[MLS] The Los Angeles Galaxy won the 2010 Supporters' Shield as the MLS team with the best overall record thanks to its 2-1 win over FC Dallas in the final game of the season. The win set up a playoff meeting with the Seattle Sounders, who were left wondering how Colorado and San Jose, the two teams below them in the standings, were shipped to the Eastern Conference and get to play teams with fewer points than the Galaxy.
DUCKING THE BIG TWO? The crossover feature of the MLS playoff structure cast a cloud over the final weekend of play in the minds of some observers.
With the dominant Western Conference providing all four wild-card teams, the two qualifiers finishing below the fourth-place Western team, in this case Seattle, would play Eastern qualifiers New York and Columbus. Both San Jose and Colorado could have passed the Sounders in the standings in case Seattle lost its season finale to Houston, which it did (2-1), but San Jose endured a 4-1 beating in Kansas City and Colorado squandered two goals in stoppage time to end up tied with Real Salt Lake, 2-2.
San Jose and Colorado played their games after Houston had beaten Seattle earlier in the day to finish with 48 points. Had the Quakes or the Rapids won, they would have finished fourth – on points and goal difference, respectively -- and played the Western Conference champion – which turned out to be the Galaxy – in the conference semifinals. By not winning, they stayed fifth and sixth, respectively, in the Western Conference and were paired with the Eastern teams.
Los Angeles beat FC Dallas, 2-1, Sunday night to finish atop the Western Conference three points ahead of Real Salt Lake and claim the 2010 Supporters' Shield as the team with the overall best record. The win set up a playoff meeting with Seattle and former Galaxy coach Sigi Schmid. A Galaxy loss would have left LA in second place and RSL first – on the second tiebreaker, overall goal difference – and with a playoff date against FCD.
A possible drawback to crossing the conference divide is that the Crew and Red Bulls have been hearing for weeks how “inferior” they are compared to the top Western teams. Proud teams don’t take kindly to such talk. Still, the Sounders have to wonder why the teams they finished ahead of in the standings, Colorado and San Jose, play opponents with fewer points than the Galaxy.
Ranked strictly by points, here is how the eight playoff qualifiers line up:
1. Los Angeles (59 points); 2. Real Salt Lake (56); 3. New York (51); 4 (tie). Columbus (50), FC Dallas (50); 6. Seattle (48); 7. (tie). Colorado (46), San Jose (46).
CREW QUANDRY. Of the eight playoff qualifiers, Columbus and New York posted the most impressive wins in their season finales. Both won at home against Eastern Conference foes long eliminated from the playoff hunt; while neither game provided a stern test, banging in goals while winning could be a good boost heading into the playoffs.
Columbus shook off the wear and tear of a crowded schedule to beat Philadelphia, 3-1, but finished the game with midfielder Eddie Gaven in goal. He replaced Will Hesmer -- the scorer of a dramatic equalizer last week -- when Hesmer left game injured following a nasty collision with Union defender Danny Califf. The Crew had already used its three substitutes so Gaven got into the net.
Hesmer was diagnosed with a fractured shoulder that will sideline him for the playoffs. Backup Andy Gruenebaum will take over. He hasn’t seen any league action this season yet has played in all six of the Crew’s Concacaf Champions’ League games and in its four U.S. Open Cup matches.
To face Philly on Sunday Crew coach Robert Warzycha deployed Gaven in central midfield to support Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Emilio Renteria; Gaven won a penalty kick when Eduardo Goudet fouled him on the edge of the penalty area – exactly where the foul occurred couldn’t be determined conclusively from TV replays and referee Jair Marrufo ignored Union claims Gaven had been fouled outside the box – and Barros Schelotto converted.
A few minutes before halftime Gaven slipped Renteria into the clear with a through ball as again the Union players protested; Renteria smacked a shot past keeper Chris Seitz for his fifth goal of the season. Hesmer twice thwarted Philly with good saves before he left in the 85th minute, Gaven registered a pair of saves but also let a shot by Sebastien LeToux rip through his gloves.
The win ended a six-game (0-3-3) winless streak in league play for Columbus, which during a busy stretch of games lost the Eastern Conference lead to New York yet managed to qualify for the quarterfinals of the Concacaf Champions’ League.
TOP GUN. Chris Wondolowski scored the Quakes’ only goal in its 4-1 loss at Kansas City to finish as top scorer with 18 goals. Edson Buddle wound up with 17 after failing to score in the Galaxy finale.
Wondolowski has scored each of San Jose’s last 10 goals, an MLS record, and accounted for more than one-half of the Quakes total of 34, which is the lowest figure of the eight playoff qualifiers.
WHAT A DIFFERENCE. The loss of vital players finally caught up to Houston and New England this season, and just how drastically they dropped off can be gleaned from the final standings.
Last year, they combined for 90 points in the standings and conceded 66 goals. This year, the balance of those figures reversed: only 65 points (a 28 percent drop), and a staggering 99 goals allowed (50 percent increase).
Both teams couldn’t replace important midfield cogs: the Revs traded Jeff Larentowicz to Colorado and lost Steve Ralston to a second-division club prior to his retirement. The month-long absence of Shalrie Joseph while he attended a substance-abuse program didn’t help either, but even with Joseph, the Revs seldom looked of playoff caliber. Their total of 32 points is their lowest total since 2001, the year before current Coach Steve Nicol took command.
Ricardo Clark and Stuart Holden left the Dynamo last winter for European clubs, and rising star Geoff Cameron missed most of the season with a PCL injury. Brad Davis did what he could to pick up the midfield slack, but his inconsistency and that of several teammates thwarted the team’s efforts to sustain momentum. By beating Seattle, 2-1, Saturday in the season finale, Houston won back-to-back games for the first time this season. Still, its total of nine wins this season is the fewest since it won the same number in 2004 (as San Jose).
THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES. A week after their teams faced off in their penultimate MLS games, Brian McBride and Jaime Moreno signed out with goals.
McBride redirected a low ball from Steve Kinney in Chicago’s 4-1 thumping of Chivas USA and Moreno converted a penalty kick as D.C. United closed out a miserable season by losing to Toronto FC, 3-2, at home. McBride ended his MLS career with 80 regular-season goals; Moreno regained the all-time lead with his 133rd .
Fire defender C.J. Brown also played his last MLS match, the 332nd league appearance of his career. Los Angeles veteran midfielders Eddie Lewis and Chris Klein, who announced their retirements earlier this week, came on the final minutes of the Galaxy’s 2-1 win for their final regular-season matches.