The first legs of the MLS Conference Finals took place on Tuesday evening, seeing the lower seeds in the Eastern and Western Conferences gain a one-goal lead heading into the deciding matches.
The Montreal Impact defeated Toronto FC 3-2 in front of over 60,000 fans at the Olympic Stadium. The Seattle Sounders continued their excellent run of form with a 2-1 victory over the Colorado Rapids, though Toronto and Colorado both scored crucial away goals that set up two exciting second legs to come.
The addition of the away-goals rule in 2014 (similar to that of the UEFA Champions League) presents unique situations and scenarios in the MLS Cup playoffs. With the higher seeds hosting the second match of the home-and-home series, there is a chance of seeing the opportunity of advancing slip away with a poor performance.
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However, both Toronto and Colorado navigated this task well and will have home supporters behind them in the next games.
We recap the first legs and what teams will need to do in order to advance to the MLS Cup final on December 10th.
Montreal Impact 3 – Toronto FC 2
The match began with a truly surreal moment. Kickoff was delayed for over 30 minutes after officials noticed that the penalty areas were too narrow. The lines needed to be repainted, with stadium and team employees even using hairdryers to help set the paint as quickly as possible.
Once the game did get started, all the control and tempo was with the home side. Dominic Oduro (10’) and Matteo Mancosu (13’) gave Montreal a 2-0 halftime lead. Left-back Ambrosie Oyongo added a third goal in the 53rd minute and the rout appeared on.
But Toronto did well to turn the match in their favor headed into the final moments.
US internationals Jozy Altidore (69’) and Michael Bradley (73’) scored to make the score 3-2, as Montreal retreating into a more defensive approach after their third goal gave the Reds too much space to create.
Montreal head coach Mauro Biello will need to have his squad tactically prepared to keep up with the Toronto attack in the second leg. Second-half substitutes Didier Drogba (who announced after the match that he will be leaving MLS) and Johan Venegas may see larger roles in order to pressure the opposition’s backline.
The deciding game will be Wednesday, November 30th at BMO Field in Toronto.
Seattle Sounders 2 – Colorado Rapids 1
CenturyLink Field in Seattle created a raucous atmosphere for the home side, with over 40,000 fans in attendance. The Rapids and head coach Pablo Mastroeni took an early lead through Kevin Doyle in the 13th minute, only to see Seattle’s Jordan Morris equalize seven minutes later.
The Sounders’ midfield was impressive throughout, with Osvaldo Alonso controlling the area in front of the backline and Nicolas Lodeiro pushing the attack forward. Colorado goalkeeper Zac MacMath played well filling in for the injured Tim Howard.
Lodeiro converted a penalty to give Seattle a 2-1 lead in the 61st minute that they would be able to hold onto until the final whistle. Mastroeni put out a strong Rapids lineup with Dominique Badji and Shkelzen Gashi pushing for a second goal, but they could not find the back of the net.
In the home leg, Colorado will want to focus on stopping Seattle’s momentum and keep the match in front of them. Giving up an away goal could see their chances for advancing to the final sink fast. A counterattacking approach early on may be successful as Colorado look to make their second-ever trip to the MLS Cup final.
The deciding match in the Western Conference will be played on Sunday, November 27th at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City.