Bill Tuiloma – Portland Timbers (American Major League Soccer)
Western Conference finals, second leg. The Timbers have taken a 0-0 draw into the game from their home leg but have mostly played poorly against Sporting Kansas City this year. To make matters more drastic, Portland were without one of their starting centrebacks in the injured Larrys Mabiala. That was the situation.
Bill Tuiloma stepped up big time in the first leg for 72 solid minutes as a sub, preserving that clean sheet and helping give his team a great chance in the away leg. A scoring draw would be enough. With Mabiala unable to go that meant Bill Tuiloma would be getting the start for this massive game. Huge pressure but he’s earned it by constantly stepping up when needed in 2018, proving a reliable reserve and a more than decent replacement starter. Sweet as. What followed was a bit of a modern MLS classic.
First half was all SKC. They started way more fired up and you got the impression that Portland were happy to keep it even as long as possible and strike as the home team tired. But put on the back foot like this they could only last twenty minutes before Johnny Russell stabbed a ball across goal and Daniel Salloi was there to drive it through traffic to score. No less than they deserved as well, Jeff Atinella having already made a crucial save from a corner.
Portland basically had to hold on against the onslaught. Bill Tuiloma was a busy fella. And one of the things he and Liam Ridgewell did best of all was manage that offside line. SKC seemed to have made it 2-0 in the 24th min but Salloi’s goal was ruled out because of Ike Opara standing in an offside position and obstructing the keeper. Then in injury time they had another but again the flag went up to deny Diego Rubio’s thumping finish.
And so Portland made it to the break only down 1-0, needing a single goal to advance on away goals. Not even seven minutes after the resumption they got what they were looking for when Sebastian Blanco cut inside from the left wing and smashed in one of the goals of the season. No kidding, right into the top corner like a rocket. Amazing strike and it changed the whole course of the match, the course of the MLS season you could even argue. Portland took heaps of confidence and started playing like they did in the first leg. 61st minute and Diego Valeri made it 2-0. Jeremy Ebobisse had got through but the keeper took it off him only for Valeri to head in the loosie.
That made it really funky as the home side now needed to score twice. They got one of them with ten minutes left when a wonderful move down the right wing coupled with an unexpected but shanked clearance from Bill Tuiloma – oopsies – fell to Gerso Fernandes to make it 2-2. But as the Timbers battoned down the hatches, they continued to look for outlets on the break and when Valeri gassed forward in the ninth minute of injury time, yes nine minutes, and buried his shot in the back of the net that was all she wrote, my friend. 3-2 to the Timbers and where are they heading?
Yeah boy. That’s the one.
MLS Soccer Player Ratings: “Bill Tuiloma (5) - For the most part, the Kiwis defender was large and in charge, racking up 10 total area interventions. But he also fanned on the cross for both SKC goals, and that outweighs the good.”
As for the final prospects, Atlanta United are bloody awesome and have been the best team all year. They’re the big favourites for this game. The Timbers are all good with being underdogs, they were in the WC finals, but that’s where it’s at. Larrys Mabiala meanwhile has been working hard in training to be ready though it’s going to be a close one. The ankle injury isn’t as bad as first feared but he hasn’t returned to training with the full squad yet.
Gio Savarese: “He will make the trip to Atlanta, no matter what. He will be there, for sure. We’re continuing to evaluate him. He’s progressing nicely. We’ll see what he’s able to do starting Monday.”
Tuiloma will at the very least become the first kiwi to make a matchday squad for the MLS Cup final since his currently injured teammate Jake Gleeson sat on the bench for the 2015 final. You have to go back to 2004 with DC United’s title for the last kiwi to take the field in the MLS Cup final – the legendary Ryan Nelsen. Simon Elliott also started for LA Galaxy’s 2002 title-winning team, as well as the 2001 team that lost the final. Plus he came off the bench in 1999 for the beaten finalists. That is some esteemed flippin’ company, you know.
