COLLAPSE IN COLUMBUS. David Beckham may be at the center of the MLS universe in many ways, but his Galaxy teammates are filling the black hole of his absence by glowing brighter every week.
Los Angeles (7-13-6) joined the pack of teams chasing the eighth and final playoff spot by winning in Columbus Crew Stadium for the first time, 2-1. Troy Roberts and Kyle Martino scored to wipe out a 1-0 deficit inflicted by ex-Galaxy forward Alejandro Moreno and is the only one of those teams with four games left to play.
All the others have three, including Columbus (7-10-10), which hasn't beaten anybody except cellar-dweller Toronto since early July. The Galaxy trails eighth-place Chicago by six points, and the teams play at Toyota Park on the last day of the season.
Crew management told fans to wear black to "Black Out the Galaxy" and the many of them had yet to take their seats when their team scored in the second minute. Duncan Oughton played the ball wide to Andy Herron, whose cross Moreno headed powerfully into the net.
But the Crew couldn't hold the ball, much less the lead, and less than 15 minutes later was behind. A bizarre scramble triggered by a Landon Donovan free kick concluded with Roberts jabbing the ball just over the goal line, and three minutes later one of the worst passes of Frankie Hejduk's career went to Martino, who teed up a low shot that skimmed past keeper Will Hesmer.
Ned Grabavoy nearly equalized before halftime with a free kick he snuck under the defensive wall, but it slid just wide of the near post. The Crew took a lot of shots in the second half but came no closer than a Cobi Jones clearance out of the goal area and a pulverizing Kei Kamara header that shook the crossbar. The mood at the final whistle matched the color of clothing chosen by management.
PHP POWDERKEG. A fierce, volatile match between state rivals Houston and FC Dallas ended with both teams down to 10 men but the Dynamo in control on the scoreboard, 3-0.
Dwayne DeRosario glided onto a loose ball to score in first-half stoppage time and Eddie Robinson and Stuart Holden connected in the second half to extend FCD's winless streak to four games. Dallas (12-11-4) has won only two of its last eight league matches. Houston (14-7-6) won its third straight and maintained a strike rate of at least three goals per game during that streak.
Ryan Cochrane, unmarked, headed a free kick over the crossbar in a first half that Houston controlled but needed a few extra seconds of which to score. DeRosario's dribble had been briefly halted by a Pablo Richetti tackle, but DeRo followed up as the ball bounced past two defenders and drilled a low shot that beat keeper Dario Sala to the near post.
Robinson headed the second goal from a Richard Mulrooney corner kick that Nate Jaqua appeared to flick on, and Holden ran onto a Brian Ching through ball to salt away the win.
Ricardo Clark and Carlos Ruiz, who both had been cautioned earlier in the match, were sent off in the 89th minute in the aftermath of a goalmouth collision. Clark viciously kicked Ruiz in the shoulder as he lay on the ground and Ruiz kneed Clark in the ensuing melee.
Irate FC Dallas fans, already incensed by a pair of Robinson shoulder challenges that knocked Ruiz to the ground in the penalty area, pelted the field with objects as Clark left the field.
D.C. DEMOLITION. One week after baseball officially left RFK Stadium forever, United drilled Toronto FC, 4-1, after falling behind early.
The league's leading goalscorers for the season and all eternity tallied, left back Marc Burch netted his first professional goal, and midfielder Fred scored for United (16-6-5). TFC (5-15-6) midfielder Carl Robinson bagged the game's first goal in the 14th minute, giving his formerly impotent team a two-game scoring streak, before United stampeded the visitor with a second-half outburst.
Burch ran onto a feed from Fred to hit a searing 20-yarder in the 52nd minute. Five minutes later Fred showed the youngster the value of finesse with curling right-footer from 25 yards that just cleared the dive of keeper Kenny Stamatopoulos. Then Jaime Moreno ran onto a ball from Clyde Simms to nutmeg the Canadian keeper and up his all-time mark to 112 goals, and four minutes later Luciano Emilio scored his league-best 20th of the season with a classy, mid-air volley of a Christian Gomez free kick that rebounded off the crossbar. Spectacular!
The baseball Nationals, who will move into their new stadium next spring, filled their last home date Sept. 23, and United's win gives it a 2-0 record (counting Wednesday's SuperLiga win) as primary tenant. RFK is also the venue for MLS Cup 2007.
ALIAS SMITH AND JOSEPH. The Rapids, needing a win but desperate for at least a point, suffered another body blow to their playoff hopes when New England's Khano Smith scored a late goal to beat them, 1-0 at Gillette Stadium.
