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MLS Playoffs

Bradley Takes Charge in Toronto Win; Morris Shines

The big winners during the first leg of the conference semifinals? The Seattle Sounders, and Canada, the latter of which enjoyed two victories over favorites from the Big Apple. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
October 31, 2016
5:40 PM

Michael Bradley Steps It Up

Toronto FC spent a ton of money to lure Michael Bradley to the Great White North. The subsequent additions of Jozy Altidore and most importantly Sebastian Giovinco reinforced the notion that Toronto was going to invest heavily to bring an MLS title to Canada. All three signings were significant, but Bradley’s signing set the tone.

On Sunday the United States national team captain delivered with a monster performance in central midfield in a convincing 2-0 win over second-seeded New York City FC. Bradley did not score or register any assists but he was the best player on the field. New York City FC hung around in the first half but in the second half, Toronto came to life and Bradley help tilt the field in favor of the hosts. His passing, positioning, and defense was the highest level he has shown in an important game in years.

“I thought he was outstanding,” Toronto coach Greg Vanney said. “Again, in the role that he is playing and especially on a day like today where the opposition is really looking for things in transition and we've committed a lot of numbers to pressing, sometimes his role isn't always all about the stuff that happens going forward. I thought he was very good with the ball and getting us out of things which we see from him a lot but I thought what was really special about his performance tonight was how quickly he was getting to close the double team.

"They've got guys, not just David Villa, but they've got Mendoza and (Jack) Harrison who are very good dribblers when they get guys in one-and-one situations can be very dangerous and Michael was there in a flash to be the second defender to help support our back three. In terms of defensively he was picking up loose balls, he was doing a lot of the dirty that doesn't catch the spotlight but I thought he did an incredible job of covering ground and being in places to help snuff things out and to really help drive our pressure from the backside. I thought it was a phenomenal night—maybe one of the best nights I've ever seen from him for us."

This is, of course, fantastic timing for Bradley on many reasons. If Bradley is playing this well then Toronto has a real chance to make a long run in the playoffs. That is music to the ears of the team’s fans and the ownership which desperately want to see this team grow in stature.

Also, Jurgen Klinsmann and U.S. national team fans must have loved what they saw on Sunday—not just from Bradley, but also from Jozy Altidore who scored an opportunistic goal late in the second half. If the captain and Altidore can keep this level up, the U.S. team will be in good shape against Mexico.

On a related note, the crowd in Toronto was nothing short of incredible. On television, it came across about as well as a big European game and the team played with an intensity that seemed to feed off its fans. If Toronto is gets past New York City, BMO Field is going to be an extremely difficult place to play 

Montreal’s sticks to winning formula

Montreal does not have Didier Drogba but the Impact do not need him and might even be better off without him. After a 1-0 win over the top-seeded New York Red Bulls on Sunday, Montreal is in a strong position heading to New Jersey.


Right now, this team is playing hard but it is also playing with a coherent vision. Head coach Mauro Biello knows the team’s strengths. First and foremost, it is lethal on counter-attacks. The players know how stay compact in the backline and make a quick break. Ignacio Piatti is the perfect playmaker for this type of style. Dominic Oduro is also a menace.

Finally, the club also has an in-form striker with Matteo Mancosu who scored an amazing goal against the Red Bulls to go with the two goals he scored in the knockout win over D.C. United.

"We know they're a team that likes to be compact and get everyone behind the ball,” Red Bulls midfielder Felipe said. “I just think on the day we weren't sharp enough to put the game on our terms. I think everything falls on us. Now we got to look at the video and try to be better next game."

The best indication of how well Montreal was playing was seen in the visitors' frustration. New York came out confident but became flustered and soon began to force plays that were not there. Then when the league’s best striker in 2016 had a clear shot inside the six-yard box, in stoppage time, he missed the net entirely—omething that could cost the team the series.

"We knew that they couldn't play at that pace all game, so closer to the end it was just a matter of trying to keep the ball more when we could,” said Montreal midfielder Patrice Bernier. “When we started to do that, more spaces were created and it was a great pass to Matteo. That's all he needs to score."

This is a dangerous team right now because the players believe in each other, the system, and the coach.

"I was expecting just that, them to be a team that applied pressure and a team that was fresh,” Biello said of the Red Bulls. “It was important to manage this game well because we played on Thursday. I started the same lineup and I thought we did an excellent job of managing the game, not giving away anything and to score the goal that we needed.”

"The team is coming together in terms of their responsibilities on the field,” he added. “There's so much fight in them. What was said after the game is that what I liked most is what they did after they scored and all celebrated together. To me that's a bond and something very strong. Credit to my players, as for me it was a fantastic performance. When I calculate the emotions of Thursday, the work of doing what we did to go out and win in D.C. and to come back here in front of our fans to win the game against probably the favorites to win MLS Cup was fantastic."

Seattle’s outburst sinks Dallas

Unless there is a miracle, there will be no MLS “Treble” this year thanks to an unbelievable nine-minute display of soccer from the Seattle Sounders on Sunday night. This stretch of play sunk FC Dallas 3-0 at CenturyLink Field on Sunday night.

Seattle was always on the front foot in this game but in the 50th minute the flood gates opened with a goal from Nelson Valdez. Then, in the 55th and 58th minutes, Nicolas Lodeiro put the game (and likely the series) out of reach. Lodeiro is playing at a level few MLS players have ever reached and Seattle is playing like a team that could be a very serious contender for MLS Cup.

But the real highlight in this game came from Jordan Morris, who set up Lodeiro’s second goal. The United States international showed amazing skill in a 55-yard run to blow past the Dallas defense and hit a pinpoint pass to Lodeiro for the tap-in.

Who wants to face this team right now?

Galaxy’s vets provide huge advantage

While Colorado was the higher seed, it is easy to see why the Los Angeles Galaxy has the advantage in this series. No Steven Gerrard? No problem. A coach’s choice to sit Robbie Keane in favor of Alan Gordon? That’ll work. Landon Donovan’s return to the playoffs after two years of retirement? Perfect.

The Galaxy thrives in these situations and once again everything is breaking Bruce Arena’s way. Colorado plays a defensive and boring style that has brought about an unexpected strong season.

But the postseason is the Galaxy’s time of year.

“We had enough chances to get a couple goals today,” Arena said in typical fashion. ”You’re playing against a team that doesn’t concede many goals. You may disagree, but we certainly had chances to get a second goal today and we fell short there. Overall I think we played a pretty solid game.”

Newcomer Jelle Van Damme and second-year vet Giovani Dos Santos were among the best players on the field. The Galaxy is a playoff machine and everything just seems to work for this team. 

U.S. National team players shine

From a United States national team perspective, this was a great weekend. Michael Bradley was the best player for any team this weekend. Jozy Altidore scored a huge goal. Jordan Morris demonstrated that his game has grown by leaps and bounds this season. Tim Howard lost this weekend but he played well enough to keep Colorado in the series. Sacha Kljestan likewise played well in a loss. And Jermaine Jones made his return from injury.

All of these players played well on a big stage as an epic showdown with Mexico awaits in Columbus on November 11.

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