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Clutch goals from key players
by Ridge Mahoney, September 20th, 2010 2:08AM
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[MLS] In playoff games and those played in a similar environment as the MLS postseason draws nearer, the pressure on attackers to set up and score goals intensifies. Some big-name offensive players responded in crunch games last week; others weren't so influential. Those performances affected greatly which teams gained ground, and which faltered.

Landon Donovan rallied the Galaxy past D.C. United, 2-1, by scoring two late goals, and Dwayne De Rosario drilled two spectacular free kicks in a 2-1 TFC comeback win in Houston. Kei Kamara scored one goal and set up the other for Kansas City’s first road victory against Chivas USA; Designated Player Blaise Nkufo thumped three into the net as the Sounders pummeled Columbus, 4-0; and the Conor Casey-Omar Cummings duo shared a pair of goals as Colorado routed New England, 3-0.

GALAXY GOES BACK ON TOP. By beating United, Los Angeles (15-5-5, 50 points) regained a three-point lead over Columbus and Real Salt Lake in the overall standings. Donovan pressured D.C. defender Dejan Jakovic and scooped up the ensuing loose ball to equalize in the 81st minute, and five minutes later got his head to a bouncing diagonal ball from Tristen Bowen to loop the winner over keeper Troy Perkins and under the bar.

In a postgame interview, Donovan said he wants to keep the MVP Award he won last year. He’s made a pretty good case by leading MLS in assists (14) and scoring seven goals for the league’s best team.

DE RO DELIVERS. Though Brian Ching opened the scoring by heading in a Brad Davis free kick, Houston’s careless defending provided a pair of free kicks that teammates touched for De Rosario to blast home. His 10 th and 11th goals brought TFC a victory in its first league game since director of soccer Mo Johnston and head coach Preki were dismissed earlier this week, and revived the team’s playoff hopes.

Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear said after the game Houston’s playoff hopes are just about gone. If he’s proven right, he’ll miss the playoffs after nine straight coaching appearances: as an assistant to Frank Yallop in San Jose from 2001 to 2003, as the Quakes head coach in 2004 and 2005, and the last four years in Houston.

KEI’S KARMA. In preseason, when former Crew striker Stern John approached MLS about returning to the league, Kansas City expressed an interest. But once Coach Peter Vermes negotiated a new contract for Kei Kamara, he dropped his interest in John. On Saturday Kamara got a goal and an assist to keep Kansas City within six points of a playoff spot.

Kamara broke open a goalless game in the 70 th minute by lobbing a long cross from Michael Harrington over the head of defender Dario Delgado and then volleying the ball into the net for his ninth goal. In the 83rd minute he hit a ball up the right flank for rookie Teal Bunbury to take past defender Michael Umana and stick into the top corner.

SOUNDERS GET LOUD. Seattle moved back into a tie with San Jose (36 points) by pummeling the Crew, 4-0, in Columbus Crew Stadium. Nkufo scored from a goalmouth scramble in the third minute, glided past defender Kevin Burns to score with a low shot from a sharp angle six minutes before halftime, and rounded off the rout in the 75th minute by guiding a Steve Zakuani cross into the top corner.

Nkufo, who signed with MLS during the winter and arrived after the World Cup, hadn’t scored in five league games and missed some time with a knee injury. Coach Sigi Schmid and teammates had praised his touch, his range, and his effort while expressing confidence the goals would eventually come. They be right.

PERFECT TENS. Cummings and Casey each scored their 10th goals of the season, and former Rev Wells Thompson netted his first as the Rapids simply outclassed New England.

Cummings scored from a Jamie Smith through ball in the fifth minute and combined with Smith 10 minutes before halftime to set up Casey, who had hit the post midway through the first half. Thompson hit a low roller that snuck between keeper Matt Reis and the near post, with ex-Red Bull Macoumba Kandji earning his first assist for the Rapids. Ex-Dynamo Brian Mullan also made his debut for Colorado, which retained its hold in sixth place.

PLAYOFF SNAPSHOT.
The automatic spots for the top two conference leaders are held by last year’s MLS Cup finalists and Western Conference rivals Los Angeles (50 points) and Real Salt Lake (47), and Eastern leaders Columbus (44) and New York (41).

Then come the four wild-cards, all from the West: FC Dallas (42), Colorado (37), San Jose and Seattle (both 36). If the standings finish as they are today, San Jose and Seattle would cross over to play the Crew and Red Bulls. Los Angeles would play Colorado, and RSL would face Dallas. If teams are tied on points at the end of the season, they will be separated by tiebreakers, starting with head-to-head results.

In the chasing pack are Toronto (31), Kansas City (30), and Chicago (26). The Wizards and Fire have the most games remaining, seven, as does San Jose. Chivas USA (25), Philadelphia and New England (both 24), Houston (23), and D.C. United (18) are the stragglers, though only United has been mathematically eliminated.



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