The beginning of the MLS Playoffs had many dramatic moments, including an unprecedented penalty shootout, the likes of we’ve never seen before. Whether or not you approve of the playoff model that sets the American top flight apart, it’s inarguable that they provide plenty of entertainment. If you missed any of the playoff excitement this week, we’re here to get you caught up. Beginning with the four one-game playoffs in the middle the week, and ending with the first leg of each Conference Semifinal match-up, here’s everything that happened:
D.C. United defeat the Revs in a wild opening match
D.C. United edged out the New England Revolution, 2-1 to advance to the East semifinals in a wild start to the 2015 post-season. The match began with one of the most stunning goals in recent MLS memory by Juan Agudelo, as the U.S. international scored a ridiculous bicycle kick goal in the opening 20 minutes to get the Revs off to a flying start. Yet despite dominating most the play in the first half, the Revs couldn't capitalize on their chances to extend their lead. It would cost them as Christ Pontius' expertly-placed header on the stroke of halftime brought the score level.
Then referee Mark Geiger awarded D.C. a penalty 20 minutes from full time for a borderline handball, and Chris Rolfe stepped up only to hit the post. Fortunately for him, he'd get another chance to redeem himself in the 82nd minute, finishing off a beautiful flowing move by United to give them the lead. The Revs had an appeal for a penalty in second half stoppage time denied by Geiger, and Jermaine Jones was outraged by the no-call and charged at the referee earning him a trip to the showers and probably a long suspension to begin next year.
Final score: D.C. United 2-1 New England Revolution (DCU advanced to play the New York Red Bulls in Eastern Conference Semis.)
Sounders prevail in five-goal thriller
The Seattle Sounders and LA Galaxy played one of the most thrilling halves of soccer the MLS playoffs have ever seen In front of a raucous CenturyLink Field crowd, with the opening 45 minutes a beautiful mess. Seattle opened the scoring in the fifth minute when Clint Dempsey took advantage of a mix up between Donovan Ricketts and Omar Gonzalez. The Galaxy would pull level not even a minute later when Sebastian Lletget gathered a loose ball in the box and fired low past Stefan Frei.
A Nelson Valdez header however in the 12th minute put the hosts back on top. It appeared as if the Sounders had a third goal when Galaxy defenders stopped playing and Andreas Ivanschitz walked through and fired off the post and in. Referee Jair Marrufo initially gave the goal, but convened with his linesman and correctly ruled the goal out for a previous offside call. A Gyasi Zardes deflected shot from outside the box in the 22nd minute would pull it back level.
It stayed that way until the 73rd minute when a Galaxy attempted clearance was skied into their own box. Ricketts thought about coming to punch it away, but quickly realized he couldn't reach it. The ball was headed to the edge of the box where Erik Friberg was there to meet it with a thunderous left-footed volley that found its way past the out-of-position goalkeeper. A fantastic strike and one worthy of knocking the defending MLS Cup champions out of the playoffs.
Final score: Seattle Sounders 3-2 LA Galaxy (Seattle advanced to play FC Dallas in Western Conference semis)
Montreal trounce Toronto FC
It took Toronto FC nine years and seven managers to get its first taste of playoff soccer in MLS, and it only took 18 minutes for them to concede the eventual winner to their Canadian rivals the Montreal Impact. As has been the case nearly all year, TFC's horrific defending let them down when it mattered most. The first tally came from a three-on-two counterattack. Ignacio Piatti played in Patrice Bernier with a lovely pass and the midfielder buried it for the 1-0 lead.
The Impact doubled their lead in the 33rd minute as Piatti this time was the finisher. A seemingly harmless pass across the TFC back line approached a stumbling Damien Perquis who couldn't control the ball. Piatti collected, took a touch inside the box and finished calmly past Chris Konopka.
The Impact would continue their attacking onslaught and effectively finish off the match just six minutes later. This time it was Didier Drogba arriving at the far post completely unmarked after a busted play inside the TFC box. The second half was a boring 45 minutes as Montreal took their foot off the gas pedal and coasted to the finish line without much resistance. Final score:
Montreal Impact 3-0 Toronto FC (Montreal Impact advanced to play Columbus Crew SC in Eastern Conference semis)
Adam Kwarasey's 11th round penalty conversion and save send Portland through
The Portland Timbers knocked Sporting Kansas City out of the MLS Playoffs after a mind-boggling penalty shootout. Portland held a 1-0 lead late in regulation when Kevin Ellis headed in a Graham Zusi cross three minutes from fulltime. SKC appeared to grab the momentum early in Extra Time when Krisztian Nemeth created space in the Portland box and fired home a brilliant finish from a tight angle. Time was running out on the Timber's season until two late substitutes combines as Dairon Asprilla found Maxi Urruti in front of goal for the equalizer in the 118th minute.
