All right, time to watch the first leg of the Conference Finals. We'll start off with the Red Bulls taking on the Columbus Crew and then we'll follow that up with FC Dallas against the Portland Timbers. Hopefully we can get through both games, but that will really depend on whether or not my poor laptop can hold it together and if my wife can hold off on going into labor (due date is tomorrow). Let's start with Columbus vs New York...
The big story for Columbus is the fact that they're without their starting center back, Gastón Sauro, who's on a yellow card suspension. Sauro has been a tremendous addition to a defense that had issues all year, but tonight it'll be on Tyson Wahl teaming up with Michael Parkhurst in the heart of the Crew defense. Here we go!
0' - WOW. So the game has been going for all of 10 seconds and Justin Meram already has the Crew up 1-0. Taylor Twellman made the comment before the game started that this game would have some fireworks, and so far it has not disappointed. Ethan Finlay got absolutely trucked my Matt Miazga on that play too, but funny how those plays don't seem to hurt as much when you score.
4' Corner kick for the Red Bulls with Sacha Kljestan over the ball. Kljestan had 14 assists this season and helped make up one of the most productive midfields in MLS this season.
5' Kljestan just missed a chance to level the game at one, but Steve Clark made a tremendous save from close range to knock the ball out for a corner. Steady pressure from the Red Bulls right now, and while they've had some great looks, they haven't put together the final touch.
6' Matt Miazga back from National Team duty after earning his first cap for the U.S. against Saint Vincent and the Grenadines last week. Miazga was reportedly being courted by Poland, but Jurgen Klinsmann was able to lock him into playing for the U.S. moving forward.
8' Ethan Finlay showing himself to be dangerous early. Finlay had 12 goals and 13 assists during the regular season and added another in the Crew's comeback win over the Montreal Impact in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Still, he's gotten no love from Jurgen Klinsmann. That said, his lack of National Team love was the reason he was able to start all 34 of the Crew's regular season games this year.
11' I love the vanishing spray that the referees have at their disposal nowadays. Whoever invented that was genius. I wonder if they make crayons out of that same stuff so when my son starts drawing on the wall, I won't freak out.
12' Momentum shifting back to the Crew, but while they've been able to generate some corners, they haven't done much with them.
13' Another dangerous ball played in by the Crew, this one by Meram, and it sets up yet another Columbus Crew corner kick. Kamara gets a head on this one, but more like the back of his head and it's no trouble for Luis Robles, the 2015 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year.
15' They've just announced that Meram's goal is officially the fastest in MLS postseason history. That's pretty cool.
19' Dax McCarty takes down Harrison Afful just outside the 18 down the right flank setting up a dangerous free kick for the Crew. Afful along with Sauro, both midseason signings, have really added a lot to the Crew defense down the stretch. Afful still down getting attended to right now.
21' Higuaín's free kick is cleared by the Red Bulls as they come back the other way.
23' Tony Tchani steps on Dax McCarty's foot awkwardly as the Red Bulls go on a break, and McCarty stays down for a while. McCarty, the Red Bulls captain, is given a lot of the credit for New York's success this season despite not necessarily filling up the stat sheet.
27' More dangerous stuff from the Crew after a bad turnover from Dax McCarty and it results in yet another Columbus Crew corner. This will be number six already for the Crew, but they aren't able to do anything with Higuaín's service.
29' Mike Grella takes on a gaggle of Crew defenders and gets into the Crew box before finally getting picked by Michael Parkhurst. Grella has quietly had a terrific year for the Red Bulls in his first MLS season after spending 2014 in the NASL with the Carolina RailHawks.
32' Higuaín with a clean look from the top of the box after some nifty footwork by Ethan Finlay, but his shot goes straight to Robles.
34' Ethan Finlay with a 2 on 1 opportunity and he gets denied by Felipe, and not just denied, but picked. That could have (should have?) been 2-0 Crew right there. Sensational defensive work by Felipe to keep it 1-0. If Columbus don't win this game, Finlay will be replaying that sequence in his head for certain. That whole run started with a turnover by Kemar Lawrence and bad turnovers have been a theme for the Red Bulls tonight.
