Pictured: Bobby Boswell and Omar Cummings celebrate the overtime goal that eliminated the #1 ranked Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday (MLS via Twitter). The goal was the second overtime goal for Omar Cummings in two consecutive matches, after coming off the bench to score in both playoff matches against RBNY.
Wednesday and Thursday night were amazing for MLS fans, as three of the four MLS quarterfinal playoff matchups went into added extra time to determine a winner. MLS does not use the away goals rule, so if the aggregate score was tied after two 90-minute games, another 30 minutes determined the winner, regardless of the exact scores of the individual games. And that is exactly what happened in Harrison, NJ, and Kansas City on Wednesday, and in Sandy, UT, last night.
In the Eastern Conference Semifinals, #4 ranked Houston hosted #1 RBNY on Sunday November 3. The Red Bulls took the early lead when two World Cup veterans, Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill, combined for a goal in the 22nd minute, and then Cahill added an assist to his goal by setting up Eric Alexander ten minutes later. Houston looked like they would be eliminated with a loss at BBVA Compass Stadium, but Ricardo Clark put a weak clearance attempt past Luis Robles in the second half to give the Dynamo new life. The match turned in their favor when Omar Cummings entered the game in the 62nd minute, replacing Giles Barnes. Three minutes later, Red Bull defender Jamison Olave was given a straight red card for hacking down Cummings from behind. RBNY were down to 10 men and would miss their best defender in the second leg. Finally, in the 92nd minute, Bobby Boswell headed a Brad Davis corner kick on target. Luis Robles made the initial save but did not hold on to the ball and Cummings put it in the net to tie the first leg of the series 2-2.
In the second leg, at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday November 6, the Red Bulls dominated play but just could not put any goals past Dynamo 'keeper Tally Hall, except one by Bradley Wright-Phillips (yes, he is Shaun Wright-Phillips' younger brother) in the 23rd minute when Hall failed to control a cross from Lloyd Sam. The goal gave RBNY a short-lived 3-2 aggregate lead. 13 minutes later, Dynamo captain Brad Davis picked off a pass to score an unassisted goal to tie the game 1-1 and the series 3-3. Thanks to several spectacular saves by Tally Hall, it would remain tied after 90 minutes, so the match went to added extra time (though RBNY would have won if the away goals rule had been in effect, it is not used in MLS). At the conclusion of the first OT session, in the 104th minute, Cam Weaver found Omar Cummings with a header pass that Cummings shot into the goal. Luis Robles stopped the shot, but after it had already crossed the goal line for the series winner. (See Photo: MLS via Twitter)
Wednesday's other Eastern Conference matchup paired the New England Revolution and Sporting KC. On Saturday November 2, the Revolution had taken a 2-1 lead in the first leg at Gillette Stadium. Diego Fagundez set up Juan Agudelo for a shot that was saved by Sporting 'keeper Jimmy Nielsen, but Andy Dorman scored on the rebound to put New England up 1-0 in the 55th minute. The Revs doubled the lead when Juan Agudelo dribbled through the Sporting defense and passed to Lee Nguyen, who assisted Kelyn Rowe's 67th minute goal. Sporting KC got a precious away goal two minutes later, when a Jacob Peterson header bounced around in front of the goal until finally falling to Aurelien Collin, who made the final score 2-1.
The second leg in Kansas City on Wednesday November 6 saw New England needing only a draw to advance. Aurelien Collin tied the aggregate score 2-2 in the 41st minute, when he scored off a deflection by a Revolution defender. But, Revs 'keeper Matt Reis kept the aggregate score tied with a series of big saves, and Dimitry Imbongo Boele scored off a Kelyn Rowe cross to tie the match 1-1 and give New England the series lead in the 70th minute. With their season slipping away, Sporting KC attacked and attacked. In the 79th minute, Graham Zusi headed a pass to defender Seth Sinovic, who was making a rare attacking run in desperation. Sinovic scored only his second career MLS goal to give KC a 2-1 lead in the game, and tie the series 3-3 aggregate, forcing added extra time. In the 84th minute, Sporting brought on "designated player" Claudio Bieler, and in the 113th minute, just 7 minutes from penalty kicks, Bieler got a foot on the end of a Benny Feilhaber cross to win the series for KC 4-3 aggregate.
