Ignacio Piatti Key to Montreal’s Success in Eastern Conference Final 2nd Leg

BMO Field will be littered with superstars on Wednesday night, as Toronto FC host Montreal Impact in the second leg of the MLS Eastern Conference Final.  While the focus may immediately shift toward one of Toronto's three high-profile designated players, the most important player on the pitch will be wearing an Impact kit.  Argentinian midfielder Ignacio Piatti has been arguably the best player in the league this season—and one of the most underappreciated stars at the same time.  The 31-year-old's name may not stick out on paper right away like the other stars across the league, but he's been more important to his squad than Toronto's trio, David Villa at New York City FC, Bradley Wright-Phillips of the New York Red Bulls and any of the LA Galaxy's big names. What sets Piatti apart from everyone else on the pitch is his work rate off the ball. Toronto boss Greg Vanney noted that before the first leg, which Montreal won 3-2 at Olympic Stadium. "In my opinion, one of his greatest strengths is what people sometimes don’t see what he does before he actually gets the ball," Vanney said. "He’s a guy who’s clever in the moments when he’s helping his team defend and sees ...
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Improbable Playoff Run Hands Seattle Sounders Chance to Earn First MLS Cup

The Seattle Sounders weren't supposed to be a participant in MLS Cup.  The winners of the Major League Soccer Western Conference Championship were left for dead at the end of July following a brutal performance against Sporting Kansas City that led to the dismissal of longtime head coach Sigi Schmid.  The club, led by interim-turned-permanent boss Brian Schmetzer, were the underdogs against Supporters' Shield winners FC Dallas in the semi-final round of the postseason, but they handled the top dogs of the West with ease over two legs.  Sunday's trip to Dick's Sporting Goods Park for the second leg of the West final against the Colorado Rapids was supposed to be a task as impossible as they come given the Rapids' terrific form at home in 2016.  But once again, the Sounders rose up from out of nowhere and clinched the first of two spots in the MLS Cup final on December 10. If that's not enough to impress you, the Sounders did all of this without Clint Dempsey, who was ruled out for the season with an irregular heartbeat at the end of September.  On top of all that, forward Jordan Morris, who scored Sunday's game-winner to put the Sounders through 3-1 on aggregate, was ...
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2nd Leg of MLS Western Conference Final Will Be Won in Midfield

When the Seattle Sounders and Colorado Rapids take to the pitch at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on Sunday for the second leg of the MLS Western Conference final, all eyes will be on the midfield alignment of both sides.  Both sides play a similar style of the 4-2-3-1 formation, but the Rapids will be forced to tweak their system for the second leg after the yellow-card suspension of Sam Cronin, who picked up his second caution of the play-offs in Tuesday's first leg that was won 2-1 by the Sounders.  Coming up with a replacement is an easy job for Colorado boss Pablo Mastroeni. The front-runner for MLS Coach of the Year will follow the next-man-up mentality his side has had all year, as he'll bring in Micheal Azira for Cronin.  “Sam’s been a stalwart for us in the middle all year," Mastroeni said in a league conference call. "He’s played pretty much every game. He’s an important piece to the group. There’s nothing we can do about the situation. Now it’s about the next man up." "I think Azira came into the game last week and did a very good job of getting on the ball," the Colorado boss continued. "Azira will be ...
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Slender Leads in MLS Conference Finals Leave Everything to Play for in 2nd Legs

The 16-day layoff between the Major League Soccer conference semifinals and the first leg of the conference finals allowed all four clubs to produce excitement on fresh legs on Tuesday.  The Montreal Impact opened Tuesday's two-game slate with a 3-2 win against rival Toronto FC in front of over 61,000 fans at the Olympic Stadium.  Montreal could've entered the second leg at BMO Field on November 30 with a three-goal advantage, but a tactical switch helped the Reds secure the middle of the park and score a pair of second-half strikes.  Seattle will take a slim 2-1 edge into the second leg against the Colorado Rapids on Sunday. As he has been since his summer arrival, Nicolas Lodeiro was in the middle of the action for the home side at CenturyLink Field.  Despite taking one-goal leads into the second leg, both Montreal and Seattle have plenty of work left to do to preserve their respective advantages and move on to the MLS Cup final on December 10.  The Impact appeared to be on the brink of a berth in the final through 53 minutes, as they sunk three goals into the Toronto FC net before the Reds woke up from their slumber inside the cavernous ...
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Deloitte Study Suggests U.S. Soccer Could Benefit from Promotion/Relegation

Whenever the topic of promotion and relegation gets brought up in the American soccer community, a long and heated debate takes place. The latest addition to the conversation comes from a Deloitte study commissioned by Silva International Investments. "What we're hoping is that the report and the analysis become part of the debate straight away," Deloitte's head of Sport Business Group Dan Jones said in a phone conversation with Bleacher Report. "And that debate needs to take place on the philosophical and strategic level of is promotion/relegation something that is felt to be desirable for soccer in the United States." The study states the American soccer pyramid would be able to sustain an open-league system, but it puts no specific timetable on when it should occur. "We quite deliberately haven't put timelines on this because I don't think it's our place to do so," Jones said. "I think there would definitely be a lot of detail to be worked through, so it's certainly not in any sense a prudent thing to do and flick the switch overnight and say we're going to go from a closed-league system to an open-league system. "What the report hopes to do is be a thoughtful contribution to that debate ...
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Previewing the 1st Leg of the MLS Conference Finals