Up Next: The big one. Sunday at 2pm. Atlanta Utd vs Portland Timbers (NZT)
Chris Wood – Burnley (English Premier League)
Yeah not good. Times have been hard on Burnley and they won’t have gotten easier with a 2-0 defeat away against Crystal Palace. Woody kept his place up front but he didn’t get to build on a promising partnership with Sam Vokes as Sean Dyche recalled Jeff Hendrick to play as a deeper playmaker. Which sorta means Woody’s holding the ball up so he can pass it backwards again, kinda defeats the purpose. It’s starting to feel like a change in formation is needed. 4-3-3 or something, stack that midfield and protect the leaky defence.
Palace took the lead in the 16th minute through James McArthur. An embarrassing goal to concede as Jimmy Mac’s cross from out wide curled towards the run of Max Meyer but missed everyone and snuck inside the post. Joe Hart had made one brilliant save already but this wasn’t great on his account. To be fair to the joker though, he had a lot of work to do. Burnley somehow managed to allow 29 shots, many of them from distance but all it takes is a rude deflection or a perfect strike to make those count. Meanwhile Chris Wood, after popping six attempts last game, didn’t have a single shot in his 80 minutes. On came Robbie Brady at half-time, not much help. On came Sam Vokes after 60 mins, same deal. Wood was subbed off soon after Andros Townsend did exactly what we just spoke about and smashed a perfect strike into the top of the net. Still rising as it settled.
Burnley Football Club: “The Clarets at least steadied the ship and enjoyed a growing amount of possession. But a half-chance for Chris Wood, who couldn’t reach a cross from Matt Lowton, was the nearest they came to an equaliser before half-time. And it was Hart who was by far the busier of the two keepers and he did his best to keep Burnley in the contest.”
Burnley barely threatened and even the 2-0 defeat flattered them. Without a win in seven games the Clarets are sitting second to last on the ladder, one point ahead of Fulham who are the only team to have conceded more goals. Wasn’t this lot quite a useful defensive team a year ago? Built all their success on a quality back four? Hmm.
They’ve not got long to figure it out either, with Liverpool coming to town on Thursday morning and then Brighton following them on Sunday morn. Hefty set of fixtures coming into the end of the year as always. By the way, the Clarets drew Barnsley in the FA Cup third round which is a lot better than it could’ve been.
Up Next: Burnley vs Liverpool, 8.45am on Thursday (NZT)
Jeremy Brockie – Mamelodi Sundowns (South African Premier Soccer League)
Swivelling left-footed volley on the turn off a cross that was swirling behind him… ain’t no thing for Jeremy Brockie. As was always said, he’s a bloke who scores in bulk. Peaks and valleys. So after a year without a goal, he’s surely going to score two years’ worth of them in a couple months now… such is the natural logic to be extrapolated from that. On the basis of this goal in the CAF Champions League prelims you can’t even argue with it.
Brockie was given the start against Leones Vegetarianos in Equatorial Guinea on Thursday morning and it only took ten minutes for him to do that. Incredible goal, by the way. In case the bluster of the first paragraph overshadowed that, take a moment now to rewatch it and see what a stunning strike it was. Brockie also hit the crossbar later in the half before being replaced with less than ten minutes remaining, after Themba Zwane had finally doubled the lead for Sundowns. They should’ve won by more but a 2-0 away leg win puts them in excellent position to advance to the first round, which is another two-legged draw, before the group stage comes next.
Jeremy Brockie: “I spent quite a lot of time on the bench not getting game-time, but for me you just have to mentally prepare yourself and keep yourself in the right space, and make sure you keep yourself fit because you know that at some stage you are going to get an opportunity to play. When I found out that I was going to play against Free State Stars I was quite confident going into that game. I finally broke the duck and now the confidence is back. Every time I go on the pitch now I feel like I can get a goal; so to start off with a goal in the Champions League qualifiers is a very good feeling.”
