The sprint toward MLS Cup 2017 is under way.
Major League Soccer’s playoffs have begun in the last week, with teams treating fans to some fine and forgettable performances. Of the four Knockout Round games, two were blowouts, one went to extra time and penalty kicks settled the other.
Those only set the stage for the Conference Semifinals series, in which the best eight remaining teams opened their two-legged contests. As was the case in the Knockout Round, two games were cagey, drab and goal-less affairs, while the other two offered quality entertainment.
Let’s look at what transpired in the opening phases of the 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs in our weekly MLS review.
Latest MLS Scores (home team listed first)
Chicago Fire 0, New York Red Bulls 4
Vancouver Whitecaps 5, San Jose Earthquakes 0
Atlanta United 0, Columbus Crew 0 (Crew win penalty-kick shootout 3-1)
Houston Dynamo 1, Sporting Kansas City 0
Conference semifinals, first leg
Vancouver Whitecaps 0, Seattle Sounders 0
New York Red Bulls 1, Toronto FC 2
Houston Dynamo 0, Portland Timbers 0
Columbus Crew 4, New York City FC 1
Key talking points
Portland failed to gain an edge against a resolute Houston side in the first leg and also might have lost some footing ahead of the second leg. Midfielder Diego Chara broke his foot and is expected to miss the second game, while teammates Darlington Nagbe and Larrys Mabiala are doubtful, having limped out of the first leg.
The Columbus Crew won a wild, emotional affair against New York City FC largely thanks to NYC defender Alexander Callens’ 52nd-minute red card. The Crew were leading 1-0 at the time but added three more, while David Villa gave NYC a glimmer of hope.
The “Save the Crew” movement dominated the atmosphere, and Columbus fans voiced their shock and anger at the team’s seemingly inevitable relocation to Austin.
MLS also announced the finalists for its year-end awards, such as MVP, Defender of the Year, Goalkeeper of the Year and more.
MLS standings, bracket
Barcelona’s Javier Mascherano eyes an MLS move after the 2018 FIFA World Cup, according to Spanish newspaper Sport. The Argentine will turn 34 on June 8 and plans to retire from international duty after the tournament.
Although MLS teams are shying away from signing aging superstars, Mascherano is one of the iconic players of his generation and would be a boon to any club that signs him and to MLS as a whole.
Newells Old Boys defender Franco Escobar is linked with a multi-million-dollar transfer to Atlanta, according to Argentinian outlet TYC Sports. Atlanta coach Tata Martino apparently maintains close contacts within his former club and could add another impact South American player to the team’s roster for the 2018 season.
Upcoming MLS games (home team listed first)
Seattle Sounders vs. Vancouver Whitecaps, Thursday, Nov. 2, at 10:30 p.m. ET
Toronto FC vs. New York Red Bulls, Sunday, Nov. 5 at 3 p.m. ET
New York City FC vs. Columbus Crew, Sunday, Nov. 5 at 5 p.m. ET
Portland Timbers vs. Houston Dynamo, Sunday, Nov. 5 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Thumbnail photo via Greg Bartram/USA TODAY Sports Images