39' Miazga with a shove of Meram away from the ball goes unnoticed by the referee. With Miazga sitting on a yellow, you have to wonder if when the rules committee watches the game tape if that won't cost him in the second leg. Not great maturity from the 20 year old who can't afford to let his emotions get the best of him like that.
41' Ronald Zubar denies Kamara an opportunity with a great defensive header, but the Crew come right back and put another service on Kamara's head, but again, no trouble for Robles.
44' Big save by Luis Robles! Meram bent a shot that had back corner written all over it, but Robles made a diving denial that goes out for yet another Crew corner. If the Red Bulls can make it to halftime down just 1-0, it'll be a moral victory.
45' Tyson Wahl not having to do much so far this match as the Red Bulls have definitely failed to take advantage of the absence of Gaston Sauro. Bradley Wright-Phillips almost a complete non-factor in the opening half.
45+1' Fifteen corners between the two teams so far. That apparently ties a postseason record.
HT A decidedly better showing by the Crew in the first half, but only one goal to show for it. Time to fast forward to the second half.
46' No changes by either side to start the second half. Columbus had all the momentum going into the break, can they maintain that energy? And right off the bat, Tyson Wahl gets booked for taking down Kljestan.
49' Afful with a golden chance for the Crew, but his first time effort goes wide left. Afful's got to put that effort on target. Columbus continuing to get good looks, but unable to get that insurance goal.
53' The Red Bulls with some good ball movement in the attacking third, but unable to produce anything close to a threatening final ball.
54' Higuaín blisters a long range effort high and wide as the Crew once again get a dangerous look on the counter.
55' Grella flicks a header in towards Clark and I don't know if Clark accidentally tapped it off the crossbar or what, but that looked awkward whatever it was. Bradley Wright-Phillips follows that up with a nice lay-off for Kljestan who hits a left-footed attempt well over.
58' Wil Trapp and Wahl deny BWP around the top of the box. The Columbus defense turning in a very nice effort tonight. Haven't talked a lot about Trapp tonight, but this is a guy who could one day supplant Kyle Beckerman as the U.S.'s premier defensive midfielder. Only 22, Trapp was a part of the U.S.'s U-23 Olympic Qualifying effort along with New York's Miazga.
61' BWP and Kljestan again combining but Kljestan again misses the mark, this time firing off the side netting. And just like that Columbus comes the other way and Higuaín finds Kamara but puts the ball just slightly behind him and the header goes over the top. Yet another great chance for Columbus.
64' Meram pulls a shot just wide after some more great stuff from Finlay. Taylor Twellman said it best: 'Ethan Finlay is relentless.' I like Gyasi Zardes, but I'm watching Finlay play, and I feel like he could absolutely take his spot on the wing. Finlay, 25, is also eligible to play for Canada, so hopefully Klinsmann locks him in soon so he doesn't go to our northern neighbors.
68' Yet another corner for the Crew after Kamara wins a deflection. The corner goes short, but Afful's cross is punched away by Robles. Trapp nearly finds Finlay shortly thereafter, but the Red Bulls once again survive the threat.
70' Meram goes down for the Crew, but it looks like he's ok after getting helped up by Kljestan.
71' Looks like Gonzalo Verón has come on for Grella for the Red Bulls.
72' Higuaín with another dangerous pass through the box, but there's no one there making the run. Under twenty minutes to go for the Red Bulls, but despite everything, they still only trail by a goal.
75' Felipe rips one ride left. Twellman talking about how summer signings often struggle initially in MLS and mentions Robbie Keane as the exception. Did they forget about Didier Drogba or did I just miss it? Kemar Lawrence with a big tackle to deny Kamara an opportunity.
