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The Pitch: 18-Year-Old MLS Academy Product Has U.S. Primed for Jamaica

November 16, 2021 - Major League Soccer (MLS) News Release


Fresh off a statement win over Mexico last week, the U.S. Men's National Team is carrying some major momentum and hopes of another breakout performance from 18-year-old Ricardo Pepi against Jamaica in tonight's FIFA World Cup qualifying match (5 p.m. ET / Paramount+, NBC Universo).

The FC Dallas Academy product was a gamechanger the last time these two sides met on Oct. 7, when he balled out with a pair of goals for the 2-0 win, extending the streak of MLS players notching a goal or an assist in every competitive match against Jamaica since 2013. On top of that production, Pepi is coming off a start and 82 minutes of action against Mexico, and he'll be joined by another Homegrown addition in New York City FC Academy product James Sands.

For sixth-place Jamaica, Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Andre Blake, Toronto FC defender Kemar Lawrence, and LA Galaxy defender Oniel Fisher will look to take down the USMNT for the first time in competitive play since the 2015 Concacaf Gold Cup.

Will the Stars and Stripes cement their spot atop the Concacaf standings, or will the Reggae Boyz overcome the fate of their six-year history? MLS Stars Contributing to Unbeaten Canadian National Team

The Concacaf standings in FIFA World Cup qualifying matches has an unbeaten Canada challenging the U.S. and Mexico for the top spot in the region. With 10 MLS players making their presence known, Canada leads the Octagonal with 42 goals scored heading into tonight's match against El Tri in Edmonton (9 p.m. ET / Paramount+, NBC Universo).

Playing key roles in Canada's highly effective offense are Vancouver Whitecaps FC forward Lucas Cavallini's five goals, tying for fifth-most in qualifying alongside Colorado Rapids midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye and New England Revolution midfielder Tajon Buchanan - an AT&T Young Player of the Year nominee. Both Kaye and Buchanan have dished out three assists to rank themselves among the top three in helpers across the region.

As Canada prepares for a rebounding Mexico tonight, will their MLS stars keep shining to maintain their unbeaten record?

Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs Start This Week

The Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs field is set, and the intensity is already brewing for Round One doubleheaders in both conferences this weekend. It's the ultimate ultimatum of single-elimination matchups, with the win-or-go-home stakes on Saturday and Sunday pushing the pressure all the way up.

No. 2 Philadelphia Union vs. No. 7 New York Red Bulls: The cream of the teenage crop will kick off the postseason when 18-year-olds Paxten Aaronson of the Philadelphia Union and Caden Clark of the New York Red Bulls meet head-to-head at Subaru Park on Saturday (2:30 p.m. ET, Univision / MLSsoccer.com & MLS App / TUDN / PHL17). These rising young stars and recent teammates for U.S. U-20 Men's National Team will face off on opposing sides after Clark netted this incredible panenka for USA against Colombia on Sunday.

No. 3 Sporting Kansas City vs. No. 6 Vancouver Whitecaps FC: Two of the hottest goal scorers in the Western Conference will duel it out in the second match of the Saturday doubleheader when Sporting Kansas City's Johnny Russell - with a goal or assist in his last 10 straight games - takes on Vancouver Whitecaps FC's Brian White - who has 11 goals in his last 16 games. The match kicks off at 5 p.m. ET (UniMás /MLSsoccer.com & App / TUDN / Bally Sports KC / Bally Sports Midwest Plus).

No. 4 New York City FC vs. No. 5 Atlanta United: NYCFC's Valentín "Taty" Castellanos is the newly crowned MLS Golden Boot presented by Audi winner, but he's facing off against a scoring king of his own epic proportions in 2018 Golden Boot winner Josef Martínez of Atlanta United on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, ABC / ESPN Deportes). NYCFC are hosting at Yankee Stadium with a major chip on their shoulders after losing their last two home playoff games against eventual MLS Cup finalists in 2018 to Atlanta United and 2019 to Toronto FC.