Smith latched onto a killer pass from Shalrie Joseph to score in the 88th minute for a victory that keeps New England (14-6-7) four points back of conference leader D.C. United and clinches home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Colorado (7-12-8) has lost three and tied two in its last five games. It trails eighth-place Chicago by four points and also trails ninth-place Columbus. It's in big trouble.
The Rapids attack was deprived of Herculez Gomez Wednesday when he suffered a serious right-knee injury in a training session. Mehdi Ballouchy started the game on the bench yet came on when Tony Sanneh limped off injured in the 13th minute.
Jacob Peterson squandered a good chance in the 28th minute when he let the ball get tangled up in his legs and eventually laid a ball back that Jovan Kirovski shot wide. Colin Clark tested the Revs' defense several times by racing up the left wing but his only shot on goal went right to Reis, and Omar Cummings directed a header on frame that Andy Dorman cleared.
Joseph nearly scored himself with a pair of headers: one went straight to keeper Bouna Coundoul and five minutes later another forced a goal-line clearance by defender Mike Petke. But no one could stop his lofted ball from midfield that cleared Ugo Ihemelu for Smith to control and poke under Coundoul.
STILL WAITING. Rolling deuces may win on the crap tables in Atlantic City but it's not paying off at The Meadowlands.
Red Bull New York is still waiting to clinch a playoff berth after its third straight 2-2 tie. It had to rally twice at home against Real Salt Lake to garner that result with a goal by Francis Doe four minutes into the second half and a late penalty kick from Juan Pablo Angel, his team-record 17th of the season. RBNY outshot RSL, 20-8, and keeper Ronald Wattereus made but one save, but it didn't win and has lost all chance of gaining second place and home-field advantage in the playoffs.
The tie officially snuffed out the faint playoff hopes of RSL (5-13-9), which scored with a Chris Brown header and a first-time Kyle Beckerman shot. Brown was so unmarked at the edge of the goal area he didn't jump to head in Chris Wingert's cross, and Beckerman snuck forward from midfield to put away a pass from Fabian Espindola after Alecko Eskandarian's dribble had carved open the right side of New York's defense.
Keeper Nick Rimando rescued his team several times; he robbed Angel by bravely blocking a fiercely hit point-blank blast and also thwarted Dave van den Bergh from close range.
REVERSE RALLY. The team so many teams are chasing, Chicago, blew a lead for the third straight game.
Mexican rivals Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Claudio Suarez scored from dead balls in a 1-1 tie at Home Depot Center. Blanco nailed a free kick from 30 yards out for a 1-0 Fire lead but Suarez put away a penalty with eight minutes left to preserve Chivas USA's home unbeaten mark (10-0-3).
Blanco scored a minute or so after an offside call, probably incorrectly, annulled a Galindo breakthrough. Jesse Marsch fiercely protested the ruling on his tackle that gave Chicago (10-8-9) a free kick. Blanco drilled it into the net and the match boiled over into melees and scuffles that produced four cautions in 12 minutes, including one for Marsch.
Galindo earned the penalty kick when he dribbled inside C.J. Brown, whose arm-over-the-shoulder takedown left no margin for debate. Fire keeper Matt Pickens guessed correctly but couldn't reach the ball Suarez boomed high into the net.
Chivas USA (14-6-6) keeper Brad Guzan turned a Diego Gutierrez shot over the crossbar during a final Fire siege. In stoppage time Blanco buzzed into the penalty area past Alex Zotinca, who lunged into a tackle and got enough player and ball to send Blanco to the turf and the ball out for a corner.
So heatedly did Fire coach Juan Carlos Osorio protest that referee Tim Weyland gave him the rest of the night off, and next week's home game against the Revs as well. After rallying to tie New York, Chicago has squandered leads to FC Dallas, D.C. United, and Chivas USA to finish up 1-1.
The league's best team at home plays at Real Salt Lake next week and then has a date in Dallas before finishing the season at HDC.
EASTERN CONFERENCE: 1. D.C. United* 53 points; 2. New England* 49; 3. New York* 39; 4. Kansas City* 36; 5. Chicago* 33; 6. Columbus 31; Toronto FC 21.
WESTERN CONFERENCE: 1. Houston* 48 points; 2. Chivas USA* 48; 3. FC Dallas* 40; 4. Colorado 29; 5. Los Angeles 27; 6. Real Salt Lake 24.
*Top eight teams, based on total points, make the playoffs. RSL and Toronto are eliminated.
Houston holds the tiebreaker edge over Chivas USA, head-to-head results (2-0-0).
Sept. 29 in Washington D.C.