77' BWP finally gets a chance, and nearly pulls off a sensational effort, but his volley goes high. Steve Clark hasn't really been tested tonight, and I'm trying to get a read on how good he actually is. I know a lot of the issues the Crew had surrendering goals can be attributed to their defensive lapses, but is Clark considered an asset or a liability? He did start every game for the Crew this year (and last year) so I have to think that means something, but you never know.
80' Cedrick Mabwati coming on for Finlay. I'm a little surprised by that move given that Finlay was pretty dangerous all night. Keeping him fresh for the second leg maybe? Or maybe that hit he took from Miazga in the opening minute shook him up. Anyhow, Mabwati, 23, is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and delivered the winning assist against Montreal in the Conference Semis.
82' Felipe with another nifty bit of defending to deny Meram this time.
83' Afful gets dumped by McCarty, but no call from the referee and Columbus players go a bit crazy. Definitely letting the guys play tonight.
85' And there it is. Well, now I look silly for questioning the insertion of Mabwati for Finlay. Mabwati skins McCarty, Verón and Felipe, forces a sensational save from Robles and Kei Kamara taps in the rebound. 2-0 Crew, and the super sub has done it again. Sensational stuff from Cedrick. Anatole Abang, New York's 19 year-old super sub, has entered the match for Lloyd Sam.
88' Afful coming off in favor of Chris Klute. Great game from Afful on both sides of the ball.
90' The Red Bulls have not been shutout since May, but as we enter the 90th minute, all that could be about to change. Bradley Wright-Phillips very quiet tonight. All the more impressive with Sauro unavailable for the Crew tonight. Michael Parkhurst, Afful, Wahl and Waylon Francis have been terrific in front of Steve Clark tonight.
90+2' Frustration setting in for the Red Bulls now as Verón shoves away Kamara after fouling Higuaín. Not much time left now.
90+3' Another substitute for the Crew as Trinidad and Tobago's Kevan George enters the match for the hero, Justin Meram.
FT And that's all she wrote. The Crew are up 2-0 on the Supporter's Shield Winners after the first leg, and if they can somehow score an away goal at Red Bull Arena, the Red Bulls will need to score four times to advance. Great game by the Crew who controlled the match every step of the way. All right, time to jump over to the Western Conference Final.
Oh, and I love this commercial...
From Columbus, Ohio, we'll jump over to Portland, Oregon where the Western Conference Regular Season Winners FC Dallas take on the underdog Portland Timbers. Here we go!
1' Holy smokes, Lucas Melano nearly duplicated Justin Meram's first minute effort only to be denied by Jesse Gonzalez after nice set-up by Darlington Nagbe. Should've been 1-0 Timbers, great save by Gonzalez. Only 20 years old, Gonzalez has been a big-time difference maker since taking over as the starter in net for FC Dallas.
4' The Timbers are without both playmaker Diego Valeri and Rodney Wallace tonight due to yellow card suspensions. Lucas Melano again is dangerous down the right side, but Gonzalez makes the stop again from a tight angle.
6' Nagbe dangerous early, this time springing Dairon Asprilla down the right side and it's out for a Timbers corner. Victor Ulloa clears the corner and FC Dallas come the other way though.
7' Melano with ANOTHER chance, but the attempt to go far post goes just wide. Just one goal and three assists in 13 regular season matches for Melano, but that's the third chance he's had in the opening seven minutes.
8' Does anyone else think Nat Borchers looks like the Wyndham Rewards Wizard?
11' Matt Hedges, known for his spot-on Napoleon Dynamite impression, with a clutch clearance of a Jorge Villafaña cross looking for Fanendo Adi. Hedges is another guy looking for some National Team love with just one cap so far.
14' Dallas forced to play a man short as Zach Loyd has a shoe issue and Portland nearly capitalizes on the counter before Alvas Powell sends his long range first time effort to the moon.
