MLS Conference Finals: All to play for out West
Ninety minutes plus stoppage time of soccer is all that separates two clubs from competing for ultimate league glory in the MLS Cup final.
Sporting Kansas City and the Portland Timbers have it all to play for in their second-leg matchup at Children’s Mercy Park, with neither side breaking the deadlock in the first leg in Portland. Meanwhile, in the Eastern Conference, Atlanta United has one foot already wedged in the door for MLS Cup, after a thrilling 3-0 victory over a demoralized New York Red Bulls side that is feeling the crushing weight of history.
Let’s take a closer look at each conference’s second-leg matchups:
Sporting Kansas City (0) vs. Portland Timbers (0)
Sporting KC will hope that the Blue Wall at Children’s Mercy Park can help will the side to victory and a return to MLS Cup.
Peter Vermes’ side held off waves of Portland Timbers attacks last Sunday evening, holding on for a scoreless draw on the road. Sporting KC was also aided by the use of VAR, which correctly judged Liam Ridgewell to be offside when he headed a free kick off the post, eventually headed in by David Guzman. Diego Valeri was mostly marked out of the match, though Sporting KC’s star winger Johnny Russell had a pair of gilt-edged chances that he blasted over the bar.
Heading into this second leg, with just four days of rest, both teams will hope they can muster enough energy to get a goal and change the complexion of the game. The Timbers know that just one goal on their part will completely open up the game, forcing Sporting KC to try and get two goals in regulation. It will be a tough job for Portland though,. Sporting KC is unbeaten in its last eight patches and in the club’s last 12 matches with Portland, it has recorded a clean sheet in nine of them.
In the Timbers favor, the club has scored in seven-straight away matches, including beating FC Dallas on the road in the MLS Playoffs knockout round.
New York Red Bulls (0) vs. Atlanta United (3)
The New York Red Bulls are probably the only club happy that the second leg comes sooner than normal after the first leg.
Chris Armas’ tactical switch completely backfired, as Atlanta United scored in the first half to open up the game before the Red Bulls became much too open defensively, allowing goals from Franco Escobar and substitute Hector “Tito” Villalba late in the second half. It’s going to be a herculean feat for the Red Bulls to come back from this three-goal deficit, and Atlanta United will be poised to sit back, absorb pressure and ensure the final result.
It will either be a coronation or a funeral at Red Bull Arena come Thursday, as some of the world’s top young stars take the field once again. The Red Bulls need Tyler Adams’ dynamic running and energy in midfield, Kaku to create as the No. 10 and Bradley Wright-Phillips to find his finishing touch again. On the other side, the center-back trio of Michael Parkhurst, Leandro González Pírez and Jeff Larentowicz will be tasked with shutting down the Red Bulls attack, holding on to give Atlanta United one last home game this season.