The 2015 Major League Soccer Cup playoffs kicked off Wednesday with two fixtures of the win-or-go-home variety.
Wednesday's winners advanced to play two legs against a higher-seeded club, but they only had one match to prove themselves at the dawn of the postseason. The D.C. United played host to the New England Revolution in the opening match followed by the Seattle Sounders squaring off with the visiting LA Galaxy.
Check out how both those matches unfolded in the recaps below preceded by an updated MLS playoffs schedule:
|2015 MLS Cup Playoffs Schedule: Wednesday, Oct. 28|
|Eastern Knockout Round||Result|
|New England Revolution (5) at D.C. United (4)||D.C. United wins, 2-1|
|Western Knockout Round||Result|
|LA Galaxy (5) at Seattle Sounders (4)||Seattle Sounders win, 3-2|
D.C. United 2, New England 1
After hitting the post in the 75th minute on a penalty kick, D.C. United's Chris Rolfe benefited from a beautiful setup by Fabian Espindola and scored the winner from middle of the box to secure a 2-1 victory.
Revolution goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth couldn't even attempt to dive at the ball once D.C.'s exceptional display of teamwork culminated in Rolfe's simple left-footed strike.
ESPN's Taylor Twellman commended Espindola for setting up both of D.C. United's goals, believing he was the best player on the pitch at RFK Stadium:
Demoralizing as the defeat was for New England in the end, Revolution fans and soccer purists couldn't have asked for a much better goal to kick off the MLS postseason scoring, though.
Defenseman Kevin Alston delivered a cross from the right wing to New England forward Juan Agudelo, who pulled a bicycle kick to beat D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid at the 15th minute to give the visitors the early edge. The MLS made sure Twitter users didn't miss the footage:
It looked like a replica of a similar nightmarish film for the hosts in the early going. D.C. United yielded the most goals within the first 15 minutes of matches during the regular season with 12, per SI.com's Brian Straus, who reacted to Agudelo's finish:
Both Kelyn Rowe and teammate Agudelo had chances from right around the box after the latter's first goal but couldn't convert. New England's Jermaine Jones then hit the woodwork at the 28th minute with a left-footed strike off the left post.
Just before the halftime intermission, Chris Pontius responded for D.C. with a header from the middle of the box off a set piece feed from Espindola. That knotted the score at one in the 45th minute.
D.C. United provided a unique angle of Pontius' first-half equalizer:
The theme of missed chances continued for the Revolution, as Agudelo shot off target in the 53rd minute with a real opportunity to put his side back on top from the center of the box. He'd missed from a similar spot in the opening half and could have had a hat trick with a bit more precision from close range.
Unfortunately, one of the more memorable goals in recent MLS history couldn't offset the amount of misses Agudelo and the Revolution had that could have gotten them through to the MLS Cup semifinals.
Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl praised the job Hamid did in keeping the scoresheet clean save for Agudelo's magnificent goal:
New England may be stung by this loss even more because of a possible handball call in the closing minutes that referee Mark Geiger didn't make.
Jones was furious, went up to Geiger, slapped the yellow card Geiger assessed him out of the referee's hand and received a red card for his conduct. Ben Jata of OptaJack showed the sequence:
"The defender's arm was in a natural position. Because of the short distance, there was no time to react. Case of ball to hand," said Geiger afterward of the call in question, per Thomas Floyd of Goal USA.
What lies ahead for D.C. United depends on what happens during Thursday's knockout match in the East.
The third-seeded Montreal Impact are home against Toronto, which has the MLS's leading scorer in Sebastian Giovinco. Montreal has a stupendous striker of its own in Didier Drogba. It will be a fascinating duel between Giovinco and Drogba as they fight for the right to move through.
If Toronto wins, D.C. United will go up against the Columbus Crew in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Otherwise a date looms with the Cup favorite New York Red Bulls.
Seattle Sounders 3, Los Angeles Galaxy 2
The Sounders defeated the defending MLS champions in thrilling fashion, but the Galaxy didn't fade into the offseason without some serious first-half fight.
Seattle struck first behind the right foot of Clint Dempsey in the fifth minute, and at that point, momentum appeared to swing heavily in favor of the home team.
MLS on Twitter offered a look at the opening score:
However, the Galaxy remained calm and responded one minute later with an equalizer courtesy of Sebastian Lletget.
But the action was merely percolating at that point.
Nelson Valdez answered back to put the Sounders up 2-1 in the 12th minute, and L.A.'s Gyasi Zardes matched his effort with a sublime near-post effort from just outside the box to knot things up at two, per MLS on Twitter:
The next 50 minutes were played at a less frantic pace as both sides dug in and traded possession to no avail.
Then, in the 73rd minute, Seattle midfielder Erik Friberg delivered a stunning volley to push the Sounders past the Galaxy:
The Galaxy proved resilient over the game's first frame, but Seattle was the more composed side throughout the second half as it controlled possession and capitalized on yet another defensive miscue.
The play of Los Angeles' stars also left plenty to be desired. Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl noted Steven Gerrard and Giovani Dos Santos didn't offer the Galaxy much with their season on the line:
Wednesday represented the Sounders' first elimination of the Galaxy in four postseason opportunities, per ESPN Stats & Info, but the victors aren't satisfied just yet.
"This is just the beginning of our journey," Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said, per the team's official Twitter account. "This isn't the end...we want to keep the journey going."
Seattle is slated to square off against FC Dallas or the Vancouver Whitecaps in the Western Conference semifinals.
Note: Match information courtesy of ESPNFC.us.