So has everyone caught their breath?
Well, if you were a fan of four Eastern Conference teams, this evening was a pins-and-needles expedition.
With as much criticism as has been leveled towards a playoff system where 10 out of 18 teams qualify, the way Major League Soccer organized the playoff structure has created some grand drama in the final weeks. One team in particular, the Philadelphia Union, could have finished 1st if Sporting KC had lost in a large way to DC United. They also could have finished in the 3rd Wild Card spot, forcing a midweek trip to Colorado, had the worst-case scenario unfolded.
In the end, it was somewhere in the middle for most of the teams involved. Here’s how it shakes out:
– Sporting Kansas City finishes with the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
– Philadelphia can finish no worse than the #3 seed, ensuring a midweek bye.
– Columbus will finish either #3, or will take #4 in the East and end up travelling west for a Wild Card match after Colorado took 3 points from the Whitecaps.
So, what’s left to decide? Houston can leapfrog both Philadelphia and Columbus with a Sunday victory over the LA Galaxy. That would send Columbus into the Wild Card round, and would give the Dynamo the #2 seed. A draw or loss for Houston would mean the Union cements into the #2 seed, and would begin their first playoff journey on the road at Crew Stadium. Houston would then do the travelling to either Commerce City, Colorado or Frisco, Texas, depending on their result.
It’s not over yet, and while the top teams in LA, Seattle, Salt Lake, and Dallas have played largely anti-climatic matches to end the season, the drama that has evolved in the East has been similar in flavor to a relegation scrap. In the Chicago-Columbus match, which Chicago won 3-2, you got a sense of the desperation which encompassed the Crew’s play. Chicago jumped out to a two goal lead, and Columbus clawed back to level midway through the 2nd half. But as soon as the Crew had hope, the Fire dashed those ideas after Columbus over-committed forward. Diego Chaves’ game winner eased a lot of tension in the Delaware Valley. The Union benefited most from an inspired effort from Frank Klopas’ bunch; perhaps the legend of one Peter Nowak inspired the Fire to help one of their alumni.
Of course, before that, Union fans were watching intently as DC United took their game to Sporting Kansas City. DC were all over SKC throughout the first half, but squandered some excellent opportunities. Sporting took advantage of a mistake by United, and Matt Besler put the finishing touches on a remarkable season for upstart Kansas City. The team that started the season on a long road trip climbed the table as they settled into Livestrong Sporting Park, and now they sit atop the Eastern Conference awaiting the better of the two teams to emerge from the Wild Card Round.
The other game of note was Colorado, overcoming an early 1-0 deficit to drop Vancouver 2-1. They will be the #2 Wild Card, right behind F.C. Dallas.
The Playoffs will start on Wednesday (and perhaps Thursday), with an early taste of desperation with two one-and-done matches.