19' There's been a lot of talk lately about Fabián Castillo getting some serious overseas attention with the transfer window looming. The 23 year old Colombian speedster scored nine goals for FCD in 2015. He wouldn't be the first Colombian youngster to parlay a solid performance in MLS to an overseas transfer as Fredy Montero recently went from the Seattle Sounders to Sporting CP in Portugal.
21' Mauro Díaz gets a look but hits his shot right at Adam Kwarasey, the league's co-leader in shutouts in 2015.
23' Liam Ridgewell gets the Timbers on the board! The big center back goes untracked to the back post and takes a flicked corner and knocks it past Jesse Gonzalez. An English Premier League veteran with appearances for Aston Villa, Birmingham City, and West Bromwich Albion, Ridgwell signed a designated player deal with the Timbers in June of 2014.
26' FC Dallas gets a dangerous free kick from just beyond the 18 but sends the effort over the bar.
28' Castillo has a cross blocked by Villafaña setting up another FC Dallas corner kick. The near post effort by Díaz finds Hedges, but fails to find the target and Portland clears.
29' David Texeira gets set up with a golden opportunity by Michael Barrios, but Texeira tries to get cute with a back heel flick attempt and can't put the point blank effort on target. Missed chance there, but wow, people talk about the speed of Castillo, but Barrios is no slowpoke on the other side either.
31' Nagbe goes with a back heel of his own deep in Dallas territory looking for Fanendo Adi, but it gets poked away. Dallas comes the other way and they get another dangerous free kick from maybe 30 yards out. Borchers clears for Portland.
34' Lucas Melano with an interception and plays a dangerous ball into the box, but Adi can't get on the end of it. The young Argentine (Melano's only 22) has been especially dangerous tonight.
36' Nat Borchers with a headed attempt of a second ball following a set piece, but just unable to get enough power on it, as Jesse Gonzalez is able to make the stop.
38' Another foul at the top of the box as Villafaña gets to the ball late and misses his tackle. Yellow card for Villafaña and a dangerous chance for Dallas, but it gets squandered by Díaz whose effort goes well over the bar.
43' Asprilla attempts a low driven cross through the box, but Gonzalez comes out to snag it before it can find a Portland runner at the back post.
44' Remember when Zach Loyd was getting call-ups to play for the U.S.?
45' Excellent work on the double-team by Diego Chara and Villafaña to win back possession in the defensive third for the Timbers. The Portland Timbers have really done a nice job limiting the danger of Dallas's weapons (Castillo, Díaz, Barrios, Texeira). And that's the half. Liam Ridgewell's goal is the only one so far as the Timbers enter halftime up 1-0.
46' Second half underway, no changes for either team.
47' Melano shoots through the Dallas defense and forces another corner and Jesse Gonzalez is just able to tip the ensuing attempt over the bar.
48' Melano rips a volley off Victor Ulloa's head and Ulloa goes down prompting a stoppage of play. Ulloa is still down and it looks like they're going to need a substitute. He's being helped up, and he's on his feet, but definitely woozy. Tough end to the 23 year-old's evening. Michel getting loose for Dallas who are forced to play with 10 men for the time being.
51' And now Ulloa is back. I'm sure the concussion debate will come up after this one.
52' Castillo runs by everyone, but his shot goes right at Kwarasey. That guy is fast. Like, real fast.
53' GOOOOOOAAALLLLL!!! Dairon Asprilla with a brilliant strike off the underside of the bar and in. Absolutely no chance for Gonzalez and now it's 2-0 Portland. That was a nasty, nasty shot.
55' And Barrios just misses wide. This game is far from over. All Dallas needs is one goal and a 1-0 win in the second leg still sends them through to the MLS Cup Final.
56' Sounds like Ulloa passed his concussion tests, but he's still being monitored by the Dallas medical staff from the sideline. Corner coming up for the Timbers.
57' Ryan Hollingshead gets a 1v1 chance with Kwarasey, but his first time effort hits the side netting. Missed chance for FC Dallas as they start to ramp up the pressure.
59' Technical difficulties? Come on, FS1, you're better than that... Ok we're back.
