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Race for MLS Cup continues as Conference Championships are set

Western Conference Final, Leg 1: Portland Timbers vs. FC Dallas
Sunday, November 22, 7:30 p.m. ET (FS1, TSN2)

+Highlights: FC Dallas stuns Seattle in PKs, moves on to Conference Finals

+Highlights: Portland Timbers sweep Vancouver, advance to MLS Western Conference Championship

FC Dallas defender Walker Zimmerman hadn’t scored a goal since June 29, 2013, entering Sunday night’s MLS Cup Playoffs Conference Semifinal match vs. Seattle Sounders FC. The 23-year-old picked a good time to snap his 26-month scoring drought, fortifying his role in one of the most legendary playoff games in MLS history. With Dallas’ backs against the wall following Chad Marshall’s go-ahead goal in the 90th minute, Zimmerman headed a pass from Blas Perez into the back of the net in the 91st minute to force extra time. Then, with ice running through his veins, the Lawrenceville, Ga., native buried the game-winning penalty kick to send FC Dallas into the Western Conference Championship. Oscar Pareja’s steadfast dedication to playing the kids continues paying dividends for Dallas – now within striking distance of the club’s first MLS Cup.

For Zimmerman, Sunday night’s performance was the culmination of his first injury-free MLS season. A highly-touted prospect coming out of Furman University in 2013, injuries forced him to miss the combine and consequently fall to seventh in that year’s SuperDraft. After appearing in only 17 games between 2013 and 2014, Zimmerman stayed off the trainer’s table and made 20 appearances in 2015. With a clean bill of health and one of the biggest goals in FCD’s history under his belt, Zimmerman is finally living up to hype that followed him into MLS.

Things weren’t as dramatic for the Timbers en route to a 2-0 sweep of Vancouver Whitecaps FC at BC Place. Fanendo Adi and Diego Chara scored as Portland won the possession battle and yielded only two shots on goal. The Timbers now prepare for their second Western Conference Championship series in five MLS seasons. Portland fell to Real Salt Lake in the 2013 Western Conference title game, but returns this time around with a championship-caliber core including recent U.S. Men’s National Team call-up Darlington Nagbe, Argentine maestro Diego Valeri, and veterans Adam Kwarasey, Nat Borchers, Liam Ridgewell, and plenty more. With the backing of the Timbers Army and one of the biggest home field advantages in MLS, this could be the year the Timbers breakthrough.

Red Bulls eye shot at second trophy while Crew SC looks to re-live 2008 magical run

Eastern Conference Final, Leg 1: Columbus Crew SC vs. New York Red Bulls
Sunday, November 22, 5:00 p.m. ET (ESPN)

+Highlights: Columbus Crew SC defeats Montreal, reaches Conference Finals

+Highlights: New York Red Bulls blank D.C. United, advance to MLS Eastern Conference Finals

The New York Red Bulls are one step closer to securing their first ever MLS Cup after their second leg 1-0 (2-0 aggregate) win over I-95 rivals D.C. United in the MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Semifinals. D.C. were defensively stout for 90 minutes, until Red Bulls forward Bradley Wright-Phillips finished Gonzalo Veron’s pass in stoppage-time to help the Red Bulls advance to their second Eastern Conference Championship appearance in three years. The stoppage-time goal was Wright-Phillips’ sixth tally in nine career playoff matches for the Red Bulls. New York ended the season with an impressive 4-0-1 record against their Atlantic Cup rivals.

In the other Eastern Conference Semifinal, Columbus Crew SC are through to their first Eastern Conference Championship since 2008, the year they won their first MLS Cup in a 3-1 victory over the Red Bulls, after dispatching Montreal Impact 3-1 (4-3 aggregate) at MAPFRE Stadium. After Kei Kamara’s header in the fourth minute gave Crew SC the early 1-0 lead, Impact midfielder Dilly Duka leveled the match in the 40th minute to give Montreal the aggregate advantage heading into the halftime interval. Columbus winger Ethan Finlay tied the aggregate score in the 77th minute to force the match into extra time, before Kei Kamara headed in his second goal of the match in the 111th minute off substitute Cedrick Mabwati’s cross to secure the win.