It’s a pretty opportune time to get the sniper working again because next up on the fixture list was a match against his old club: SuperSport United. And with the form he’s suddenly found he even got to start the thing. Brockie played a cool 74 minutes before he was replaced by Toni Silva, with Sundowns taking a 2-1 victory. No goals to savour this time. Lebohang Maboe struck first from range inside ten minutes then by the end of the half it was two thanks to Lyle Lakay, set up by Maboe. SuperSport pulled one back in the second half but the Sundowns held on to win. Kind of a quiet one from Brockie. He had a few chances to set up a few mates but couldn’t thread the pass. Ah well, one unbelievable goal per week is still a good ratio.
Up Next: Home leg vs Leones Vegetarianos on Thursday at 6.30am (NZT)
Katie Bowen – Utah Royals (American National Women’s Soccer League)
The many excellent Footy Ferns who stock up this column every week should be back at their clubs next week and ensuring that we don’t end up all shorthanded like we have the last few weeks, what with qualification for the 2019 World Cup and 2020 Olympics all sewn up now. Heaps more on that Nations Cup excursion elsewhere on the website if you’re interested. Good times.
Up Next: Well the NWSL is actually in its offseason, so Katie’s on holiday now
Tommy Smith, Deklan Wynne & Kip Colvey – Colorado Rapids (American Major League Soccer)
Really shocking news last week that Kip Colvey, after having his contract option declined by the Rapids, has chosen to retire from professional football. Lost the desire, the hunger. Wasn’t making financial sense to sit on the fringes of MLS-USL his whole career. Instead he’s going to study as a physician's assistant at uni in Denver (staying local to catch a few Rapids games now and then). Fair play to him is all there is to say.
Colvey is just 24 years old and has 15 caps for the All Whites. With the sketchy upper echelon talent available at fullback, that’s a bit of a blow to the national team, though nothing the team can’t handle. This isn’t about that though, it’s about a personal decision. A young fella doing what he feels is best for him by making a difficult and unusual decision which you have to commend him for and wish him the best. Also, not sure if this was a factor but he did suffer a pretty bad concussion in a cup game for the Rapids in the middle of the year.
Kip Colvey’s retirement was one thing. There are also two other kiwi players at the Rapids and when it came time for Anthony Hudson and his mates to make those decisions, they chose to decline eight different players and their contract options. Tommy Smith was not one of them, he was already under contract for next year and he played all but one game in 2018 so he was never under threat. Deklan Wynne was a lot more on the edge… but Huddo’s a fan and he chose to keep him around for next season. Which is awesome. It was also a tad curious for some of the local fans who don’t have that connection to him.
Burgundy Wave: “The surprise in this group was Deklan Wynne. While Wynne had a spot on the MLS Team of the Week after his solid performance at home against the Philadelphia Union on March 31st, Wynne was inconsistent for most of the year. Yet with the tenuous situation regarding Edgar Castillo, Wynne becomes the only option on the roster for that position. Wynne improved over the season, so we should give him his due, but his poor decision-making made him responsible for a number of goals this season.”
Last Word on Soccer: “Deklan Wynne is still a work in progress, but if anyone can make him work as a 2-3 year project in MLS, it’s Anthony Hudson, who coached him with the New Zealand National Team.”
Up Next: Orientation week, probably – going back to school! Shot Kip.
Themi Tzimopoulos – PAS Giannina (Greek Superleague)
The last two weeks have seen two very important games for a bit of a stretched Giannina lot. Sitting way down near the bottom, they finally had a chance to edge up the table when they played two of the teams below them.
First off was second-to-last placed Levadiakos and a double from Croatian striker Sandi Križman earned a 2-0 victory. Themi helping with that clean sheet too by playing the game at CB, where he’s spent a lot of time this season. Next up was third-to last OFI and with ten minutes left they were in trouble, down 1-0 and starting at a demoralising defeat… until Stefanos Athanasiadis went and levelled it up in the 84th min. Get in there!
Themi got a yellow in the first half, his fourth of the campaign which leaves him one short of a suspension. The 33 year old came off the bench in the first game but since then has played every minute. The team’s not doing the best with 11 points from 12 games but Tzimopoulos has been holding his own as he tends to do.