No. 4 Portland Timbers vs. No. 5 Minnesota United FC: A Western Conference grudge match will pit Minnesota United's Emanuel Reynoso against the Portland Timbers' Dairon Asprilla. Reynoso's five goals and 10 assists has Minnesota hoping to rewrite their postseason history, while Portland could be thankful for another surprise goal by Asprilla to secure a spot in the Conference Semifinal match against the Colorado Rapids on Thanksgiving Day.

Vote for Goal of the Year & Save of the Year on MLSsoccer.com

Fan voting has launched for the AT&T MLS Goal of the Year and MLS Save of the Year presented by Allstate. Fans can cast their votes on MLSsoccer.com or through the MLS App for the best of the best finishes and the most unbelievable saves. More information is available on MLSsoccer.com.

CCL berth on the line for in Canadian Championship Final

There's a berth to the 2021 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League on the line, as CF Montréal prepare to host Toronto FC in the Canadian Championship final on Sunday, Nov. 21 (1 p.m. ET / OneSoccer). For the 13th time in the competition's 14-year history, it's once again an all-MLS affair. However, teammates will become rivals when Canadian National Team players Kamal Miller and Samuel Piette of CF Montreal take on Richie Laryea and Jonathan Osorio of Toronto FC just five days after competing together against Mexico in FIFA World Cup qualifying matches.

Dave Romney, Columbus Crew SC earn MLS Fair Play Award

MLS today announced Nashville SC defender Dave Romney and Columbus Crew as the individual and team 2021 MLS Fair Play Award winners, respectively. Earning his first Fair Play Award, Romney averaged only .27 fouls per match after logging 2,970 minutes over 33 matches.

The Columbus Crew earned their league-leading sixth Fair Play honor and first since 2016. Conceding the fourth-fewest fouls this season, the Crew tied the league-low in yellow cards this season. The club Fair Play Award recognizes the MLS team with the fewest regular season disciplinary points.

GAME NOTES

Saturday, Nov. 20

East: No. 2 Philadelphia Union vs. No. 7 New York Red Bulls, 2:30 p.m. ET

(Univision / TUDN / MLSsoccer.com / MLS App / TSN / TVA Sports)

The teams met three times during the regular season. The Union won the first meeting, May 15 at Subaru Park, as Cory Burke netted the game's lone goal in the ninth minute and the Union held out for the win. The teams then played to draws at Red Bull Arena on July 8 and Sept. 29. In the first, Patryk Klimala converted a penalty kick, but Sergio Santos hit for a late leveler to leave the teams in a 1-1 draw. Then in the last, Santos opened the scoring in the 17th minute, but Omir Fernández netted the equalizer in the 37th minute.

The Union had won three consecutive meetings between the teams before the draws in the last two matchups. The Union have won the last three meetings in Chester; their win at Red Bull Arena last Sept. 6 ended a three-game home undefeated streak for the Red Bulls, the opening goal ending a 340-minute shutout streak there for the Union.

The teams have met once before in the MLS Cup Playoffs, in 2019. The Union overcame a two-game deficit in the second half before Marco Fabian netted the game-winner in extra time for a 4-3 win in their Round One matchup in Chester.

The Union have reached the postseason for a fourth consecutive year, and a fifth time in the last six seasons (since 2016). A year ago, after winning the Supporters' Shield for the first honor in club history, the Union fell 2-0 to the New England Revolution at Subaru Park in their Round One opener. Their lone victory in seven matches in the MLS Cup Playoffs came in the win vs. the Red Bulls in 2019.

The Red Bulls have reached the MLS Cup Playoffs for a 12th consecutive season, second only to Seattle Sounders FC for the longest postseason qualification streak in league history, and the third-longest such streak among all major U.S./Canadian professional leagues, the streak starting in 2010. Last year the Red Bulls opened the postseason with a 3-2 loss to eventual MLS Cup champions Columbus Crew SC in Columbus.

The Union come into the postseason riding a four-game undefeated streak, with two wins in the span. On Decision Day, the Union reached a 1-1 draw with New York City FC at Yankee Stadium as Kacper Przybylko scored his 12th goal of the season.

