Category: MLS

Columbus bends in the Bronx, falling to NYCFC, but advances on aggregate

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

Three thoughts from New York City FC’s 2-0 defeat of Columbus Crew SC in the second leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals, which sees the Crew move on to the conference final thanks to a 4-3 aggregate win.

1. Columbus shaky, but does just enough

It certainly was not pretty, but Columbus Crew SC got what is a good enough result in Sunday’s 2-0 loss to New York City FC to book their ticket to the Eastern Conference final.

NYCFC were looking to make history by becoming the first MLS team to rally from a three-goal first-leg deficit, and for a good chunk of time in the second half MLS historians had their pens primed to add a chapter. But it was a mountain too high for the New Yorkers to climb, and while it will feel like backing in, the Crew won’t care; they are through to the MLS postseason final four.

Predictably, NYCFC came out the more aggressive of the two, and the inclusion of Ronald Matarrita at left-back was a significant upgrade from Ethan White in the first leg. Matarrita’s overlapping runs gave Columbus headaches, while right-back Andraz Struna, also getting the nod after playing as a substitute in Columbus, provided some good width and was arguably NYCFC’s most creative man on the night.

It was an uneven 90 minutes for Columbus. Ola Kamara was essentially anonymous, while more than once Federico Higuain was noticeably frustrated with teammates for their lack of precision. The dangerous transitions that they enjoyed in the first leg were nowhere to be seen.

In the back the Crew’s lapses that went unpunished in the first leg were not forgiven on Sunday night. Josh Williams was slow and clumsy when he took down Rodney Wallace, setting the table for David Villa’s penalty conversion in the 16th minute, before Jonathan Mensah redirected Struna’s cross into his own net.

NYCFC had Columbus on the ropes, and when Patrick Vieira’s men start flying, they are tough to beat. Only the wayward finishing of Maxi Moralez and Jack Harrison and a Wallace shot off the post kept NYCFC from the miracle.

Gregg Berhalter countered wisely, bringing on the speedy Kekuta Manneh before making two defensive changes in Lalas Abubakar and Adam Jahn to take the sting out of the NYCFC attack. It’s not how he imagined it, but in the end Berhalter pulled the right strings to allow Columbus to play another day.

2. Another early exit for NYCFC

It’s disappointment all over again for NYCFC after another exit after being the second seed in the East. Last year it was a 5-0 drubbing in Yankee Stadium at the hands of Toronto FC that doomed Vieira’s men after a 2-0 first-leg defeat in Canada. This time around the fault lies with their first-leg performance in Columbus.

Down 1-0 and a man in the second half, a more pragmatic approach was needed but that never came to pass. Even with a 3-1 deficit there was a path to a comeback, but Harrison Afful’s second-half stoppage-time goal settled this tie, and surely Sunday’s 2-0 win will be chewed on all winter long in Gotham, knowing that it would have been sufficient had Afful not scored.

David Villa
David Villa led New York City FC to a 2-0 win on Sunday, but Columbus Crew SC will move on with an aggregate win.

Assuming Vieira sticks around and turns away any suitors in Europe who might come calling, there are still several areas of need that should be addressed. Alexander Callens was a nice addition over the winter, but the defense could use improvement, plus another body in attack.

The designated player money that was taken up by Andrea Pirlo will now allow NYCFC some wiggle room, and if Vieira can have the kind of offseason that he had last winter when he made the savvy additions of midfielders Moralez, Alexander Ring and Yangel Herrera, then NYCFC can once again think big in 2018.

3. Columbus can feel confident against TFC

Sunday’s result aside, Columbus will feel good about its chances in the Eastern Conference final against Toronto FC.

Berhalter has the personnel in the form of Kamara, Higuain and Justin Meram to breach the Toronto defense, and with both Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco — two players who account for nearly half of TFC’s goals — out for the first leg, there’s no reason why the Crew can’t register another victory in front of the home fans.

The second leg will be a far trickier test, of course, especially with the error-prone defense against TFC’s star-studded attack, but Columbus has the goods to ride a first-leg victory to another series win.

A nice fairy tale is taking shape in Ohio’s capital, and there’s no reason why it can’t end with lifting the cup in front of their home fans.

Arch Bell is based in Austin, Texas and covers CONCACAF for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @ArchBell .