60' Ridgewell on the ground for Portland now being attended to by the medical staff. And Ridgewell is going to come out. And not like Acosta, Ridgewell's actually got someone coming on for him. It's Norberto Paparatto into the match now.
62' And Dallas capitalizes on the defensive substitution and get on the board! David Texeira clips in a pass from Je-Vaughn Watson and now it's 2-1. A massive away goal for FC Dallas. And you can't help but look at the fact that the goal came almost immediately after Liam Ridgewell was subbed out for Portland. Now we will see what Portland's made of because the momentum is definitely shifting over to the guys in red.
63' And another dangerous chance as Chara drops Díaz just outside the box. No card for Chara, and Dallas now with a chance to tie, but Kwarasey snag's Díaz's effort in traffic.
66' Portland looking a little flat right now; not making good runs off the ball. They're going to have to do better or Dallas could leave here with a tie.
68' Texeira gets his head on a cross, but is unable to do anything dangerous with it as his effort goes innocently over the bar. Still, Dallas knocking on the door for that second goal. Ridgewell apparently out with a leg injury, but not reported to be anything serious.
72' Portland dodges a bullet as Barrios get behind the defense, but is correctly ruled offsides. Everything going Dallas's way right now, Portland needs to take back control of the match.
74' Alvas Powell with some cheeky footwork and sets himself up with a shot that gets deflected out for a corner. Not bad stuff from the Jamaican. Chance for Portland, but Gonzalez is there.
75' Portland apparently scored 17 goals in the final 15 minutes of matches during the regular season, tied for most in the league. They could really use a third goal here as some insurance.
76' Powell looking for Adi, but Loyd gets there first and Dallas retains possession.
77' Blas Pérez on for the goal scorer Texeira as Dallas seeks the equalizer. The Panamanian international is Panama's second all-time leading scorer and even at age 34 (three days younger than me) is still dangerous.
78' Castillo tripped up by Chara down the left wing just outside the box results in a yellow for Chara (persistent infringement) and yet another dangerous set piece for Dallas. Díaz over the ball for Dallas and the kick goes off Villafaña and out for a corner that's won by Borchers.
82' Maximiliano Urruti and Will Johnson getting loose for Portland as they try to hang on at home.
83' Zach Loyd does a nice job denying an opportunity for Adi and Dallas again comes back the other way. Tesho Akindele (vote for Tesho!) getting loose now for Dallas as they try and find an equalizer.
84' Alvas Powell goes 1 on 6, and - shocker - doesn't find success.
85' Castillo nearly sneaks down the endline before Chara does just enough to disrupt his run and it's cleared by Borchers. Changes now for both teams as Urruti replaces Adi and Akindele replaces Barrios.
86' Akindele with a header, but just can't quite put enough on it and it's cleared away. Card's coming out and it's a yellow for Kellyn Acosta for his takedown of Nagbe.
89' Asprilla looking gassed, but gets in a vicious first time cross that Gonzalez comes out to snag.
90' Powell again holding onto the ball too long in the final third, but gets bailed out and it's a corner for the Timbers.
90+1' 3-1 Timber! Nagbe's corner finds Paparatto, and Gonzalez coughs up a rebound that the Wyndham Reward Wizard knocks into the net. Both starting center backs with goals for the Timbers now.
90+2' Will Johnson entering the match for Melano, his first appearance since September and perhaps his final home game in a Timbers jersey.
90+4' Portland counters with a chance to make it 4-1, but Asprilla blasts one into the stands.
90+5' And it's pretty much over in Portland. The Timbers again find the late goal and now take a 2-goal lead into the second leg. FC Dallas does have the away goal on their side and a 2-0 win will send them through, but the Timbers definitely have the edge. And that's all she wrote. Timbers 3 FC Dallas 1 and both home teams take 2-goal leads into the second leg. It's past my bedtime, so I'll proofread this on Monday, but hopefully you all enjoyed my thoughts on the two conference final matches.