By Ryan Brister
The first legs of Major League Soccer’s conference semifinals all went in favor of the hosts. Those who say that MLS doesn’t do enough to reward the best regular season teams in the playoffs will point to a day like today as proof. The four lower seeds all played at home for the first leg, and all four won with clean sheets to boot. The league’s top team over the course of the season suffered the heaviest defeat.
Seattle pushed the Supporters’ Shield winners to the brink of elimination with a dominant 3-0 win at home. Dallas sat back in the opening half as the Sounders dominated possession, and the hosts had a couple chances cleared off the line. The defense held through 45 minutes, one way or another.
Dallas’ clean sheet had been fragile in the first half, but it shattered entirely early in the second. Nelson Valdez, the hero from midweek, scored another girl to put the Sounders in front. Within eight minutes, Seattle’s lead had tripled. Jordan Morris set up Nicolas Lodeiro, then the Uruguayan scored a second goal all on his lonesome.
Toronto gave themselves the upper hand with a 2-0 win over New York City. It was a game dominated by the Reds, but they did not find the net until late. Patrick Viera played things cautiously on the road, and his team did their best to slow Sebastian Giovinco the old fashioned way: by fouling him.
Despite the visitors’ efforts to muck things up, TFC still controlled the run of play, and it felt like a goal was coming. The breakthrough was ugly, but Jozy Altidore will not mind. That 1-0 scoreline would have been one thing, but in stoppage time Toronto found another. Eirik Johansen was impressive in goal, but he gave up a crucial rebound to Tosaint Ricketts, who doubled the lead.
Viera’s tactics, which seemed cagey and smart for so much of the match, didn’t pay off in the end. NYCFC is left having to open things up in the second leg.
Montreal stopped the Red Bulls in their tracks, and will take a 1-0 lead into the second leg. The Impact’s defense deserves most of the credit; after nervy moments early on, they made the game disjointed and prevented the visitors from getting into an attacking rhythm.
Going the other way, the Impact were dangerous on the counter, and they made the most of their chances. The goal came early in the second half from Matteo Mancosu, who hammered the ball past Luis Robles after receiving a good long ball from Marco Donadel.
The Red Bulls had their chances, and will be disappointed by this result. Bradley Wright-Phillips had the best opportunity, from close range in stoppage time, but for once he could not put the finishing touch on it. Shortly thereafter, Omer Damari was sent off for a wild challenge. The Red Bulls were already at odds with the referee, who they felt should have given them at least one penalty.
This was expected to be a tight-played, cagey match, and it lived up to that billing. Neityher team produced many clear cut chances, but LA squeezed a goal out of what they did create. Jelle Van Damme looked more like an attacker than a defender in creating a chance for Giovani Dos Santos, and his header took a generous redirection off Axel Sjoberg and past Tim Howard.
The Rapids had just one shot on target, but Jermaine Jones’ effort from distance forced an impressive save out of Bryan Rowe. Even having lost the match, the Rapids head home very much in this. Preventing an away goal will be crucial.