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Many teams still alive, but not for long
by Ridge Mahoney, October 5th, 2009 2:45PM



By Ridge Mahoney

Let's see if we can make some sense out of this MLS playoff race, shall we?

Only New York is out of the running, and the right results during a lighter schedule this week because of World Cup qualifying would keep the borderline teams in the hunt.

Keep in mind that the top two teams in each conference qualify automatically, with the four remaining teams determined by overall points. It looks as if five Western teams might make the final eight, but enough games remain that a fourth-place Eastern team could still edge out the fifth-place Western team for the final spot.

TOP DOGS. First off, kudos to the Galaxy for getting into the postseason after three misses. One could say, incorrectly, that the team had been underachieving, and Coach Bruce Arena set things right with just a few tweaks, but that would be incorrect. He revamped the team with a mix of experience and youth, extracted more consistent displays out of Landon Donovan, set David Beckham straight after a few disgraceful on-field tantrums, and shored up a rickety resilience while sacrificing some, but certainly not all, of its offensive potency.

Now the Galaxy and Houston have both clinched playoff spots and are tied for first place in the Western Conference with 44 points. Neither has a game next weekend, which sets up nicely their Oct. 18 meeting in Robertson Stadium. There have been some bizarre scheduling quirks in MLS this season, but this game just might pack the place, and it's all on TeleFutura as well.

Houston (44 points): Oct. 18 -- Los Angeles. Oct. 25 -- @ Chivas USA.
Los Angeles (44): Oct. 18 - Houston. Oct. 24 - San Jose.

Kudos, too, to the Crew, which started off its title defense under new head coach Robert Warzycha with a run of ties that caused consternation around the league, but not so much in the Columbus locker room. Though it generously gave former head coach Sigi Schmid's Seattle a 1-0 win last weekend it is on course to retain the Eastern crown and perhaps the Supporters' Shield as well.

Second place beckons for Chicago after losing away to the Galaxy, 1-0, on Friday night. It trails the Crew by five points but can clinch second by either winning at New England next weekend or beating Chivas USA at home Oct. 22 in its final game.

Columbus (46): Saturday -- @ New England. Oct. 17 -- @ D.C. United. Oct. 25 - New England.
Chicago (41): Oct. 17 - @ New England. Oct. 22 -- Chivas USA.

EASTERN LOGJAM. That D.C. United is deep in the yogurt had been established nearly a month ago, and such dire news was confirmed last weekend in a listless 2-0 loss to Chivas USA. It's great to beat San Juan Jabloteh and Marathon in the Concacaf Champions League, but after making a big fuss about getting to host the Open Cup final and then losing it, United lost again to Seattle at home 10 days later, and after beating Kansas City, 1-0, then lost to San Jose at home after scoring first, and followed that up with yet another home defeat to Chivas USA.

If you're scoring at home, that's three points out of four straight home league matches, with the fifth and final game of the RFK run a week from Saturday against the Crew.

True, that's a heavy burden of games, but United has blown plenty of chances to move up the ladder in the standings by getting points at home. It has 12 days to prepare for its latest must-win, a home date with Columbus Oct. 17, but it could win that game and the season finale at Kansas City, and still not make the playoffs with 42 points.

New England got only one point out of visits to Dallas and Colorado, but thanks to United's collapse, it is still third in the Eastern Conference with 38 points and three games to play. It also leads Toronto FC, which also has three games remaining, by three points. TFC, United and Revs may be locked into a head-to-head-to head duel for one spot, since the three Western Conference wild cards have passed them in the overall standings.

TFC sat out last weekend and on Saturday hosts the Quakes, which as D.C. found out recently, isn't the slam-dunk win it might have been a few months ago. However, TFC gets the Quakes on a cross-country trip and short rest after they host Dallas Wednesday. Down in the doldrums is Kansas City (32 points), which despite getting a 1-1 tie in Houston Sunday must sweep its final three games to have even a razor-thin chance.

New England (38): Saturday - Columbus. Oct. 17 - Chicago. Oct. 25 -- @ Columbus.
D.C. United (36): Oct. 17 - Columbus. Oct. 24 -- @ Kansas City.
Toronto FC (35): Saturday - San Jose. Oct. 17 - Real Salt Lake. Oct. 24 - @ New York.
Kansas City (32) -- Saturday - @ Chivas USA. Oct. 17 - Seattle. Oct. 24 - D.C. United.

WILD WILD WEST. A cluster of wild-card teams in the Western Conference hit the 40-point mark last weekend: Seattle (41), Chivas USA (41), Colorado (40).

By winning on the road, Seattle (in Columbus) and Chivas USA (D.C. United) have strengthened their chances, but the Sounders have just two more games, while Chivas USA has four and thus a reasonable shot at catching co-leaders Houston and Los Angeles to claim an automatic spot.

The Rapids tied their final home game with New England, 1-1, and blew yet another chance to reach the brink of qualification. Still, they are better bet to make the playoffs than Real Salt Lake (34 points), which it plays on the last weekend of the season.

Dallas (33 points) is still alive, but must win in San Jose (28 points) this week and beat Colorado at home next weekend to keep those hopes breathing. By scraping past the Red Bulls, 1-0, last weekend, the Quakes also staved off the grim reaper of elimination.

Chivas USA (41):
Saturday - Kansas City. Oct. 17 - San Jose. Oct. 22 - @ Chicago. Oct. 25 - Houston.
Seattle (41): Oct. 17 - @ Kansas City. Oct. 24 - FC Dallas.
Colorado (40): Oct. 17 -- @ FC Dallas. Oct. 24 -- @ Real Salt Lake.
RSL (34): Oct. 14 - New York. Oct. 17 -- @ Toronto FC. Oct. 24 - Colorado.
FC Dallas (33): Wednesday -- @ San Jose. Oct. 17 - Colorado. Oct. 24 -- @ Seattle.
San Jose (28): Wednesday - FC Dallas. Saturday -- @ Toronto. Oct. 17 -- @ Chivas USA. Oct. 24 -- @ Los Angeles.


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