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Major League Soccer

Boateng Stars; Drogba Dilemma; Frei Is Fantastic

Three of the four MLS knockout round matches were lopsided affairs, but all of the contests offered up compelling talking points, chronicled here by ASN's Brian Sciaretta.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
October 29, 2016
8:00 AM

Boateng best player in knockouts

Some players get rattled after conceding a penalty in a big game. Los Angeles Galaxy attacker Emmanuel Boateng is not one of those players. After Alan Gordon scored the opening goal, Boateng conceded a penalty on a poor decision by the referee. Joao Plata converted with ease to equalize the game 1-1.

After that, Boateng simply dominated the game. Minutes later scored a goalazo, dancing through the Real Salt Lake defense en route to a go-ahead score. It wasn’t long before he put the game out of reach with another outstanding effort. Even when he didn’t score, his speed was simply a major problem for Real Salt Lake all-game until he was subbed out in the 76th minute.

There were plenty of questions surrounding the Galaxy heading into the knockout stage. How injured is Robbie Keane? Will Steven Gerrard come back this postseason? Can Landon Donovan return to dominant form after coming out of retirement? With so many uncertainties, Boateng raised his game to but on a first-rate performance and put the Galaxy into the next round to face Colorado.

Expect big changes in Philadelphia

The Philadelphia Union underwent a transformation during the season. Central midfielder Vincent Nogueira’s departure in June turned out to be extremely costly and the fact that Maurice Edu never returned was also a huge factor in the team's downfall.

The midseason acquisition of Alejandro Bedoya did not help the team as much as expected but his arrival also coincided with center forward C.J. Sapong’s brutal 10-week stretch where he failed to score since early August. Sapong’s inability to close put more pressure on others to step up and the whole team seemed out of synch.

Earnie Stewart joined the Union as the team’s technical director and began work in January. He did not have a lot of time in the last offseason to shape the team in his vision. This will be his first offseason with total control and expect him to come in and make a lot of changes. This Union team could look drastically different come January.

Stewart will have to explore many avenues as he retools the squad, looking for options abroad, via the draft, through trades, and via homegrown signings. This Philadelphia team needs a consistent central forward and defensive/box-to-box midfielders are needed to help connect the defense to the attack. Also, the central defense needs a facelift. Ken Tribbett was the biggest reason why Philadelphia lost to Toronto as he gifted away two goals.

Finally, there is Jim Curtin. The local coach was popular when the Union were on top earlier in the season. But the brutal fade could put him squarely on the hot seat early in the offseason. Why would Stewart come in and not want to put in his own selection as the head coach? General managers typically want to build teams under their own vision and the coach is a cornerstone of that vision. Stewart left a great gig in the Netherlands to come to MLS. The chances are that he came here with a real purpose. Don’t be surprised if there Curtin is not around much longer.

Toronto was subpar but ruthless

Toronto FC defeated Philadelphia 3-1 and will now face New York City FC. In the beginning of the game, Philadelphia actually held possession and was pressing. But Toronto missed or waited too long to connect on key passes. Sometimes in the offensive zone, Toronto players made poor turnovers.

But good teams find ways to win when they’re not at their best—which is why Toronto can go far in this postseason. What the winners showed as a ruthless ability to punish Philadelphia’s mistakes and make Union players pay a price for errors. When Toronto was struggling to create, it let Philadelphia provide the opportunities.

Now Toronto will have to find a way to be much better against NYCFC. Tommy McNamara can create an opportunity out of nowhere and David Villa does not need a great chance to score. New York City is full of confident, experienced players who know how to rise to the occasion.

Toronto didn't play well but defeated a team caught in a downward spiral. That won’t be the case in the next round.

Does Montreal Need Drogba to Win?

The big story around Montreal this past week was the status of disgruntled (and perhaps slightly injured) striker Didier Drogba, who took himself out of the lineup in the peunultimate game of the regular season because he did not want to be on the substitute bench.

Would Drogba play against D.C. United? Would he show up?

It didn’t matter.

The Montreal Impact was fantastic without the Ivory Coast legend as it cruised past United from the opening whistle. It was a complete performance with Laurent Ciman, Ignacio Piatti, and Matteo Mancosu (twice) all finding the back of the net in a 4-2 win.  

What was interesting about Montreal is that its players seemed to be transforming the energy of the Drogba distraction and using it to their advantage. Instead of frustration over Drogba, the players were playing with a chip on their shoulder. They had so much more energy than D.C. United.

After the game, Impact coach Mauro Biello was asked about Drobga and he indicated that Drogba might be back Sunday against the Red Bulls. But if you are an fan of the Impact, would you want him back? 

D.C. United reverted to midseason form

D.C. United enjoyed a strong showing in the final months of the regular season but that kind of served to camouflage that at its core, this is not a very good team. For most of the year, it was mediocre and very, very boring. The acquisition of Lloyd Sam helped and Patrick Mullins was in the best form of his career from late August through mid-October. But on Tuesday, the team reverted back to its normal ways—which was likely to happen sooner than later.

After the game, United coach Ben Olsen said he looked forward to building on the success of the last few months in 2017. If that is the approach, he is missing that there really was not that much below the surface. This team needs a lot of upgrades as it looks to move into its own stadium on a high note in a few years.

Frei brilliant in Seattle win

Seattle’s Nelson Valdez, who was scoreless this season, found an 88th-minute winner to sink Sporting Kansas City 1-0 in a riveting knockout clasj. Replays would later show that Valdez was offside—even more offside than Matt Besler was earlier in the half when his goal was called back.

Blown officiating aside, this game was great playoff entertainment. It was intense and full of emotion. Ozzie Alonso and Benny Feilhaber were lucky not to be sent off. Despite the low scoring game, both teams were pressing hard the entire game. Feilhaber, despite his emotional outburst at the officials, was brilliant in this game. He outplayed Seattle star Nicolas Lodeiro and was hitting great passes in the midfield.

For long stretches, especially in the first half, Sporting was the better team. The only reason why the Sounders won this game is because goalkeeper Stefan Frei had an amazing game with several saves to deny goals. The Swiss-born Frei had the best game of his career and led his team to a victory it did not deserve.

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