MLS

MLS: Dallas, Sporting Kansas City advance after play-off drama

By Sports Desk November 23, 2020

Dallas and Sporting Kansas City advanced in the MLS Cup play-offs after thrilling penalty shoot-out wins on Sunday.

Ricardo Pepi's 93rd-minute equaliser for Dallas cancelled out Jorge Villafana's opener for the Portland Timbers at Providence Park.

And after a marathon 16 penalties, Dallas prevailed 8-7 in the shoot-out as Jimmy Maurer saved from Villafana for the match-winning moment.

The opener came in the 82nd minute, Diego Valeri playing a pass to put Villafana in behind and the defender powered a finish into the roof of the net.

Valeri's assist was his 10th direct shot involvement in the match – four shots and six chances created – the most by a Timbers player in an MLS Cup play-offs match, according to Opta.

Just as Portland looked set to advance, Dallas equalised in the 93rd minute, Ricardo Pepi, 17, finishing a rebound after Timbers goalkeeper Steve Clark managed to save his initial effort onto the post.

It was the fourth time this MLS season that Portland had conceded a second-half stoppage-time equaliser. No other team has allowed more than two.

Valeri hit the post in the dying moments of extra time as the third penalty shoot-out through seven play-offs matches followed, already equalling the most traditional shoot-outs in a single postseason in MLS history.

After the first 15 penalties of the shoot-out were scored, Villafana was denied by Maurer, who sent Dallas through.

Los Angeles FC or the Seattle Sounders await Dallas in the Western Conference semi-finals.

Sporting Kansas City advanced after a thrilling penalty shoot-out win over the San Jose Earthquakes at Children's Mercy Park, where their encounter finished locked at 3-3.

Gianluca Busio looked to have won the encounter in additional time for Sporting, finishing after a wonderful flick from Khiry Shelton in the 91st minute to make it 3-2.

However, there was even more drama to follow, Chris Wondolowski heading in a 97th-minute equaliser from close range after Cristian Espinoza's cross.

Sporting goalkeeper Tim Melia would be the hero in the shoot-out, saving spot-kicks from Oswaldo Alanis, Jackson Yueill and Espinoza as Johnny Russell, Ilie and Shelton scored.

Melia became the first goalkeeper to shut out an opponent in a traditional penalty shoot-out in MLS Cup play-offs history.

In the Western Conference semi-finals, Sporting will face Minnesota United, who beat the Colorado Rapids 3-0 thanks to a brace from Kevin Molino.

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    Angel Correa and Yannick Carrasco were on target as Atletico Madrid returned to the top of LaLiga with a 2-0 win over relegation-threatened Huesca.

    Correa struck twice in a 5-0 thrashing of Eibar on Sunday and he opened the scoring at the Wanda Metropolitano on Thursday with a deflected strike.

    Carrasco eased the nerves with a second goal - his third in as many matches - 10 minutes from time to put Atleti three points clear of Real Madrid with six games to go.

    Diego Simeone's Atletico side ought to have won by a more emphatic margin a day after they confirmed their withdrawal from the collapsed European Super League.

    Yet Dimitrios Siovas should have given Huesca a shock third-minute lead when he shot straight at Jan Oblak from close range after Atleti failed to deal with a free-kick from the left.

    Alvaro Fernandez produced a sharp double save at the other end to deny Carrasco and Saul Niguez, and then Correa opened the scoring six minutes before the break.

    The in-form forward turned sharply after taking a pass from Marcos Llorente and beat Pablo Insua before finding the back of the net with a deflected left-footed strike.

    Atleti picked up where they left off following the interval, with Fernandez making himself big to keep out Koke's effort from close range.

    The busy Huesca goalkeeper was called into action again to palm Renan Lodi's drive away for a corner as Simeone's men continued to dominate.

    Sergio Gomez came agonisingly close to equalising when his free-kick flashed wide of the post before Fernandez beat away another effort from Niguez.

    Carrasco gave Atleti breathing space, tapping in after Llorente unselfishly squared the ball as Huesca appealed for offside. The goal was awarded following a VAR check.

    Dani Escriche should have pulled a goal back in the closing stages when he stabbed wide from point-blank range, as Huesca's survival hopes suffered a blow.

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    The NFL Draft offers a stage for sporting drama, yet there is seemingly no suspense surrounding the identity of the player whose name will be announced first by commissioner Roger Goodell.

    Trevor Lawrence was the presumptive number one pick long before he wrapped up his college career after a third and final season with Clemson. There was no need to return for a senior year – the time has come to head to the next level.

    The Jacksonville Jaguars are waiting to select what they hope will be their long-term answer at quarterback, someone who can help turn around the fortunes of a team who finished the 2020 campaign with a dismal 1-15 record.

    Whether they were 'Tanking for Trevor' or not, their reward for consistently losing is a shot at one of the most talked-about prospects at the position in the past decade. For a franchise with just one winning season in the previous 13 years, the presence of Lawrence offers a fresh start and immediately changes expectation levels.

    New head coach Urban Meyer has not even bothered to try to hide the fact either: Lawrence will become a Jaguar on April 29.

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    So, can a serial winner live up to the hype and help the Jags move forward? Stats Perform data helps provide a picture of what Jacksonville - and indeed the league as a whole - can expect.

    Law in order with Tigers

    Lawrence threw for 10,098 yards in his Clemson career. There were 90 touchdown passes and just 17 interceptions in an impressive three-year run, while the average yards per attempt improved - 8.26 to 9.00, then 9.44 – in each of his seasons in South Carolina.

    His completion rate also continued to rise the longer he played at the college level. After hovering just above 65 per cent during years one and two, he was successful on 69.2 per cent of his attempts in 2020.

    That number barely dropped when it came to throwing in the red zone (68.5 per cent), ranking him second for quarterbacks in the FBS across the period of 2018-2020, though he completed on 56.8 per cent of his attempts in third-down situations during that span - only good enough to sit 78th out of those to have at least 100 attempts.

    Still, on third downs with eight or more yards to go in 2020, Lawrence was on target with 27 of his 43 passes. Taking into consideration just third-and-long circumstances when needing 11 yards or more, he was good with 12 out of 19 throws.

    There will undoubtedly be a need to learn quickly on the job, but wide receiver Amari Rodgers - one of Lawrence's main targets when lining up together for the Tigers - has no doubts about his former team-mate delivering on his promise once in the NFL.

    "I think he knows what he's walking into," Rodgers, who had 77 catches for 1,020 yards and seven scores in 2020, told Stats Perform News ahead of the draft.

    "He knows that it might take a little time to change the program around, but just because he came from that winning culture at Clemson and even in high school, he barely lost any games in high school, he just has that winning mindset.

    "He's going to do whatever it takes to change that program around and make them a winning team. I have no doubt he's going to do that."

    The key, though, will be getting enough opportunities to make plays.

    Coping with the heat

    Pressure is coming in many different forms for Lawrence, who prepared for his impending football marriage with the Jaguars by tying the knot with his long-time girlfriend.

    The 21-year-old will have to cope with not just the expectations of a new team's fanbase but also the national spotlight. Going first overall comes with added pressure in itself, but with an opening round set to see a bevy of young quarterbacks selected in the early stages, there will inevitably be comparisons to his fellow rookies.

    Then there is also the added focus awaiting him from NFL defenses. Jacksonville gave up 44 sacks in the 2020 season, one more than Lawrence endured in his entire career at Clemson.

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    "He's one of those that prepares like a pro. Ever since he got on campus his freshman year, he prepared outstanding and it showed on the field. I have no doubts he's going to succeed at the next level."

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