By Ridge Mahoney
With just 10 more days of the season to go, there are still playoff places to be decided as well as final power rankings, in which a team's recent form in addition to current record determines its placing. FC Dallas ended a four-game losing streak, but D.C. United’s playoff hopes are in jeopardy after a third straight defeat.
1. LOS ANGELES* (18-4-10, 64 pts.). After more than a week of rest (since a 2-0 loss in New York Oct. 4) the Galaxy, despite clinching the Supporters’ Shield, gets back to crunch time. It plays city rival Chivas USA Sunday, heads to Honduras for a crucial CCL group finale against Motagua, and moves on to Houston for the season finale that might determine the Dynamo’s playoff hopes. Robbie Keane’s muscle tear at least gives Bruce Arena opportunities for others and it won’t be known for a while if he can play in the postseason at all. Last week: 1.
2. SEATTLE* (16-7-9, 57 pts.). The Sounders wind up the season on the West Coast, with a home game Saturday against San Jose and a midweek tussle with Monterrey prior to a final date at Home Depot Center against Chivas USA. If Mauro Rosales gets in some minutes they will be much more ready for the postseason. Tuning up the midfield and back line for playoff intensity is also a priority. Jeff Parke suffered a concussion against Philly and he is being closely monitored. A win or tie in either league game clinches second place. Last week: 2.
3. REAL SALT LAKE* (15-11-6, 51 pts.). After a month of idling along as FCD sputtered, RSL can’t take third place in the Western Conference for granted; its lead is just two points with two home games to go, to wit: the Rapids Friday, and Portland a week from Saturday. All eyes will be on recuperating Javier Morales, but RSL won’t have the suspended Kyle Beckerman in midfield, and its forwards have been streaky. Last week: 3.
4. PHILADELPHIA (11-7-14, 47 pts.). The Union got one of the biggest wins in its short history when it toppled the Sounders, 2-0, last Saturday in Seattle with goals by Freddy Adu and Brian Carroll. Danny Mwanga has missed four games with a torn right hip flexor and will get some time in the last two games, home against Toronto and at New York, to sharpen up for the playoffs. Last week: 4.
5. FC DALLAS* (14-11-7, 49 pts.). Responding to its longest break of the season, 10 days, FCD clinched a playoff spot with a 2-1 win in Chicago. Brek Shea came back from national team duty to play the last 23 minutes, by which time FCD had already scored through Jackson and Daniel Cruz (his first MLS goal). Shea replaced Fabian Castillo, who might add a game-breaking element in the postseason FCD lacks without David Ferreira. The season wraps up with games against Vancouver (at home) and San Jose (away) sandwiched around the CCL group finale with TFC at Pizza Hut Park. Last week: 6.
6. SPORTING KANSAS CITY (11-9-12, 45 pts.) SKC tied Guadalajara, 2-2, in a friendly Wednesday with starters and backups sprinkled throughout the lineup. It can clinch a playoff spot by beating New York Saturday in its final game at Livestrong Sporting Park, where it is 8-2-6 in 2011. The return of Davy Arnaud (sports hernia surgery) bolsters SKC’s attacking corps at a critical point in the season, and the range and talents of midfielder Graham Zusi are critical elements if Coach Peter Vermes is to use his 4-3-3 formation in the playoffs. Last week: 5.
7. HOUSTON (10-9-13, 43 pts.) The Dynamo has had nearly two weeks to ponder the two points it squandered by tying Chicago, 1-1, at home Oct. 1. The players have toured the site of its new stadium, which is nearing completion; perhaps that can inspire them in the last two games of the season to edge into the playoffs. A match in Portland Friday could end the hopes of the Timbers or seriously dent those of the Dynamo, which plays the Galaxy at home Oct. 23 in the very last game of the MLS regular season. Houston has the tools to get it done – Brian Ching, Brad Davis, Carlo Costly, Bobby Boswell, etc. – yet is also bucking a 1-6-9 road mark for the first game. Last week: 7.
8. COLUMBUS (11-9-12, 45 pts.) The Crew has more wins, 12, than any team in the Eastern Conference, but its 12 losses puts it right at the .500 mark. Its home schedule is done, and it takes a poor 3-9-3 record into its last two matches at New England and Chicago. The Revs are out of the playoff picture and the Fire probably will be when it hosts the Crew, but there are rivalries to be considered along with the records. Eddie Gaven has recovered from a leg injury after sitting out nearly two months, and his diving header by which the Crew beat United, 2-1, in its last league game shows how valuable he can be when healthy. Last week: 8.
