thin as ever. … That became the rallying cry a little bit.

“I can’t fault my guys. I told them after the game, in the five years I’ve been here, this was one of my most enjoyable years. It wasn’t just 15 wins and winning the West, though those all real positives that we’ll realize when the sting wears off.

“It was just being around these groups of guys. It’s a great group of guys. It’s just a shame we couldn’t move on, because I think we could have really done something if we had 15 or so days to get a few guys back and healthy. We really thought we would pull this off today.”

Had they pulled it off, it would have set up one of the most anticipated playoff series in MLS history between two of the league’s most passionate rivals.

Instead, Houston’s underdog story moves on.

Matt Pentz is a Seattle-based soccer reporter covering primarily the Sounders, Timbers and Whitecaps. Follow him on Twitter @mattpentz.

Toronto suspensions give Columbus chance to strike


Toronto FC

New York Red Bulls


Leg 2Aggregate: 2 – 2

Game Details

New York City FC

Columbus Crew SC


Leg 2Aggregate: 3 – 4

Game Details

Portland Timbers

Houston Dynamo


Leg 2Aggregate: 1 – 2

Game Details

Houston's unlikely hero Dylan Remick sends Portland packing from playoffs

Houston overcame an early Portland goal to shock the Timbers and progress to the Western Conference Final against Seattle.

PORTLAND, Ore. – Three thoughts on the Houston Dynamo’s 2-1 Western Conference semifinal win over the Portland Timbers on Sunday at Providence Park.

1. Dylan Remick the man of the hour

Remick, the former Seattle Sounder and part-time Dynamo starter, provided his old rivals with a helping hand in the 39th minute, slipping on the turf in Houston’s penalty box and giving Dairon Asprilla room to work. The Colombian winger made no mistake, collecting the ball calmly, putting the Timbers up 1-0 and sending the home crowd into raptures.

It took less than four minutes for Remick to earn redemption. Just as quickly as Portland started daydreaming of a potential Western Conference finals showdown against Seattle, Remick put his right foot through a bouncing ball and crushed it past Timbers goalkeeper Jeff Attinella. Even Remick looked slightly surprised by the quality of his finish as he turned away to celebrate with the Dynamo bench.

His strike gave Houston the away-goals tiebreaker and control it would never relinquish. Remick hasn’t often been in the limelight. Only once in four years with the Sounders did he start more than half the team’s matches. Playing time has been more steady this season in Houston but tapered off a bit down the stretch run. Prior to Sunday’s match, he had scored just one goal in 58 career MLS appearances.

Remick has always been highly regarded by his peers, unfailingly polite even if he wasn’t playing well, with a high soccer IQ honed in the Ivy League at Brown University. He has just tended to sort of blend into the background over the long course of the MLS season. There was no more influential player on Sunday night.

Houston Dynamo celebrate
Houston Dynamo players celebrate after Dylan Remick scored to pull the team level with Portland Timbers.

2. Houston spoils the party

Watching the electric pregame festivities at Providence Park, it was hard not to wonder just how more amped up they were likely to be if Seattle came to town for a conference final in a few weeks time.

The Timbers and Sounders have faced off in the original North American Soccer League, the Western Soccer Alliance, the A-League and the USL. They played each other in the MLS conference semifinals a few years back. However, the Cascadian rivals have never played each other with an MLS Cup berth on the line, and that would have made for one of the most highly anticipated series in league history.

It wasn’t to be. Remick began to break with the narrative with his strike just before half-time, and Mauro Manotas sealed the deal with a goal from distance 13 minutes from time.

Not that the Dynamo appeared all that concerned about neutral preferences — Manotas’ celebration in front of the Timbers’ Army, hands cupped defiantly behind his ears, said it all.

The Sounders and Dynamo will play for the Western Conference title starting on Nov. 21 at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston.

Houston Dynamo defender Adolfo Machado celebrates after full-time of his team's win against Portland.
Houston Dynamo defender Adolfo Machado celebrates after his team beat Portland in the MLS playoffs.

3. Portland’s injuries finally caught up

Portland’s injury report was more crowded than a popular local brunch spot earlier on Sunday morning.

Diego Chara, whose jersey Asprilla held up in tribute during the national anthem, broke his foot during the first leg of the series. Fanendo Adi was again out with an injured hamstring, and both Darlington Nagbe (calf) and David Guzman (knee) soldiered on despite playing through their own various ailments.

Attacking midfielder Sebastian Blanco sustained second-degree burns on the top of his foot after dropping boiling water on it while cooking last week and could only tolerate the pain enough to play in the second half. All of that was before Darren Mattocks was substituted out in the 13th minute of the game with what looked to be a head injury, and prior to Liam Ridgewell’s own scare after a collision later in the first half.

Timbers coach Caleb Porter lauded his team’s depth earlier this week, and indeed, this might be the deepest squad in the club’s MLS history. Yet even that has limits, and on Sunday, Portland finally reached that point. Not even likely league Most Valuable Player Diego Valeri’s attacking magic could balm all of those wounds in the end.

Matt Pentz is a Seattle-based soccer reporter covering primarily the Sounders, Timbers and Whitecaps. Follow him on Twitter @mattpentz.