The top four teams, all from the Western Conference, remained the same, but critical wins by Eastern teams tightened up the rankings as well as the playoff race. Here's how MLS teams rate from top to bottom after 28 weeks of action ...
By Ridge Mahoney
1. LOS ANGELES (17-3-10, 61 pts.). Coach Bruce Arena rested David Beckham and Robbie Keane and brought Landon Donovan off the bench at Columbus; following several sharp saves by Josh Saunders, in stoppage time Chad Barrett knocked home the rebound of a fiercely hit Donovan shot for a 1-0 victory. Despite hitting a rough stretch in the Concacaf Champions League – it has lost at Morelia and Alajeulense in its last two games – the Galaxy has won five and tied one of its last six league matches and is seven points clear atop the overall standings. Last week: 1.
2. REAL SALT LAKE (15-8-6, 51 pts.). A double-dip road trip to the East Coast yielded a 3-1 triumph over the Red Bulls and -- with several starters rested -- a 4-1 pounding by D.C. United. Fabian Espindola scored twice (his eighth and ninth goals of the season) in New Jersey and was one of four starters left out of the game at RFK. The loss snapped a five-match winning streak yet obviously Coach Jason Kreis is already readying his squad for the playoffs by spreading out the minutes. Last week: 2.
3. SEATTLE (15-6-9, 54 pts.). Like the Galaxy, Seattle shook off a disappointing CCL result -- a 2-1 loss in Costa Rica to Herediano -- to win its league game, though it started sluggishly in Vancouver and had to rally from a 1-0 deficit. After equalizing with a Brad Evans penalty kick, it overran the ‘Caps in the second half when Fredy Montero netted a pair of goals just three minutes apart. If Montero, Evans, Osvaldo Alonso, et al., carry their good form into the playoffs, the Sounders will be tough no matter how quickly Mauro Rosales comes back from his sprained MCL. Last week: 3.
4. FC DALLAS (13-10-7, 46 pts.). If FCD isn’t quite in freefall, it’s close enough to cause concern. It lost to state rival Houston, 1-0, when it conceded a header from a corner kick in the 87th minute. FCD hit the woodwork three times and lost an apparent goal to a pushing foul. That’s three league losses in a row, all by shutout, and next up is a midweek trip to Panama for a crucial CCL game and then on to Colorado, which is just four points behind in the standings. Last week: 4.
5. PHILADELPHIA (9-7-13, 40 pts.). None of the tightly bunched Eastern teams are playing well, so the Union’s 1-1 tie in Kansas City – which extended an unbeaten streak to four games – is somewhat commendable. Sebastien Le Toux’s eighth goal came just seven minutes after the Union had gone behind, and with some staunch defensive work and capable goalkeeping by 20-year-old Zac MacMath, it held on. Has anybody noticed its 31 goals conceded is the least in the Eastern Conference and seven fewer than any of its regional foes? Last week: 6.
6. SPORTING KANSAS CITY (10-9-11, 41 pts.). Another blown lead at home against a good team has the fans and Coach Peter Vermes concerned about SKC’s stamina. A 1-0 lead provided by Omar Bravo’s goal in the 56th minute lasted just seven minutes, and after Philly equalized, SKC couldn’t produce another goal. Only three teams have conceded more goals in the last 15 minutes of games than the 11 permitted by SKC. Last week: 5.
7. HOUSTON (10-9-12, 42 pts.). As the only Eastern team to win its last two matches, the Dynamo took over the conference lead by posting a 1-0 defeat of FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park. Geoff Cameron, deployed at center back, headed home Brad Davis’ corner kick in the 87th minute. Davis’ league-high 14th assist of the season marked Houston’s first road win of 2011, with keeper Tally Hall helping in his own way by denying Jackson with a spectacular save. One win in its last three games should be enough to squeak into the playoffs, yet a strong finish can capture the regular-season title. Last week: 9.
8. COLUMBUS (11-11-8, 41 pts.). Along with FCD, the Crew wears the stigma of a good team wallowing in the mire. It has just one point in the last five games following a 1-0 home loss to the Galaxy in which good goalkeeping and a goal line clearance that repelled a Chad Marshall header summed up the team’s fortunes of late. Its next two games could define its season: at Kansas City Wednesday and home against D.C. United Sunday. Last week: 7.
9. D.C. UNITED (9-8-11, 38 pts.) What a week for Dwayne De Rosario. In a 2-2 tie Wednesday with Chivas USA, he scored one of the goals that put United up, 2-0, then with the score tied, 2-2, won a penalty kick with a shameless flop and failed to convert it. Three days later, he shredded RSL with a hat trick plus an assist as United romped, 4-1, to stay within a point of a playoff spot. This week, though, is brutal: conference biggies at Philly and Columbus. How will young keeper Bill Hamid and his back line hold up? Last week: 10.