NYCFC 2-0 Columbus: NYC comeback falls short

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

Columbus holds on, eliminates NYCFC; Toronto wins feisty match vs. Red Bulls

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

Toronto FC lost the second leg of its Eastern Conference semifinal second leg against New York Red Bulls 1-0, but still advanced on away goals as the tie ended 2-2 on aggregate.

Toronto came into the match holding a 2-1 advantage from the first leg in Harrison, New Jersey, with the two away goals giving Greg Vanney’s team the upper hand from the off.

The hosts’ best early chance came right before the 10-minute mark, when Jozy Altidore found space in the New York penalty area after a driving run, but hooked his low shot just wide of the far post.

Shorty after, a dangerous Victor Vazquez ball across the goalmouth was a boot-length away from finding Sebastian Giovinco at the back post before being poked to safety by Kemar Lawrence.

Toronto continued to have the better of the chances in the opening 45 minutes and had a penalty shout waved off after Giovinco was knocked down while in on goal after some neat build-up play from the Reds.

And Giovinco had one more chance before half-time after breaking free in the New York box and curling a close-range shot with the outside of his right foot wide of the far post when he looked likelier to score.

Altidore, Michael Bradley and Tyler Adams all saw yellow over the course of a testy first half that ended 0-0. Altidore received his caution for a tussle with Sacha Kljestan that spilled over into the tunnel as teams went back to the dressing room and both players were sent off before the start of the second half.

With both teams down 10 men, the Red Bulls got off to a dream start in the second half when Daniel Royer’s shot from 40 yards took a deflection off Bradley Wright-Phillips and trickled into Toronto’s goal giving New York an important away goal and a 1-0 lead.

Clinging to an aggregate lead on away goals, Toronto’s nerves showed and Wright-Phillips should have made them pay when he was played into the area with a flick from Adams only to have his shot snuffed out by goalkeeper Alex Bono.

Toronto then thought they’d scored a decisive goal when Jonathan Osorio bundled home a Giovinco chip at the back post, but the referee waved off the goal and instead called a foul on the TFC player.

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

Vanney’s team will face the Columbus Crew, who came out on top against New York City FC 4-3 on aggregate despite losing the second leg 2-0 at Yankee Stadium.

Trailing 4-1 on aggregate after the first leg in Columbus, Patrick Vieira’s team got just the start it needed when Rodney Wallace was toppled in the penalty area by Frederic Brillant and David Villa slotted home the ensuing spot kick to make it 1-0.

There were nervy moments in the opening half for New York keeper Sean Johnson, a questionable punch fell to Federico Higuain in the area and a miscommunication with his defense almost saw a headed back pass find its way into his net.

Maxi Moralez’s pinpoint cutback set Villa up just before half-time, but the Spaniard couldn’t quite get a boot on pass before it was seemingly handled by Mohammed Abu in the area with no penalty given.

The host side clawed back one of the two goals it needed early in the second half when Crew defender Jonathan Mensah redirected Andraz Struna’s shot into his own net to cut Columbus’ aggregate lead to 4-3.

The chances came fast and furious after that for NYCFC, Moralez heading wide at the back post before Jack Harrison shot tamely at Zack Steffen in the Columbus goal and Wallace smashing one off the post from very close range.

Kekuta Manneh could have put it away just before the 90-minute mark, but his left-footed shot from close range smashed into the side netting to keep New York’s hopes alive.

A flurry by NYCFC in stoppage time came up empty as the Crew hung on to eliminate the second-seed in the East and keep its MLS Cup dream alive.

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Mensah own goal brings NYCFC within a goal

Major League Soccer: Jonathan Mensah (53') New York City FC 2-0 Columbus Crew SC

Toronto keeps MLS Cup hopes alive, but only just, against Red Bulls

New York Red Bulls were winners in a cagey, ill-tempered second leg in Canada, but Toronto FC still advanced on aggregate.
Toronto FC and New York Red Bulls had a coming together in the tunnel during halftime of their cagey playoff match.
Jozy Altidore gets tangled up with both Tyler Adams and Sacha Kljestan after a foul in Toronto’s semifinal vs. New York.

Toronto FC is moving on to the Eastern Conference finals despite losing to the New York Red Bulls 1-0 in the second leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals. The result meant that the series was tied 2-2 on aggregate, with TFC progressing on the away goals rule.

Daniel Royer officially scored the game’s only goal, though it appeared to take a deflection off of Bradley Wright-Phillips. This came after Toronto’s Jozy Altidore and the Red Bulls’ Sacha Kljestan were sent off at halftime for an altercation in the tunnel.

