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MLS playoff regulars in dire straits
by Ridge Mahoney, August 30th, 2010 1:15AM

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TAGS:  houston dynamo, mls, new england revolution, san jose earthquakes

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[MLS] Four teams desperately needing wins to strengthen their playoff chances -- San Jose, Houston, Chicago, New England -- all lost, yet Kansas City stunned the Galaxy, 2-0, at Home Depot Center to give its hopes a shot. Thierry Henry's first MLS goal helped the Red Bulls down San Jose, 2-0, and close to within two points of Eastern Conference leader Columbus, which tied FC Dallas, 0-0, at home. Freddie Ljungberg returned to Seattle for the first time since joining the Fire but Fredy Montero stole the show.

SEISMIC SHIFT. The playoff prospects for annual participants Houston and New England dipped further Saturday night when both were beaten in depressing fashion.

Houston conceded a goal in the second minute and went down a man eight minutes later when midfielder Lovel Palmer led with his forearm into the face of Rapids’ captain Pablo Mastroeni. Palmer's second ejection in his 10 MLS starts since joining the team in July sent Houston on its way to a 3-0 defeat.

The Revs squandered a 1-0 lead at home, and lost to expansion Philadelphia, 2-1, for its third defeat in a row.

If New England and Houston -- which met in the 2006 and 2007 MLS Cups -- miss the playoffs, the second- and third-longest streaks of teams with playoff appearances will end in the same season. Houston’s run of nine straight (including 2001-05 in San Jose) will stop, as will New England’s streak of eight dating back to 2002, when the Revs hosted the championship game and lost to the Galaxy, 1-0.

The league record for consecutive seasons with playoff appearances is 10, set by the Galaxy in the first decade (1996-2005) of the league’s existence.

EARLY DOORS. Upon being questioned last week about the Galaxy’s propensity to concede early goals recently, Coach Bruce Arena got a bit snippy.

“Quite a bit? Quite a bit?” he replied after the Galaxy failed to catch up after falling behind San Jose in the fourth minute Aug. 14. ”It’s unfortunate when you’re on top of the league that it happens quite a bit. It doesn’t happen quite a bit, but it happened today.”

It happened again Saturday in a 2-0 home loss to Kansas City when Davy Arnaud’s early goal continued a trend that dates back to July 22. Starting on that date, the Galaxy has given up goals in the second minute (2-2 tie with San Jose), fourth and fifth minutes (3-2 loss to Chicago), fourth minute (1-0 loss to the Quakes), and 12th minute (2-0 loss to Kansas City).

In the last five games (including a 1-0 shutout of New York Aug. 14), the Galaxy has given up five goals in the first quarter of an hour. In its first 17 matches it had conceded only one during that span. Arena did acknowledge after the Quakes’ game that a slow start is no way to shake out of a slump. The Galaxy is still on top of the league (13-5-4, 43 points), but its lead atop the overall standings has dwindled to two over Eastern Conference leader Columbus (12-5-5, 41 points) and three vs. conference rival Real Salt Lake (11-4-7, 40 points).

“There’s no question about that,” said Arena. “Our start to the game was poor and it cost us in the end. There’s not much more to say.”

FREDY vs. FREDDIE. They exchanged a hug before heading out onto the field to do battle at Qwest Field Saturday night, and from that moment former teammates Fredy Montero and Freddie Ljungberg fueled and fed off a frenzied atmosphere.

Ljungberg’s return to Soundersland after one and a half seasons in Rave Green sparked a heavy dose of pregame buildup, buzz, and B.S., no doubt, yet both teams also took the field in dire need of points.

Seattle and Chicago started the game just four points apart yet on opposite sides of the cutoff point for eight playoff qualifiers, and the Fire’s chances took a hit when Montero popped up unmarked at the far post to head a Nathan Sturgis cross for the winning goal in stoppage time.

Montero had also struck an equalizer in the 36th minute by coolly collecting a diagonal ball from left back Tyson Wahl and letting two Fire defenders overrun the play before firing low into the far corner; the pair of goals upped his seasonal tally to 10, third-best in MLS behind Edson Buddle (13) and Juan Pablo Angel (11). They should also have notched him a bit higher in the Most Valuable Player evaluations.

Early in the game Montero belted a low free kick on frame that Fire keeper Sean Johnson swatted to safety.

Montero took an early caution for pushing Ljungberg from behind as he dribbled toward the Seattle penalty area. While seated on the ground, Ljungberg waved his arms in frustration. He orchestrated much of Chicago’s attack in the first half (and heard boos every time he touched the ball), but faded after halftime and was substituted.

The loss puts a ding into the playoff hopes of the Fire (6-7-6, 24 points). It is 11th in the overall standings yet with the most number of games to play, 12, has opportunities to pick up points.

KEEPER QUESTIONS. Fire players blamed defensive breakdowns for allowing Montero loose to score his two goals, but nobody pointed a finger at keeper Sean Johnson for the second goal. Montero headed home from a yard inside the goal area on a ball floated from the opposite sideline by Sturgis. Credit to both the server and the finisher for doing their jobs well, but in the pro ranks, that’s a ball Johnson has to challenge, to intimidate Montero at least if the keeper can't get a hand to it.

REAL IMPROVEMENT. By tying Toronto FC, 0-0, defending champion RSL has already matched its 2009 season’s production of 40 points with a similar record, sort of. Spot the difference: 11-12-7 last year, 11-4-7 this year. Answer: a swing of eight games in the loss column. That’s impressive.

MOVIN’ ON UP. Kansas City’s victory lifted it to 10th place in the overall standings at 7-9-5 and 26 points. In their last seven games the Wizards have compiled 14 points and trail No. 8 seed San Jose (8-7-5, 29 pts.), which lost to the Red Bulls, 2-0, by three points.



0 comments
  1. Philippe Fontanelli
    commented on: August 30, 2010 at 9:25 a.m.
    If you guys remember several weeks ago after LA lost to Puerto Rico at home I have stated that watch out for the demise of LA under a "has been" if ever was Bruce Arena (a ditto of Bradley).

  1. David Huff
    commented on: August 30, 2010 at 12:34 p.m.
    You failed to report that Chivas USA, a playoff regular for the past few years, did a little to dig itself out of a hole last night by defeating DC United 1-0.

  1. Margaret Manning
    commented on: August 30, 2010 at 6:12 p.m.
    The Sounders game was wild, nonstop, with another MLS record league attendance, 35000+. Most Sounders' fans cheered Ljundberg when he was introduced, to acknowledge his contributions last season, and exchanged friendly greetings after the game, but not while he was on the field!


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