10. COLORADO (10-9-12, 42 pts.). The Rapids’ winless streak in league competition ran to five games as they tied San Jose, 1-1 at home. Drew Moor’s goal in the 71st minute brought them even and Caleb Folan’s header in stoppage time needed a sharp goalkeeper reaction to prevent a goal. A 2-1 midweek loss to Real Espana all but eliminated them from CCL play yet still they must travel to El Salvador to play Isidro Metapan before hosting FCD Saturday. Last week: 8.
11. NEW YORK (8-7-15, 39 pts.). It’s not unusual for MLS teams to endure Jekyll-Hyde results when games start to pile up (see RSL), yet the Red Bulls may have set a new standard by losing miserably, 3-1, to Real Salt Lake, then thumping Portland, 2-0, three days later. The difference in quality of opposition played a role, but so did the suspension of defender Rafael Marquez for the second game and buzzing energy of goalscorers Dane Richards and Luke Rodgers. Marquez apologized and on Monday rejoined the team for training; his status for a game Saturday in Toronto is “who knows?” Last week: 12.
12. CHICAGO (6-8-15, 33 pts.). It can be said: the Fire is one of the hottest teams in MLS! True, it nearly blew a three-goal lead at home against feeble New England, yet goals by Sebastian Grazzini, Dominic Oduro and Patrick Nyarko (his first of the season, hard to believe) were just enough to bring it a fourth win in the last five games, 3-2. Last week 13.
13. PORTLAND (11-13-6, 37 pts.). The Timbers again stumbled at home, tying lowly San Jose, 1-1, on Wednesday, then flew cross-country. Though they started well at Red Bull Arena, they just didn’t have the sharpness and endurance to stave off defeat (2-0). They have just one game this week but it’s a monumental one: against Vancouver Sunday at the B.C. Place unveiling. With three of its last four on the road, this is its best shot for a desperately needed victory. Last week: 11.
14. CHIVAS USA (8-12-11, 35 pts.). Following a four-game losing streak, Chivas USA got back into the playoff picture by nicking four points thanks to four goals from Juan Pablo Angel. He got both goals as Chivas USA rallied at RFK Wednesday to tie D.C. United, 2-2, and netted twice again at Home Depot Center Saturday in a 3-0 thrashing of Toronto FC. Justin Braun scored his eighth goal and keeper Dan Kennedy notched his ninth shutout to keep the dream alive. Philly comes to HDC Sunday. Last week: 15.
15. SAN JOSE (6-11-13, 31 pts.). The Quakes are finishing out a deeply disappointing season yet are doing so with spirit. They outplayed the Timbers at Jeld-Wen Field in a 1-1 tie Wednesday, then gave defending champion Colorado a few scares while posting the same result at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Many fans and some media members seem to have given up on Coach Frank Yallop, but off these two displays, the players haven’t. Pride is on the line again Saturday at home against Sporting Kansas City. Last week: 17.
16. TORONTO FC (6-13-12, 30 pts.). A bad scoreline belied a decent effort in a 3-0 loss at Chivas USA. Richard Eckersley hit the crossbar and the hot finishing of Danny Koevermans – six goals in the previous seven games --finally cooled off as he fluffed a few good chances. Trailing, 1-0, TFC was caught twice within six minutes and a modest three-game unbeaten run ended. Its CCL hopes hinge on beating UNAM at home Tuesday; it lost 4-0 in Mexico two weeks ago. It can crimp the Red Bulls’ playoff plans Saturday at BMO Field. Last week: 14.
17. NEW ENGLAND (5-13-12, 27 pts.). Two very late goals by Ryan Guy came after the Revs had conceded three in the first 30 minutes at Chicago, and so their road record fell to 1-9-6 and they remained bottom of the Eastern Conference. With one win in the last 10 games, the next three at home offer some opportunity of moving out of the basement, which is about all the fans can hope for at this point. Last week: 16.
18. VANCOUVER (4-15-10, 22 pts.). The ‘Caps started smartly in their farewell game at Empire Field against Seattle and struck a nice goal – Camilo’s ninth of the season -- midway through the first half for a 1-0 lead. But a midfield giveaway later in the half led to a tying penalty kick and the Sounders dominated the second half to win, 3-1. A new era begins Sunday against Portland at B.C. Place, where Vancouver will play four of its last five home games as it begins to sort out plans -- including the roster -- for 2012. Last week: 18.