Sporting KC will visit Houston's BBVA Compass Stadium tomorrow (November 9) in a match broadcast nationally by NBC at 2:30 pm Eastern (11:30 am Pacific).
In the Western Conference semifinals, on Sunday November 3, the LA Galaxy defeated Real Salt Lake 1-0 at the "StubHub Center" (formerly the Home Depot Center) with a goal by Sean Franklin, assisted by Robbie Keane, at the start of the second half. RSL defender Chris Schuler played well to prevent the Galaxy from winning by more than one goal, making several sliding tackles. Needing only a draw on the road at Rio Tinto Stadium, the Galaxy instead allowed the series tying goal in the 35th minute when Sebastian Velasquez headed a Chris Wingert cross into the net, and then allowed RSL to dominate play the rest of the way. The Galaxy would finish the 90 minute match with only 1 shot on goal. Chris Schuler hit the crossbar on a Javier Morales corner kick in the 75th minute, headed a Morales free kick into the net in the 85th minute that was called back by the referee for a mysterious "foul" against Schuler that no one could see, then Schuler scored the series winning goal with his foot on a far post cross in the 102nd minute, again assisted by Morales on a free kick, and finally Schuler forced a save by Galaxy 'keeper Jaime Penedo on a header in the 104th minute, you guessed it, off a Morales cross. RSL finished the game with only 10 men, as Alvaro Saborio left the game injured in the 110th minute after Salt Lake had used all their substitutions, but RSL won the series 2-1 aggregate.
In Portland late last night, in a game I would have watched from start to finish on NBCSN had the LA Galaxy at Real Salt Lake match not been in added extra time on ESPN2 when the Seattle/Portland game began. Two MLS playoff games televised at once? Is MLS finally getting good TV coverage with NBC and ESPN/ABC sharing the rights? So, I confess that I wasn't watching when Djimi Traore of Seattle committed what I am told was an obvious handball in the box in the 29th minute. Timbers captain Will Johnson gave Portland a 1-0 lead on the correctly called penalty kick. But I was watching when Diego Valeri passed to Jack Jewsbury, who passed to Rodney Wallace while Valeri made a run in an "indirect" give-and-go. Wallace assisted Valeri's goal in the 44th minute to put the Timbers up 2-0 in the game and 4-1 in the aggregate match with 45 minutes remaining. The Timbers did not let up the pressure, with Rodney Wallace adding his second assist of the game just after halftime, crossing for Futty Danso, who scored a header to increase the aggregate lead to 5-1. Seattle would score a pair of consolation goals later, the first on a long Brad Evans throw that bounced around until DeAndre Yedlin scored in the 74th minute, and the second two minutes later when Yedlin crossed a perfect ball to Eddie Johnson, who headed in the game's last goal to make the final score 3-2, and the aggregate score 5-3. I watched both games and Brad Evans was very impressive in the losses for Seattle, playing midfield instead of the defensive role he plays with the USMNT.
The Timbers will travel to Rio Tinto Stadium to take on Real Salt Lake on Sunday, November 10. The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN at 9:00 pm Eastern (6:00 pm Pacific). So, you have two nationally televised games to enjoy this weekend, on two completely different networks. Enjoy!
On Wednesday there are World Cup Qualifiers, most importantly New Zealand visits Estadio Azteca on November 13, and then Mexico travels to New Zealand on Wednesday, November 20. The MLS playoffs will be placed on hold until afterwards, then the second leg will be played on November 23 and 24. Houston visits Sporting Park on Saturday November 23, televised nationally on NBCSN at 7:30 pm Eastern (4:30 pm Pacific) and then Real Salt Lake visits JELD-WEN Field on Sunday November 24, televised nationally on ESPN at 9:00 pm Eastern (6:00 pm Pacific). Hopefully there will be more overtime action coming up in the second leg matches from Kansas City and Portland.