MLS Team of the Week: Valeri, Parkhurst, Robles Star in 2nd Legs
The two MLS Cup participants were determined on Sunday in two dramatic second legs in the conference final round of the playoffs.
Portland secured the first berth in the championship match with a 2-2 draw at Toyota Stadium against FC Dallas. The Timbers used a late clearance from Nat Borchers and a 95th-minute goal from Lucas Melano to win 5-3 on aggregate.
Columbus earned the right to host the MLS Cup with a 2-1 victory on aggregate over the New York Red Bulls. The Crew conceded a goal in the 93rd minute and came close to letting in a second two minutes later, but Kei Kamara shielded Bradley Wright-Phillips' shot off the line after it hit the right post.
Each of the four teams had players who stood out on Sunday, but some of those talented athletes came up short in their respective quests to win a championship.
Continue reading to see who was named to our MLS Team of the Week from the conference semifinal second legs.
GK: Luis Robles, New York Red Bulls
The play of Luis Robles in the New York Red Bulls goal was the only reason the Supporters' Shield winner had a chance to send the second leg of the Eastern Conference Final into extra time.
Robles was forced into action early in the contest at Red Bull Arena against the Columbus Crew as he stopped Ethan Finlay in the second minute.
The 2015 Goalkeeper of the Year kept the Crew out of the back of the net on two other key occasions in the first half as he denied Kei Kamara in the eighth and 38th minutes.
Thanks to Robles' strong first half in net, the Red Bulls had a chance to rally late in the match, but ultimately they left it too late and were eliminated from the playoffs.
Full Back: Waylon Francis, Columbus Crew
An argument can be made that Waylon Francis was the best player over two legs in either of the conference final matchups.
The Costa Rica international shined at left back for all 180 minutes of the Eastern Conference Final as he kept Lloyd Sam quiet and disrupted the rhythm of the Red Bulls attack. Against a combination of Sam and Mike Grella in the second leg, Francis made 10 tackles and nine interceptions.
Francis will now have to keep the wingers in the Portland attack quiet for 90 minutes if he wants to lift the MLS Cup with his teammates on Sunday.
CB: Michael Parkhurst, Columbus Crew
The Columbus Crew captain also turned in a strong 180-minute performance over two legs for the Eastern Conference champion.
In the second leg of the Eastern Conference Final, Michael Parkhurst held Bradley Wright-Phillips to 38 touches and two shots on goal. For long stretches of the match, Wright-Phillips was nowhere to be found thanks to the terrific marking of Parkhurst and center-back partner Gaston Sauro.
During the MLS Cup final, Parkhurst will have to silence Fanendo Adi, who scored twice in Columbus on September 26.
CB: Norberto Paparatto, Portland Timbers
With Liam Ridgewell sidelined by a knock for the second leg of the Western Conference Final, Norberto Paparatto stepped in and performed well next to center-back partner Nat Borchers.
The 31-year-old Argentine rarely made a bad step against the FC Dallas attack, and he made nine clearances and eight interceptions in a rare start.
Although he turned in a solid shift on Sunday, Paparatto will most likely begin the MLS Cup on the bench with Ridgewell working his way back to full fitness.
Full Back: Ryan Hollingshead, FC Dallas
With things looking bleak in the 68th minute, Ryan Hollingshead scored a crucial goal for FC Dallas to level the match at one goal apiece and pull the hosts within two strikes on aggregate.
In the buildup to his equalizer, Hollingshead made a strong run into the left side of the box around a few Portland defenders to connect with a Mauro Diaz pass from the middle of the pitch.
The 24-year-old American also kept Dairon Asprilla in check on the defensive side of the field as the Colombian winger recorded one shot on goal in 68 minutes.
AM: Diego Valeri, Portland Timbers
Diego Valeri made up for lost time on Sunday at Toyota Stadium as he handed out a pair of assists in Portland's series-clinching draw in Texas.
Valeri helped the Timbers open the scoring against FC Dallas in the 54th minute as he found Adi in the middle of the box with a pass from the right side of the penalty area.
The Argentine playmaker also sprung Lucas Melano on the way to the winger's 95th-minute strike that cleared the path for the Timbers to advance to the MLS Cup.
In order for the Timbers to play the Crew tight on Sunday, Valeri must be a menacing force in the final third alongside Darlington Nagbe from the first whistle.
CM: Dax McCarty, New York Red Bulls
Dax McCarty recovered from his poor first leg in Columbus with an impressive performance in the second game at Red Bull Arena, but unfortunately it wasn't good enough.
The Red Bulls captain led the match in touches with 108, and he completed 82.4 percent of his 91 passes in a match where the Supporters' Shield winner had to score at least two goals at home.
Despite the strong effort put in by McCarty, the Red Bulls were eliminated from the postseason because their wingers and Wright-Phillips were marked out of the series by the Crew back four.
CM: Wil Trapp, Columbus Crew
If the Eastern Conference Final was an audition for Wil Trapp to show United States manager Jurgen Klinsmann how he can command a midfield, he passed with flying colors.
The United States international looked calm and composed on the ball in every part of the pitch throughout the second-leg defeat to the Red Bulls. Trapp set the defensive tone of the match in the first 20 minutes as he tracked back and made a few vital clearances and tackles near his own box.
With Trapp and Tony Tchani in terrific form entering the MLS Cup, it will be hard for the Portland attackers to get past them and reach the final line of defense in front of goalkeeper Steve Clark.
AM: Mauro Diaz, FC Dallas
FC Dallas' midfield magician did everything he could on Sunday to bring Oscar Pareja's side back from the dead.
With his team down three goals on aggregate, Mauro Diaz provided Hollingshead and Blas Perez with a pair of assists to bring FC Dallas to the brink of advancement.
The 24-year-old Argentine finished his playoff campaign with four assists, a total that was just six less than his total from the regular season.
FW: Fanendo Adi, Portland Timbers
Fanendo Adi netted his second strike of the postseason in the 54th minute of Portland's 2-2 draw with FC Dallas.
The lanky Nigerian, who is used to scoring through the air, displayed nice control in the middle of the box as he turned and sent a shot into the left part of the net.
The scorer of 16 goals in the regular season entered the playoffs on a hot streak that saw him score six times in his last five matches. That streak began with a brace at Mapfre Stadium on September 26 in a 2-1 victory over Columbus.
FW: Anatole Abang, New York Red Bulls
If we're being completely honest here, Anatole Abang should've entered the second leg of the Eastern Conference Final around the 60th minute. Instead, the young striker came on in the 71st minute.
During his 19 minutes on the pitch, Abang was more productive than Wright-Phillips was throughout the entire series. The 19-year-old handed the Red Bulls a lifeline with a 93rd-minute goal and produced one more shot in his brief spell on the field. What is even more impressive than his prowess in front of the net is Abang's five aerial wins during his short stint in front of the home fans.
Although we only saw Abang for small periods of time this season, he showed plenty of promise when he appeared which means he could be a vital part of the Red Bulls attack as early as 2016.
Joe Tansey covers MLS for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @JTansey90.