D.C. United 4 Toronto FC 1. Goals: Burch (Fred) 52, Fred (Gomez) 57, Moreno (Simms, Olsen) 66, Emilio 70; Robinson 14.
D.C. United - Perkins, McTavish, Boswell, Vanney, Burch, Fred, Gomez (Carroll, 71), Simms, Gros (Olsen, 46), Emilio, Kpene (Moreno, 46).
Toronto FC - Stamatopoulos, Boyens, Brennan, Marshall, Braz (Cunningham. 62), Dunivant, Edu, Wynne, Pozniak (Canizalez, 81), Robinson, Samuel (Lombardo, 75).
Yellow Cards: D.C. United - Boswell 25, McTavish 40, Olsen 84; Toronto FC - Marshall 11, Braz 45.
Referee: Ramon Hernandez.
Sept. 29 in Foxboro, Mass.
New England 1 Colorado 0. Goal: Smith (Joseph) 88.
New England - Reis, Heaps, Parkhurst, Riley, Ralston, Dorman (Thompson, 75), Joseph, Larentowicz, Smith, Cristman, Noonan.
Colorado - Coundoul, Ihemelu, Erpen, Petke, Prideaux, Cooke, Mastroeni, Sanneh (Ballouchy, 13), Clark (Cummings, 62), Kirovski, Peterson (Hernandez, 90).
Yellow Cards: New England - Heaps 10, Dorman 69; Colorado - Kirovski 58, Ballouchy 67.
Referee: Ricardo Salazar.
Sept. 29 in East Rutherford, N.J.
New York 2 Real Salt Lake 2. Goals: Doe 49, Angel pen. 80; Brown (Wingert, Williams) 22, Beckerman (Espindola, Eskandarian) 75.
New York - Waterreus, Leitch, Parke, Stammler, van den Bergh, Richards, Reyna (Mendes, 58), Vide (Mathis, 46), Kovalenko, Doe (Altidore, 64), Angel.
Real Salt Lake - Rimando, Pope, Forko, Mantilla, Wingert, Talley, Williams (Harris, 74), Beckerman, Movsisyan (Findley, 81), Brown (Espindola, 61), Eskandarian.
Yellow Cards: New York - Stammler 70, Angel 84; Real Salt Lake - Talley 54, Espindola 94+.
Referee: Alex Prus.
Sept. 29 in Carson, Calif.
Chivas USA 1 Chicago 1. Goals: Suarez pen. 82; Blanco 24.
Chivas USA - Guzan, Vaughn (Zotinca, 78), Suarez, Thomas, Bornstein, Kljestan, Marsch, Nagamura (Merlin, 68), Mendoza, Galindo, Razov.
Chicago - Pickens, Pause, Brown, Conde, Segares, Rolfe, Armas, Blanco, Gutierrez, Wanchope (Robinson, 79), Barrett (Franks, 63).
Yellow Cards: Chivas USA - Marsch 24, Nagamura 32, Galindo 54; Chicago - Armas 28, Conde 36, Blanco 85.
Referee: Tim Weyland.
Sept. 30 in Frisco, Texas
FC Dallas 0 Houston 3. Goals: De Rosario 46+, Robinson (Mulrooney) 62, Holden (Ching) 84.
FC Dallas - Sala, Moor, Goodson, Serioux, Wagner, McCarty, Alvarez (Thompson, 85), Ricchetti (Oduro, 64), Toja, Denilson (Ricardinho, 64), Ruiz.
Houston - Onstad, Cochrane, Robinson, Barrett, Mulrooney, Ashe (Holden, 68), Clark, De Rosario, Jaqua, Ngwenya (Waibel, 85), Ching (Wondolowski, 87).
Yellow Cards: FC Dallas - Ruiz 17; Houston - Ashe 5, Clark 81, Robinson 87.
Red Cards: FC Dallas - Ruiz 89; Houston - Clark 89.
Referee: Jorge Gonzalez.
Sept. 30 in Columbus
Columbus 1 Los Angeles 2. Goals: Moreno (Herron, Oughton) 2; Roberts 13, Martino 16.
Columbus - Hesmer, Hejduk, Gonzalez, Hendrickson, Grabavoy (Miglioranzi, 64), O'Rourke, Oughton, Gaven, Herron (Thomas, 55), Garey (Kamara, 78), Moreno.
Los Angeles - Cannon, Klein, Harden, Roberts, Randolph, Jones (Jazic, 88), Tudela, Vagenas, Martino (Harmse, 71), Donovan, Gordon (Glinton, 19).
Yellow Cards: Los Angeles - Tudela 14, Martino 67.
Referee: Kevin Stott.