Here are three thoughts from an ill-tempered match:

1. Toronto keeps MLS Cup hopes on track, but only just

TFC thought it had done most of the hard work when it won the first leg 2-1 at Red Bull Arena. Only by conceding multiple goals could Toronto even come close to being eliminated. As such, the home side could invite the Red Bulls forward, and do what it could to disrupt New York’s rhythm. When the ball was won, it could rely on the brilliance of Victor Vazquez and Sebastian Giovinco. Toronto was in prime position to dictate the game’s proceedings.

Instead, TFC made life as difficult as possible for itself. The match devolved into a chippy, petulant encounter, full of pushing, shoving, tactical fouling and utterly dumb cards for dissent.

Still, after 45 minutes, the score was 0-0, and it looked like Toronto was in control.

But then the game was turned on its head as the players headed to their respective locker rooms at halftime. Both Kljestan and Altidore had already been booked just prior to the halftime whistle, when Altidore went to ground theatrically following a shove from Kljestan. The bad blood didn’t abate, and when the two teams emerged from the locker room, they were both playing with 10 men thanks to the ejections of both players due to what was described as violent conduct.

While Kljestan and Altidore are critical to their respective team’s attack, New York was clearly the beneficiary. With two fewer players on the field, there was more space to be had, and it was New York who needed the goals.

Nerves at BMO Field were soon jangling after Royer’s deflected effort settled into the Toronto net in the 53rd minute. Just nine minutes later Wright-Phillips was put in alone by Tyler Adams only for Alex Bono to save with his legs.

But ultimately the Reds got the job done. For all the talk about Toronto’s attacking pieces, its defense was second best in the league this season, and it was able to keep the Red Bulls in check.

That said, this was by no means a textbook example of how to protect a first-leg lead.

2. Red Bulls finally get some luck, just not enough

The Red Bulls’ playoff history is littered with underachievement and little to no luck. But when Royer scored, it seemed like this just might be the Red Bulls’ day. A disallowed goal for Toronto in the 78th minute seemed to hint even stronger that Lady Luck might be smiling on New York. As it turned out, the damage done in the first leg was something the visitors unable to overcome.

Jozy Altidore and Sacha Kljestan
Sacha Kljestan and Jozy Altidore were both sent off for violent conduct in the New York Red Bulls’ 1-0 win over Toronto on Sunday.

With the Red Bulls needing a minimum of two goals in order to advance, Marsch opted for a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield that had Adams operating as a central playmaker flanked by Kljestan and Royer. Adams in particular showed he wasn’t the slightest bit intimidated by the big stage, despite being on the receiving end of some heavy challenges. But it wasn’t until the ejections of Altidore and Kljestan that the game opened up for the visitors, and chances started to be created with greater frequency.

Wright-Phillips will no doubt rue his missed opportunity, one that would have put the visitors ahead on aggregate. But this was a day in which New York simply couldn’t break Toronto down with enough frequency, despite its sizable territorial advantage. And now its quest to win its first MLS Cup will have to wait at least another season.

3. This match should be a wakeup call for Toronto

It’s rare that a team can play as poorly as Toronto did, lose the mental battle and manage to stay alive. Yet that is where TFC sits at the moment, its hopes of winning MLS Cup — and claiming a rare Supporters’ Shield/MLS Cup double — still intact.

To be fair, TFC did seem to regain some composure as the game entered its latter stages, doing better in terms of keeping possession. But it’s as stunning as it is head shaking that Toronto would lose its composure and allow itself to be drawn into such confrontations. This is a veteran team, and given its season-long dominance, as well as its performance in the first leg, simply keeping its collective head would be enough to secure the result it needed. Instead in this match TFC was in many ways its own worst enemy.

Altidore’s red card wasn’t the only negative on the day either. Sebastian Giovinco’s booking for dissent in the 80th minute will see him suspended for the first leg of the Eastern Conference finals. Captain Michael Bradley was booked for dissent after the halftime whistle. He’ll now need to make sure he stays out of the referee’s book in the first leg. And Vazquez can count himself lucky that he wasn’t booked for dissent late on. It is these kinds of self-inflicted wounds that can upend a championship quest.

Toronto has been hailed for its depth all year. With Altidore and Giovinco now suspended, TFC’s bench will need to step up again when it matters most.

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