State of New York 9: EASTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPIONS!!! We will play Portland in the final!

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After 13 years of hard work; near misses; snips and snipes; bad nights; critical catastrophes; balls that just won’t go through; etc., the Hudson River finally has a team in the final as NYCFC made it by a final score of 2-1 over the Philadelphia Union in an enthralling match, while Portland made it through convincingly with s 3-0 over Real Salt Lake, stopping their swashbuckling ways in their tracks. Let’s see how it all went down.

Eastern Conference

Philadelphia Union vs. New York City FC: Without Taty for this one, Maxi had to run the New York offense on his own. This Philadelphia team was destined to do 2 things: run this team to the bone and take it all the way. To say the least, the did the second part to perfection. The first part, not so much.

The first half a clean uneventful, affair except Maxi picking up a yellow card on a late challenge on Leon Flach. The second half was much, and I well, tried and truly mean much different. The first chance of the half was a open-side save by captain Sean Johnson on Flach after attacking midfielder Daniel Gazdag made a run and passed to him. Then, about midway through the second half, Philadelphia took the lead. Union attacking midfielder Jamiro Monteiro, who was captain for the day, passed to Gazdag, who crossed short of striker Kacper Przybylko and onto NYCFC defender Alex Callens, who diverted the cross past Johnson and into the corner his own net.

A minute and a half, 90 seconds, later, NYCFC were level. Center back Maxime Chanot shot a knuckleball straight at Philadelphia goalkeeper Matt Freese, in for goalkeeper Andre Blake. The rebound went to winger Ismael Tajouri-Shradi who got ran off by center back Ethan Findley and he was trying to clear. His attempted clearance, however, fell to Maxi, who fired a shot that beat Freese to the spot and set off delirium with his teammates.

Then the game started to get a little chippy, prompting yellow cards from referee Ted Unkel. First, Monteiro for a foul earlier in the play, then Union right back Olivier Mbaizo for a late foul on NYCFC midfielder Alfredo Morales. Then there was an NYCFC free kick that Maxi took short to defensive midfielder James Sands, who passed it out to Tajouri- Shradi. Tajouri-Shradi’s subsequent cross landed on the head of Callens, whose well-directed header was saved by Freese.

Then Philadelphia had a chance at the corner flag where Monteiro flicked it to Mbaizo, who tried to cross to Gazdag but it was cleared away by Morales. That clearance, however, only went as far as Union center back and former Red Bull Aurelien Collin. He sent it back to defensive midfielder Jose Martinez, who put in a ball to substitute left back Nathan Harriel, who put it just over the bar. But then, in the 88th minute, disaster struck.

Maxi sprayed wide to left back Gudmundur Thorarinson, who caught Mbaizo sleeping. He put in a cross to teenage substitute Talles Magno, who diverted it into the back of the net. Two minutes and extra time later, Philly hearts were broken and NYCFC was in he it’s first MLS Cup final. BTW, they get Taty back.

Maxi scored the equalizer off a failed clearance, then crossed to Talles Magno for the winner. (Copyright USA Today 2019)

Portland Timbers vs. Real Salt Lake

In soccer, one of the most important things I learned is that the playmaker – striker relationship is so important. The chemistry between the man who feeds the goalscorer; the man who makes things tick and the goalscorer him/herself, the one who scores goals to lift the team and himself must have good chemistry or else the teams is in bad, and I mean bad trouble. For Real Salt Lake, that meant keeping captain Albert Rusnak and talisman Daniel Kreilach in working order. It also means unlocking and breaching a united and well-oiled Portland defense.

Portland’s counter was to use their chemistry, work rate, and the quality they had up front to swarm Salt Lake’s defense. That is what they promptly did after 5 minutes when right back Josecarlos Van Rankin had the ball and it took just three touches; from him to Yimmi Chara to striker Franco Mora. Chara tried to cut it back for Mora, but the cutback got cut off by Salt Lake center back Marcelo Silva. Right wing back Aaron Herrera tried to officially clear it out, but the clearance bounced off Mora, rolled past keeper David Ochoa and into the corner of the net.

The Timbers continued to pour it. On the half hour mark, Portland left midfielder Santiago Moreno made a run down the left and sent Mario Loria through in the box, were his shot on goal despite being on an angle was saved by Ochoa. after a little indecision as to who would shoot the rebound, Moreno finally shot it to force a point blank save from Ochoa and then shot it over the bar. Two minutes later Kreilach finally got in the game when Herrera made a run down the right and crossed it to him, but his header was saved in front by Portland goalkeeper Steve Clark.

Just past the full hour mark, disaster struck for Real Salt Lake. Portland center back Dario Zuparic shipped a ball to Moreno, who took it with his chest. He made a run in central and shot the ball off the post. Problem was, the ball bounced right in the direction of Ochoa and, with the keeper not even looking, the ball bounced right off his back and into the corner of the net. If the first one didn’t temper his antics, that one sure did.

Santiago Moreno got very much involved for Portland. He caused chaos in front in the first half and scored a pinball off the keeper’s back. (Copyright Dig Logs 2021)

Portland tried to add another one midway through the second half. Yimmi Chara had a free kick that he curled back post to the head of Zuparic. He headed it across to substitute striker Jaroslaw Niezgoda, whose subsequent header was cleared off the line by Silva. He also put the subsequent rebound just over the bar. Turns out they didn’t need it, as half a half later, with Herrera’s night being done 11 minutes before time, they were on to their third MLS Cup final in six years.

HIGHLIGHTS:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wlEYfQd-sJ8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PxVnSBYLtLs

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Chidi Ihemaguba

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