[MLS PLAYOFF WATCH] Of the six MLS teams that played Wednesday, New York came away as the biggest loser; it fell behind early against Real Salt Lake at Red Bull Arena and lost, 3-1, to squander yet another chance to improve its place in the overall rankings. All three teams fighting for their playoff lives, playing at home Wednesday desperately needed to win, and none managed to do so.
A Jeld-Wen Field crowd in an especially loud and rowdy mood was hoping to celebrate a fifth straight home victory by the Timbers, but they wasted a 1-0 lead and ended up tied, 1-1, with San Jose; New York suffered an embarrassing 3-1 defeat to Real Salt Lake at Red Bull Arena; and D.C. United squandered a two-goal lead as well as a penalty kick while tying Chivas USA, 2-2, at RFK Stadium.
Portland’s point edged it just ahead of New York in the battle for the 10th and final playoff spot heading into a crucial meeting between the teams Saturday at Red Bull Arena. Both teams also have five games to play.
RSL’s win moved it into a second-place tie with Seattle among Western Conference teams as well as the overall standings. Those two teams and overall points leader Los Angeles occupy the three automatic slots in that conference. The Eastern spots are held by Columbus, Sporting Kansas City, and Philadelphia.
After the Wednesday action, the four wild-card spots look like this, with games to play in parentheses:
Wild Card 7 – FC Dallas, 46 pts. (5); WC8 – Colorado, 41 pts. (4); WC9 – Houston, 39 pts. -- (4); WC10 – Portland, 37 pts. (5).
Chasing those four teams are: 11 – New York, 36 pts. (5); 12 – D.C. United, 35 pts. (7); 13 – Chivas USA, 32 pts. (4); T14 – Chicago, 30 pts. (6); T14 – Toronto FC, 30 pts. (4); T14 – San Jose, 30 pts. (5).
TIMBERS TOPPLED. Though they trailed from the ninth minute to a Kenny Cooper goal, the visiting Earthquakes attacked energetically and confidently for much of the match and courageously denied the Timbers a second goal. After a long period of sustained pressure, in the 70th minute they stunned the Portland crowd when Khari Stephenson’s shot from outside the penalty area skipped past keeper Troy Perkins and snuck inside his right post.
Chances arose at both ends in a frenetic ending to a match that either team could have won. Portland needed an excellent short-hop save by Perkins on a Chris Wondolowski header in the final minutes to secure the point that keeps it in the wild-card tier, and his counterpart Jon Busch smothered a low shot from Khalif Alhassan that teammate Eric Brunner just failed to nick at the edge of the goal area.
The Quakes, which really needed a win to boost their slim hopes, are still mathematically in the race, as is Chivas USA.
UNITED FALLS APART. Since it still has seven more games to play, the 2-2 tie with Chivas USA at RFK Stadium isn’t the worst result. But it did occur in the worst possible way; United led, 2-0, on goals by Dwayne De Rosario and Ethan White, and after Chivas USA rallied with a pair of Juan Pablo Angel goals to tie the game, De Ro failed to put away a penalty kick.
Keeper Dan Kennedy dived left to turn away the penalty kick, which was awarded when a very slight push on De Ro by Angel prompted referee Chris Penso to blow his whistle. Angel had put away feeds from Nick LaBrocca and Ante Jazic to pull Chivas USA even with United, which took a 2-0 lead early in the second half on White’s goal but wilted under intense Chivas USA pressure forged by high pressure and incessant United turnovers.
RED BULLS ROUTED. It took just a few minutes to discern if New York could use its gutty 1-0 defeat of FC Dallas last weekend to fire up its playoff push against Real Salt Lake at Red Bull Arena.
The answer: Not even close.
RSL tore New York apart by scoring three times in the first 21 minutes on a corner kick, defensive mixup, and some sweet combination play, and stubbornly held on for a 3-1 victory that whacked another deep dent into New York’s playoff chances. A spectacular scissor-kick goal by Joel Lindpere in the second half, minutes after he’d rattled the crossbar with a similar attempt that keeper Nick Rimando just managed to get a glove on, merely emphasized what New York had failed to do for most of the match.
Alvaro Saborio outjumped Teemu Tainio – which is not a matchup that favors the hometown team -- to head home Andy Williams’ corner kick in the seventh minute, and four minutes later, a hesitant touch by Tim Ream presented the ball to Fabian Espindola, who swooped to goal and steered a shot behind keeper Frank Rost.
Espindola scored again in the 21st minute by racing onto a through ball that split defenders Jan Gunnar Solli and Rafael Marquez, and rolling his shot past Rost from the edge of the penalty area. Lindpere volleyed home a Marquez free kick in the 69th minute to narrow the gap, but Rimando repelled a solid header from Juan Agudelo and a few courageous blocks by RSL players shut down New York the rest of the way.
New York can regain a playoff spot by beating Portland Saturday, or fall further down the chute by losing.