Imagine Major League Soccer as a city nightlife. In this scenario, the Western Conference is a high-priced club: VIP room for the high rollers, a separate section for those wishing they were the high-rollers (or convince the media/opposite sex they could be), and those on the outside waiting in line for a gift entrance from the bouncer. The Eastern Conference then is the sports bar down the street during a college football game. Everyone is crowded around the main bar trying to jostle their way to the front and grab the attention of the bartender.
Thus is life in the MLS playoff race. The race in the Eastern Conference is down to four points, as in four points separate first place Houston (!) and outside-looking-in DC. The West has settled into clear levels (unless there’s an epic collapse) of LA at the top, Seattle/Real Salt Lake/Dallas chasing, and Colorado/Portland/Chivas fighting for a playoff spot, with the rest on the outside looking in. This weekend helped clarify the playoffs a little, if just to say that at least a few seemingly worthy playoff teams will be left out, but they can only blame themselves.
Here is a roundup of this weekend’s action:
Sporting Kansas City 1, Philadelphia Union 1
(Bravo ’56, Le Toux ’63)
The weekend started off with a bang as these two teams played a quality back-and-forth game that appropriately ended in a draw. Kei Kamara looked like he would put Kansas City up early a few times (including an excellent chance off a header in the 40th minute), but fans had to wait until the second half to see some goals. Two substitutions played a role in the goals, with Julio Cesar helping KC maintain possession early in the second half leading to a Kamara-to-Bravo goal. Michael Farfan found Bravo eight minutes later for the equalizer, but Jack McInerney almost equalized himself in the 60th minute. A high intensity game all around and their second draw against each other this season (0-0 in June).
Houston Dynamo 1, FC Dallas 0
Congratulations, Geoff Cameron, you win a Howitzer! Houston wins El Capitan, the symbol of the Texas derby, but more importantly wins control of its playoff destiny by moving into first in the Eastern Conference. FC Dallas struck the woodwork three times in this match and have been held without a goal for 270 straight minutes. They certainly had their chances and could have easily won this game if they could have found a way to have converted. Ten-gallon hats off to Houston for doing just that.
DC United 4, Real Salt Lake 1
(Najar 13′, De Rosario 22′/27′/31′, Saborio 86′)
The talking point (and rightfully so) after this game will be De Rosario’s incredibly performance, scoring the quickest hat trick in MLS history. But to focus too much on that misses a couple of other issues. RSL did start a number of second-string players in this match, but that in no way excuses the yards of space DC United had in this game. The Najar goal and the second De Rosario goal may have been prevented with a defender simply pressuring the pass instead of allowing DC tons of space. DC’s defense also was suspect in this match on set pieces (as usual) and if RSL could have converted on one or two early corners, this could have been a different game. Two things to watch going forward.
Los Angeles Galaxy 1, Columbus Crew 0
Speaking of second-string sides, Columbus failed to get a much needed point or three facing a Galaxy team at home missing its three biggest names in the starting XI. As I mentioned in my pre-game column, the return of Chad Marshall and Emilio Renteria helped the Crew create some chances, and the Man of the Match award goes to Josh Saunders for keeping the score at nil with some incredibly saves. LA sub Donovan had his initial blast saved late in stoppage time before Barrett collected the rebound for the goal. Columbus now faces a critical week, hosting Kansas City and DC United but have gone 0-4-1 in their last five.
New York Red Bulls 2, Portland Timbers 1
(Richards 21′, Rodgers 66′)
We have coverage from both sides of this game on the site, so I will simply add this: I want to see how New York do on the road against Toronto before I can accept them as a playoff team. As odd as that sounds, their two most recent wins came against a stumbling Dallas team on the road and a poor road team at home. Toronto has enough talent to cause them issues as well as a style of play that could be a challenge.
Colorado Rapids 1, San Jose Earthquakes 1
(Wondolowski 19′, Moor 71′)
If you are a Colorado optimist, you can see this match as Colorado improving as the game went on, especially in the second half. The backline, which allowed Wondo to score off a rebound and almost allow a breakaway goal in the 35th minute, actually scored the game tying goal and held down a Quakes team that is doing just too little too late. Colorado is now just three points clear of the final playoff spot and with the CCL still going, they have a legitimate chance of falling out of the playoffs and the CCL within the next few weeks.
Seattle Sounders 3, Vancouver Whitecaps 1
(Camilo 22′, Evans 33′, Montero 64′/67′)
The last match at Empire Field gives Seattle the first all-MLS Cascadia Cup and pushes Fredy Montero into the MVP discussion. The way to tell a playoff team and a high draft pick team is what they do with their chances: Kasey Keller kept Seattle in the game early with some good saves and only allowed the Camilo goal when the score could have easily been 3-1 at the half. Jay DeMerit had a game to forget – he was involved in all three Seattle goals.
Chivas USA 3, Toronto FC 0
(Angel 12′/77′, Braun 71′)
I stated in my preview that this match revolved around two players and who would continue their hot streak. The answer was the continued resurrection of Juan Pablo Angel, who added two goals to his total since moving to Chivas. While Toronto had some early threats, Koevermans could never get on track. Even though Angel may get the attention for his goal scoring, Dan Kennedy’s inspired play has also been a major key to the Goats late playoff push. He had another good game Saturday days after making a key penalty save in DC.
Chicago Fire 3, New England Revolution 2
(Grazzini 5′, Oduru 9′, Nyarko 30′, Guy 90′/90+’)
The difference in the streaking Fire is simply a matter of goals. The team that used to only find ways to get draws now can find ways to win, and that makes a huge difference. I attribute some of this to the first goal scorer, who has made a major difference in their midfield play. Dominic Oduru being able to convert chances also helps. Hats off to Ryan Guy for making the final scoreline interesting.