The Red Bulls secured their place in the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs on Decision Day, gaining a 1-1 draw with Nashville SC at Nissan Stadium, Fabio scored the opener after just 38 seconds - the fourth-quickest goal from the start of a game in Red Bulls/MetroStars history - to send them on their way to qualification.

West: No. 3 Sporting Kansas City vs. No. 6 Vancouver Whitecaps FC, 5 p.m. ET

(UniMás / TUDN / MLSsoccer.com / MLS App / TSN / TVA Sports)

The teams met twice during the regular season, each winning on their home ground. Alan Pulido scored a pair of goals and Daniel Sallói added a third as Sporting eased to a 3-0 win May 16 at Children's Mercy Park. Then on Oct. 17, Ryan Gauld and Russell Teibert scored first-half goals as Whitecaps FC took a 2-1 win at BC Place.

The Whitecaps FC victory in the last meeting snapped a six-game Sporting Kansas City undefeated streak in the series, with five victories in that time. Whitecaps FC last won in Kansas City in 2017; Sporting have won two of the three meetings there since, with one draw. The Vancouver win in the last meeting ended a three-game winning streak for SKC at BC Place.

The teams have never before met in the MLS Cup Playoffs, but have met twice outside of MLS league competition - in the Concacaf Champions League in 2016 (Whitecaps FC winning both matches in their group phase), and last year in the MLS is Back Tournament, where Sporting won in a penalty shootout following a goalless draw in the round-of-16.

Sporting have reached the MLS Cup Playoffs for a second consecutive season, a year ago winning in a remarkable penalty shootout following a dramatic 3-3 draw with the San Jose Earthquakes in Round One, as goalkeeper Tim Melia saved all three penalties he faced, before falling 3-0 to Minnesota United FC at Children's Mercy Park in the Western Conference Semifinals. Whitecaps FC have qualified for the MLS postseason for the first time since 2017, their fifth appearance ever in the MLS Cup Playoffs. In their last appearance, Whitecaps FC defeated the Houston Dynamo 5-0 in a Wild Card match, before falling 2-0 on aggregate to Seattle Sounders FC in the Western Conference Semifinals.

Sporting ended their 2021 MLS league campaign with a dramatic 1-0 loss to Real Salt Lake on Decision Day at Children's Mercy Park, a third consecutive reversal to conclude the year.

Whitecaps FC come into the playoffs riding a six-game undefeated streak, with three draws in that time, securing their postseason berth on Decision Day with a 1-1 draw with Seattle Sounders FC at BC Place. Ryan Gauld netted the all-important goal for Vancouver to send them through.

Sunday, Nov. 21

East: No. 4 New York City FC vs. No. 5 Atlanta United, 3 p.m. ET

(ABC / ESPN Deportes / TSN / TVA Sports)

The teams met twice during the 2021 regular season. Ismael Tajouri-Shradi netted the game's only goal in the 69th minute to lead NYCFC to the win June 23 at Red Bull Arena, then on Oct. 20 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Marcelino Moreno gave ATLUTD an early lead, but Gudmundur Thorarinsson hit a stunning direct free kick goal for the equalizer on the stroke of full time, leaving the teams in a 1-1 draw.

The teams had last previously met during the 2019 season, each winning at home. Josef Martínez netted goals on either side of halftime, leading Atlanta United to a 2-1 win on Aug. 11 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, then on Sept. 25 at Yankee Stadium, Alejandru Mitrita scored a hat trick in the game's opening 33 minutes as NYCFC took a 4-1 win. NYCFC has won two of the three league meetings all-time in the Bronx, with one draw.

The teams have faced off once in the MLS Cup Playoffs, meeting in the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 2018, with Atlanta United advancing 4-1 on aggregate. ATLUTD won the first leg 1-0 at Yankee Stadium, before taking the home leg by a 3-1 scoreline behind a pair of goals from Josef Martínez.

