For a few MLS teams, the playoff race has become a lurching stagger, more a case of "The Biggest Loser" than "Quest for Qwest Field," or whatever postseason marketing slogan the league and ESPN will unveil in a week or so. (MLS Cup 2009 will be played in Seattle Nov. 22)
For reference, here are the points as of today: Columbus (49), Houston (44), Los Angeles (44), Chivas USA (44), Chicago (41), Seattle (41), Colorado (40), and New England (38) are in the playoff tier, and the first four have clinched; in the hunt are FC Dallas (36), D.C. United (36), Toronto FC (36), Real Salt Lake (34), and Kansas City (32).
San Jose (29) and New York (18) are out of the running.
A rundown of team's records since the All-Star break reveals which teams have risen to the occasion, and which teams are reeling toward elimination. In this case, the worst is first, and so on down the line:
D.C. United (2-5-2) wins the Biggest Loser prize, hands-down. As it prepares for the final match of a five-game homestand Saturday against the surging Crew, it is in the midst of a three-game losing skid. The stench of a 2-0 defeat by Chivas USA at RFK Oct. 3 still lingers. Whatever happens in the Concacaf Champions' League - it probably needs to win at Toluca next week to advance - failure to make the playoffs won't come without a cost.
Toronto FC (2-3-4) stumbled in stoppage time Saturday, conceding an equalizer to San Jose to tie, 1-1. The Quakes (4-3-3) arrived after their playoff hopes evaporated Wednesday in a 2-1 loss at Dallas, yet continued the spirited play that has seen them take points off Colorado and D.C. United, and now, TFC, which needs to win its last two games and a lot of help to squeeze into the postseason.
New England (4-5-3) squandered a few "games in hand," and just hasn't had the horses to consistently make up for the long-term absence of Taylor Twellman, and the recent sidelining of Steve Ralston. The Revs lost at home to the Crew Saturday, 1-0, on a bizarre goal by left back Gino Padula, and in September were unable to get points at home against Kansas City and on the road at Dallas and Chivas USA. But thanks to a 2-1 win over Seattle Sept. 26 and a 1-1 tie in Colorado a week later, the Revs cling to the eighth and final playoff spot in the overall standings.
Kansas City (3-6-2) couldn't hold off Chivas USA (5-3-2) Saturday at Home Depot Center in a 2-0 defeat yet still has a slim mathematical chance. A week ago the Wizards came out of Houston with a point (1-1), but with only two games remaining - both at home - they must sweep those games and hope 38 points is enough.
Real Salt Lake (3-4-2) has yet to play this month, was last seen losing, 3-0, in Dallas, and hasn't won since late August. Yet it is one of only two teams that has three games still to play and thanks to the stumbles of other teams can move closer when it hosts New York (2-3-2) Wednesday.
Colorado (3-3-4) and Seattle (3-4-3) are looking good for the postseason though neither has been on a roll of late. But the Sounders posted a vital if lucky away win Oct. 3 when they won, 1-0, at Columbus, a week after losing to the Revs, 2-1, at Qwest Field. The Rapids have stayed alive by tying their last four games: San Jose twice, and Kansas City and New England once apiece.
Chicago (3-5-3) should have clinched by now but its home troubles have prevented it from doing so. Ties against Toronto FC and Columbus (both 2-2) in its last two games at Toyota Park and a home record of 4-4-6 have left the Fire fans scratching their heads. How can the league's highest-scoring road team (23 goals) struggle to penetrate opposing defenses at home?
On the plus side, a few teams are heading into the postseason on good runs. Columbus (6-3-1), Chivas USA (5-3-2) and Los Angeles (5-3-1) seem to have concocted the proper elixir, and if FC Dallas (6-3-1) somehow gets into the postseason, it certainly will have done so on merit, not strictly by the failures of others.