Up Next: Asteras Tripolis vs PAS Giannina, Sunday at 4.15am (NZT)
Aimee Phillips – USV Jena (German Bundesliga 2)
What do ya know? That’s another win for Jena. Life in the second tier started poorly but they’ve won three of their last four and drawn the other, the latest being a 2-1 win over BV Cloppenburg (Jana Radosavljevic’s team). An 89th minute penalty was the difference. Big drama. Aimee Phillips was only subbed on in injury time but it’s early days for her at the club and that’s a fifth game in a row with an appearance, four of them off the bench. Slowly becoming a bit more of a regular.
Up Next: Away to Hessen Wetzlar at 2am on Monday (NZT)
Tyler Boyd – Vitória de Guimarães (Portuguese Primeira Liga)
O-Jogo: Tyler Boyd to receive the Revelation of the Year Award at the Conquerors' Gala
“Gala dos Conquistadores will distinguish Pedro Henrique as Athlete of the Year and Vítor Campelos as Coach of the Year. Winger Tyler Boyd will be honoured tonight at the Gala dos Conquistadores with the Revelation of the Year award, which honours the young player from Vitória who stood out the most during the last season. The 23-year-old New Zealand player succeeds Raphinha, the award-winning athlete in the 2017 edition. The other most important prizes will be awarded to Pedro Henrique, Athlete of the Year, and Vítor Campelos, Coach of the Year. The latter was three seasons ahead of team B, having been replaced in the summer by Alex Costa.”
Boydie’s still injured, playing no part in the 1-0 win over Chaves (Davidson with the goal), but there you go, he’s still getting an award at the club’s yearly prizegiving thing or whatever that is. Conquistador’s Gala. A little odd to do that midseason but Revelation of the Year is a pretty nice handle. Breakout Player might be a better translation, cheers google. Also while he wasn’t ready for this latest game, highlights below, the coach did say beforehand that he was close to a return. Might even be good to go next week.
Up Next: Vitoria SC vs Rio Ave, Monday at 6.30am (NZT)
Cory Brown – Fresno FC (American United Soccer League)
We’re slowly getting through all the American-based kiwis with their contract options and all that. it’s involved good and it’s involved bad. For example, this little ditty from Fresno FC on the USL website…
“Veteran goalkeeper Kyle Reynish will not return to the club as he announced his retirement at the end of the 2018 USL Championship season. Other players who have declined their options or saw their contracts end are Danny Barrera, Rony Argueta, Noah Verhoeven, Terran Campbell, Cory Brown, Michael Baldisimo, Myer Bevan, and Mark Pais.”
Argh bollocks, so no Cory Brown at the club next year. Doesn’t specify if he chose to decline the option or not but that would be a possibility since he didn’t get as much regular game time as he’d have preferred, in and out a bit all season. His first as a pro. He’d signed with Fresno after being drafted by their MLS affiliate Vancouver Whitecaps, yet it never felt like a progressive thing with him working his way up to the Caps. Brown was a serious prospect coming into that draft and the most likely NZer to get picked up so he might find more luck elsewhere. Note Myer Bevan’s name too, he was loaned there by Vancouver and has since been released by them so obvs not returning to Fresno either. He’s another one who should be good enough to find a deal elsewhere, whether in Europe or otherwise.
So to recap with all the MLS/USL New Zealanders…
Michael Boxall (Minnesota United) – Retained
Tommy Smith (Colorado Rapids) – Retained
Deklan Wynne (Colorado Rapids) – Retained
Kip Colvey (Colorado Rapids) – Retired
Stefan Marinovic (Vancouver Whitecaps) – Released
Myer Bevan (Vancouver Whitecaps) – Released
Elliot Collier (Chicago Fire) – Retained
Bill Tuiloma (Portland Timbers) - ???
Jake Gleeson (Portland Timbers) - ???
James Musa (Phoenix Rising) – Re-signed
Cory Brown (Fresno FC) – Released
Kyle Adams (Rio Grande Valley) - ???
Monty Patterson (OKC Energy) - Released
Up Next: Have a chat with the agent
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