9. NEW YORK (9-7-16, 43 pts.) It would be difficult, but not impossible, for the Red Bulls to choke away their playoff chances. With more than a week of rest after beating the exhausted Galaxy, 2-0, a week ago Tuesday, New York won’t have many excuses when it plays at Kansas City (Saturday) and at home against Philly (next Thursday). Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez will draw most of the attention, yet NYRB needs big games from Joel Lindpere, Dane Richards, Luke Rodgers and keeper Frank Rost to avoid a catastrophe. Last week: 10.
10. COLORADO (11-9-12, 45 pts.). There must be some bad karma in Colorado, otherwise, how could a serious rift between technical director Paul Bravo and head coach Gary Smith surface right before a monumental Rocky Mountain Cup rumble with Real Salt Lake on Friday? No specifics have been mentioned; did Smith’s decision not to travel for a CCL game in late September rankle Bravo? The Rapids have enough experienced pros to set the furor aside in the last two games against RSL and Vancouver; can Smith do the same? Last week: 9.
11. PORTLAND (11-3-7, 40 pts.) A storybook ending to its first MLS season will take some doing even though it has three games to play, one more than most of its foes. It starts off at home Friday against Houston, plays at D.C. United next Wednesday, and finishes at RSL a week from Saturday. Ex-Houston players Mike Chabala and Lovel Palmer vying with their former teammates for a playoff spot is just one fascinating subplot. The Timbers will also need road points, of which they have only 10 this season. Last week: 10.
12. CHICAGO (7-9-16, 37 pts.) The Fire has been plagued by a mediocre home record (five wins in 16 games) all season and a 2-1 loss to FC Dallas Wednesday left it razor-close to elimination. Some good news came out this week: midfielder Pavel Pardo, a midseason signing, said he’d like to return next year, but much greater issues – such as a head coach, if interim replacement Frank Klopas decides not to continue -- needed to be sorted out. And Pardo didn’t help the Fire by getting dismissed in the 79th minute with his team trying to fight back from a 2-0 deficit. Last week: 11.
13. CHIVAS USA (8-12-12, 36 pts.) With the playoffs gone, Chivas USA has a derby with the Galaxy Sunday and a home date with Seattle a week from Saturday. The team goalscoring lead is up for grabs between Nick La Brocca and Justin Braun, both with eight, and a late-charging Juan Pablo Angel (seven). And it would be nice for underrated keeper Dan Kennedy to hit double-digits in shutouts; he has nine. Those players are good building blocks for next year. Last week: 14.
14. D.C. UNITED (9-11-11, 38 pts.) A run of three straight losses has put United into a very deep hole. In a 2-1 loss at Vancouver Wednesday there wasn’t enough threat initiated by Charlie Davies, Brett Brettschneider and Santino Quaranta, among others. A bit of bad luck hurt its cause; Vancouver’s winning goal bounced off Daniel Woolard and a possible handball wasn’t called. The outlook is grim, but with three home games – Chicago, Portland, SKC – to finish the season, there’s hope. Last week: 13.
15. SAN JOSE (7-11-14, 35 pts.). The Quakes aren’t going out quietly. They’re on a four-game run of three ties and a victory, which they got last weekend by beating the Revs, 2-1, at Gillette Stadium. The week before that, they tied SKC, 1-1, at home. Chris Wondolowski is tied for the Golden Boot lead with 14 goals and keeper Jon Busch is finishing off one of his best seasons. Still, even with four more games, they can’t come close to their total of 13 wins last year, and not all of that can be blamed on head coach Frank Yallop and GM John Doyle, both of whom are contracted through next year. Last week: 15.
16. TORONTO FC (6-13-13, 31 pts.). TFC can atone, somewhat, for a miserable league season by beating Dallas Tuesday in its last CCL group game, which falls between league dates against Philadelphia and New England. Defender Richard Eckersley (hamstring) was held out of training Thursday and won’t play against Philly, but could recover in time to play FCD. The areas of improvement for next year start with defense; TFC leads the league with 56 goals allowed, and Eckersley has been one of the team’s few bright spots this season. Last week: 16.
17. VANCOUVER (6-16-10, 28 pts.). By beating D.C. United, 2-1, on Wednesday the ‘Caps won a second straight game for the first time this season. Camilo Sanvezzo scored his 12th of the season as Davide Chiumiento spent the entire game on the bench. Long Tan became the first Chinese-born player to score in MLS when he got the winner. Minority owner Steve Nash, frozen out by the NBA lockout, was on hand at B.C. Place to watch the triumph over United. Last week: 18.
18. NEW ENGLAND (5-15-12, 27 pts.). The loss to the Quakes last weekend coupled with the Whitecaps’ win dropped the Revs to the basement of the overall standings. It will set a team record for fewest victories in a season unless it beats Columbus and Toronto FC in its last two games. Captain Shalrie Joseph reiterated this week his concerns about sticking around for 2012 unless things can be turned around. Looks like the four-time MLS Cup finalists have nowhere to go but up. Last week: 17.
* Clinched playoff spot.