After a long layoff of 16 days, the Major League Soccer playoffs will resume on Tuesday with the first leg of the Eastern and Western Conference finals.  The opening match of the doubleheader will be played inside the Olympic Stadium in Montreal between Canadian rivals Montreal Impact and Toronto FC.  The second contest features the best defensive team in MLS, the Colorado Rapids, against the dynamic Seattle Sounders led by attacking midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro. The major plot twist in the Western Conference final is the appearance of Zac MacMath in the Colorado net after Tim Howard suffered an injury on duty with the United States men's national team.  Below is a preview of both of Tuesday's contests in the MLS Cup play-offs.              Toronto FC at Montreal Impact (Tuesday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN)  The Eastern Conference final is the biggest moment to date for Canadian soccer in MLS. Toronto and Montreal are heated rivals in every other sport, and the two-legged showdown with a spot in the MLS Cup final on the line will bring a new element to the clash of prominent sports towns.  "Each time we play these games they're more meaningful than the last," Toronto FC manager Greg Vanney said. "This ...
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Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard Underline That MLS Is No Retirement Home

There is a certain quirk in the universe’s space-time continuum, perhaps something cosmically charged, something written in the stars, that links Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. For as long as the two have been professional footballers, their careers have intertwined in one way or another. One cannot exist without the other. They are each other’s reference point. So considering how Gerrard and Lampard were Premier League stars at the same time, played for England at the same and made the move to the United States at the same time, it was little surprise that they both announced their decision to leave Major League Soccer in the same week, within 24 hours of each other. After 18 months Stateside, Gerrard is departing the L.A. Galaxy with Lampard similarly calling time on his stint at New York City FC. Neither player has divulged much beyond that, with both thought to be considering one last spell as a player somewhere in Europe. But to continue the theme, Gerrard and Lampard are leaving behind a similar legacy in MLS. While most North American fans would admit there was a certain novelty to having two players of such repute playing in the league, neither Gerrard nor Lampard truly ...
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Steven Gerrard to Depart LA Galaxy: Latest Comments and Reaction

L.A. Galaxy have announced former England captain Steven Gerrard is set to leave the MLS club following the conclusion of his deal with the Californian team.  The club's official website shared the news, revealing the Liverpool legend will not return for the 2017 season. The midfielder joined coach Bruce Arena's outfit in 2015 after opting to leave the Premier League and has scored five goals and provided 14 assists in 34 MLS appearances, per the club's official website. Gerrard explained his disappointment in not securing silverware during his stint in the United States, per the website: When I left Liverpool, I came to Los Angeles with the goal of helping the Galaxy lift another MLS Cup. I am of course disappointed to have not achieved that objective, but I can look back at my time at the club with pride at what we accomplished, including two straight playoff appearances and countless memorable moments on the pitch. He also thanked the organization and the fans for a positive experience: I would like to thank Mr. Anschutz, Dan Beckerman, Chris Klein and Bruce Arena for this opportunity. I would also like to thank my teammates, the coaching staff, all of the support staff and most importantly the fans for ...
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Frank Lampard to Leave New York City FC: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

New York City FC have confirmed that Frank Lampard is to leave the club when his contract expires at the end of the Major League Soccer season. The team announced the decision on their official Twitter feed: In a statement on the NYCFC website, the 38-year-old thanked those who had made his time with the franchise memorable, saying: My team-mates have been a pleasure to play alongside. The amazing fans have given me incredible support and backing. I have very much enjoyed my time, and I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to play for such a great club and in such an incredible city. Bleacher Report UK also reacted to the news: Lampard, described as "the most prolific goal-scoring midfielder of his generation" in the statement, ends his time as a NYCFC player having turned out 31 times in the sky-blue shirt, scoring an impressive 15 goals in the process. Initially, things were tough in the United States for Lampard, as injury problems and a loan to Manchester City in 2014 did little to curry favour among the New York fanbase. He was even booed by his own supporters in May this year when coming on as a substitute, with the team suffering an embarrassing 7-0 ...
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MLS Player Rankings: Toronto Trio Take Up Top Spots After Dominant Showings

Toronto FC's designated players dominated the second leg of the Eastern Conference semifinal against New York City FC on Sunday. Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley all made significant contributions to push the Reds into the Eastern Conference final.  The trio of high-paid stars were just a few of the big names who shined during Sunday's four-game slate in which the field for the MLS Cup was cut in half to four.  Ignacio Piatti, Laurent Ciman and Tim Howard were among the other high-profile stars who shined brightest as Montreal, Colorado and Seattle joined Toronto in the conference final round that begins on November 22.  Our playoff player rankings take into account every postseason match played by each individual, with the most recent performance holding the most weight.  Continue reading to see which player from the tremendous Toronto trio secured the top spot in the Bleacher Report MLS Postseason Player Rankings after the conference semifinal round.Begin Slideshow
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