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Galaxy stays focused, Salt Lake keeps surging
by Ridge Mahoney, September 19th, 2011 1:36AM

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[MLS WEEK 27: What we learned ... ] The Galaxy got back to business after a disappointing Concacaf loss in Mexico by thrashing Vancouver, 3-0, and Real Salt Lake made another "game in hand"  count by beating Sporting Kansas City, 1-0. Several teams on the bubble that desperately needed to win dropped further off the playoff pace by failing to do so.

TOP SEED HANGS TOUGH.
Two years after coming within a missed penalty kick of claiming MLS Cup 2009, the Galaxy is juggling its Concacaf obligations without its league form suffering in its quest to reach the final once again.

Robbed of a winning goal near the end of a 2-1 loss to Morelia on Tuesday, the Galaxy showed the same efficiency it had shown the week before by beating Colorado, 1-0, by patiently and methodically wearing down the Whitecaps in a 3-0 win Saturday at Home Depot Center.

David Beckham, Robbie Keane and Mike Magee made up for rather tepid contribution from Landon Donovan by raking the Vancouver back line with incisive runs, sharp passing, and crisp finishes. Magee scored twice and Keane once as Los Angeles produced the scoreline expected by the league’s best against its worst, though Magee’s second goal to ice the game didn’t come until the 75th minute.

Coach Bruce Arena rested several regulars, including right back Sean Franklin; his replacement, Bryan Jordan, set up the second and third goals. Arena also kept faith in backup keeper Josh Saunders, whose bobbles gave Morelia – at least in the opinion of the officials – its two goals. The ‘Caps rarely tested Saunders, yet he came up with a sprawling save on Eric Hassli with the score 0-0 and helped register the team’s league-leading 14th shutout of the season.

RAPIDS REELING. Defending champion Colorado isn’t coping nearly as well; after that 1-0 loss to the Galaxy, it suffered a 4-1 beating by Santos Laguna at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on Wednesday, then headed to Toronto for an early afternoon game Saturday, which it lost, 2-1.

Of the four American MLS representatives in the CCL, the Rapids are the most lacking in depth, particularly with the loss of striker Conor Casey. They host Real Espana Wednesday riding a six-game winless streak in all competitions and then host the Quakes in a league game Saturday; by beating San Jose, they would reach 44 points, which will probably be enough for a wild-card spot.

Coach Gary Smith fielded most of his regulars against TFC, though newcomer Miguel Comminges got the start at center back and was replaced by veteran Tyrone Marshall in the 70th minute. The Rapids are 1-1-1 in CCL play and still in contention to advance; the game against Real Espana is their last home game of the group phase, and so Smith must weigh the need to make changes with the limited resources he can deploy.

RSL KEEPS ROLLING. The team that beat Los Angeles in that 2009 final, Real Salt Lake, is steadily moving up the standings and knocked out another tough win, 1-0, against Sporting Kansas City at Rio Tinto Stadium.

Nat Borchers headed home a Kyle Beckerman free kick as RSL (14-7-6, 48 pts.) won its fourth straight game and a league-high 10th of the season at home. It still trails the Galaxy by 10 points but is only three behind Seattle, which it defeated last week, 2-1, at CenturyLink Field, in yet another statement of its gathering momentum.

Without the burden of CCL play, RSL might be the freshest team of the Western Conference contenders when the regular season ends Oct. 23, a few days after CCL group play concludes.

BUBBLES BURST.
Several teams that couldn’t really afford to lose did just that, and thus were pushed even closer to mathematical elimination. As a point of reference, Portland and New York, both with 36 points, are tied for the 10th and final playoff spot.

D.C. United and New England, handed tough assignments in Seattle and Portland, respectively, were thumped by the same 3-0 score. United still has eight more games and 34 points, and thus retains  reasonable postseason hopes; the Revs (27 points) came out inexplicably flat, looking nothing like a team desperate to win, and the energetic Timbers simply overran them.

Seattle’s overpowering win came at a cost; midfielder Mauro Rosales, a contender for Newcomer of the Year with his play of the past few months, suffered a sprained MCL. He will undergo an MRI Monday and won’t play Tuesday against Herediano. Seattle (3-0-0) is the only team to take maximum points in its three group games to date.

Add San Jose to the list of teams most likely done. A 2-1 loss in Houston, after last week’s 2-0 defeat of the Fire ended a 13-game winless streak, leaves the Quakes with just 29 points and five games to play. Houston’s win moved it into a third-place tie in the Eastern Conference with Philadelphia; they have 39 points apiece, and the return to form of rookie striker Will Bruin, who scored the winner, brightens postseason hopes for the Dynamo. Out two months with a knee injury, he hadn’t netted since nailing a hat trick against D.C. United April 29.

Two points ahead of the Quakes is Chivas USA, which looked like a solid contender a month ago but despite playing a man up after the 37th minute wasted a pair of comeback goals and lost, 3-2, in Chicago. Dominic Oduro’s goal in the 85th minute (his 10th of the season) elevated Chicago to 30 points, and kept the faint Fire playoff hopes flickering.

Chivas USA lost its fourth straight and hasn’t won in the last six. It needs to regroup quickly for a “bubble” team showdown against D.C. United Wednesday at RFK.

One team that has plummeted into the bubble, New York, rebounded to stun FC Dallas, 1-0, at Pizza Hut Park. The bustling play of Luke Rodgers, who scored the only goal, can only help revive a lackluster team that needs ample doses of the energy drink that sponsors it.



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