NYCFC have reached the postseason for a sixth consecutive season, the third-longest active streak in MLS. A year ago, NYCFC fell to Orlando City SC in Round One in remarkable circumstances, falling in a penalty shootout following a 1-1 draw at Exploria Stadium, as defender Rodrigo Schlegel stopped one of two penalty kicks after taking over between the posts following a red card issued to starting goalkeeper Pedro Gallese during the penalty shootout.

Atlanta United have returned to the postseason following a one-year absence, their fourth postseason appearance in five seasons in Major League Soccer. After winning MLS Cup at home in 2018, ATLUTD fell 2-1 to Toronto FC in the Eastern Conference Championship match in Atlanta in 2019, following shutout victories vs. New England and Philadelphia.

NYCFC come into the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoff riding a five-game undefeated streak, with three wins in that span, ending the year with a 1-1 draw with the Philadelphia Union at Yankee Stadium on Decision Day. Valentín Castellanos secured the MLS Golden Boot presented by Audi with his 19th goal of the season in the finale, ending the campaign on a four-game goalscoring streak, with six goals in that time.

Atlanta United booked their spot in the MLS postseason on Decision Day by extending their undefeated run to six games to close out the campaign, coming back for a 2-1 win against FC Cincinnati at TQL Stadium. Miles Robinson scored the first goal of his MLS career for the equalizer, before Josef Martínez hit a remarkable strike for the game-winner, his 12th of the season. Since the start of August, ATLUTD have posted an 11-3-4 record in league play.

West: No. 4 Portland Timbers vs. No. 5 Minnesota United FC, 5:30 p.m. ET

(ESPN / ESPN Deportes / TSN / TVA Sports)

The teams met twice during the regular season, and Minnesota United won both. Adrien Hunou scored the game's only goal after just two minutes, at the time the earliest goal in MNUFC's MLS history, for the win June 26 at Providence Park. Then on July 24 at Allianz Field, Felipe Mora gave the Timbers an early lead, but goals from Chase Gasper and Robin Lod over the final quarter-hour sealed a 2-1 win for MNUFC.

MNUFC are now undefeated over the last seven meetings in all competitions vs. the Timbers, having won the last three league meetings. Portland's last victory in the series came April 14, 2018, a 3-2 win at home.

The Timbers have qualified for the MLS postseason for a fifth consecutive season, a seventh occasion overall, winning MLS Cup in 2018. A year ago, the Timbers fell to FC Dallas in a penalty shootout following a 1-1 draw over 120 minutes at Providence Park, the shootout lasting 16 rounds, the longest in MLS history (with each of the first 15 attempts all scoring, as FCD won 8-7).

Minnesota United have reached the MLS Cup Playoffs for a third consecutive year, in their fifth season in Major League Soccer. A year ago, MNUFC won in the MLS postseason for the first time with 3-0 wins vs. Colorado in Round One, and at Sporting Kansas City in the Western Conference Semifinals. Then in the Western Conference Final vs. Seattle Sounders FC, Minnesota United were two minutes away from reaching MLS Cup, before the Sounders netted two late goals for a 3-2 victory at Lumen Field.

The teams have never before met in the MLS Cup Playoffs, but did face off in the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup in 2019, Minnesota United taking a 2-1 win at home.

The Timbers come into the postseason riding a three-game winning streak, concluding the regular season with a 3-0 win against Austin FC at Providence Park on Decision Day. Sebastian Blanco scored his third goal over the final two games for the capper, the Timbers' 10th victory (with one draw) over the final 14 games to conclude the season.

Minnesota United secured their place in the 2021 postseason in dramatic circumstances on Decision Day, claiming a 3-3 draw with the LA Galaxy at Dignity Health Sports Park. Adrien Hunou and Robin Lod each netted goals, with an own goal proving as the decider to book MNUFC's spot. MNUFC have become the third time in MLS history to lose their first four games over the regulation 90 minutes to start a season, then reach the MLS Cup Playoffs.


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Major League Soccer Stories from November 16, 2021


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