The drama was however was only just beginning as the penalty shootout awaited. Each side had a penalty saved in the first two rounds and then again in the fourth round to bring it to sudden death. After both scored in the fifth round, Portland's Jorge Villafana's tame attempt was easily saved giving defender Kevin Ellis a chance to win it. His effort his the post keeping the shootout tied. After successful makes in rounds seven and eight for both teams, Alvas Powell missed in the ninth round giving Sporting another chance to win it. Saad Abdul-Salaam stepped up and struck his penalty against the post to the right of Adam Kwarasey then it ricocheted all the way to the left post and hit it and stayed out of the goal to extend the shootout.
Two conversions in the tenth round sent it to the eleventh and with all the field players having taken their penalties it was left up to the two goalkeepers. Kwarasey stepped up first and smashed a surprisingly confident penalty past Jon Kempin, who was only in the match because of an earlier injury to Sporting's starting goalkeeper. Now it was Kempin's turn and finally after so much drama and intrigue, Kwarasey saved it and sent Portland to the Conference semifinals.
Final score: Portland Timbers 2(7)-2(6) Sporting Kansas City (Portland advanced to play Vancouver Whitecaps in Western Conference semis)
Conference Semifinals First Leg
Red Bulls get vital away goal in win over D.C.
The Supporters' Shield-winning New York Red Bulls are one major step closer to the Eastern Conference finals after earning a dominant 1-0 victory over D.C. United at RFK Stadium. A tedious first half was followed by Dax McCarty's diving header in the 72nd minute to give the Red Bulls an important away goal heading home for the second leg. The match was not without its controversy or talking points. Early in the first half, Red Bulls center back Damien Perrinelle was forced off with what looked like a severe knee injury. His replacement Ronald Zubar was extremely lucky not to see a red card for a dangerous tackle on Chris Rolfe minutes after coming on. The Red Bulls will look to finish off the series this weekend at home.
Final score: D.C. United 0-1 New York Red Bulls.
Portland and Vancouver battle to a goalless draw
All is left to play for in the second leg of the Eastern Conference semifinal tie between the Portland Timbers and the Vancouver Whitecaps as the two clubs played to a scoreless draw in Portland in the first leg. The Timbers enjoyed the better of the possession and chances but were unable to beat David Ousted. Maxi Urruti was the only player to shoot past him in the 89th minute, but his curler hit off the far post and stayed out. Portland must now travel to a kaotic BC Place and hope for the best, though they'll be buoyed after not conceding an away goal—a scoring draw of any score in the second leg would send them through.
Final score: Portland Timbers 0-0 Vancouver Whitecaps.
Montreal take one-goal advantage to Columbus
Despite falling behind a goal in the first half, the Montreal Impact clawed their way back for a 2-1 victory over the Columbus Crew at Stade Saputo on Sunday. Federico Higuain gave the visitors the lead from a broken play inside the box when he was all alone in front of goal for a volley that he finished easily. However Montreal’s Patrice Bernier scored his second goal of the playoffs just four minutes later with a header off of a corner to bring the score level before halftime.
The Impact then pulled in front in the 77th minute when second half substitute Johan Venegas stripped a Crew defender in the midfield and went in all alone on goal. Even though he had had one of the world’s best ever finishers, Didier Drogba, next to him he decided to pull the trigger and the confidence paid off as he beat Steve Clark with a curling shot.
Montreal head to Columbus up in the aggregate, but the Crew do have an away goal to lean on. It should make for a very interesting second leg.
Final score: Montreal Impact 2-1 Columbus Crew SC.
Dempsey’s clutch free kick gives Sounders the lead on aggregate
The Western Conference top seed FC Dallas came into CenturyLink Field and enjoyed a dream start to the match. They controlled the first half and even got a goal thanks to a sublime pass from Mauro Diaz and a confident finish by Fabian Castillo. However, the veteran Sounders team would not be denied as Andreas Ivanschitz’s spectacular solo run and left-footed finish in the 67th minute brought Seattle back level.
It appeared as if Dallas would hold on and bring the draw and away goal home with them, but Clint Dempsey’s curling free kick into the top corner of the net in the 86th sent the Seattle faithful into delirium and his side to Dallas with a one-goal advantage in the second leg.
Final score: Seattle Sounders 2-1 FC Dallas.