Chicago's surge continued with a 2-0 defeat of the Red Bulls that clinched a playoff spot, and powerful wins by Real Salt Lake and Seattle kept the Western Conference postseason placings up for grabs.
With all teams having three or fewer games to play, there’s still much to be decided regarding the 2012 MLS postseason.
Six slots – four in the Western Conference, and two in the East – have been clinched, but only overall leader San Jose knows where it will finish. The Quakes cannot be caught by any Western team but Eastern leader Sporting Kansas City could still catch it for the overall points title, though it would have to win both of its remaining games while San Jose loses both of its matches.
New York, which had been unbeaten at home before losing to SKC, 2-0, in mid-September, lost again at Red Bull Arena to fall into fourth place. The battle for the fifth and final slot is probably down to Houston and Columbus, both of which failed to win and had to settle for 1-1 ties.
The prospect of a very good team finishing fourth in the Western Conference and thus being cast into the wild-card knockout game is fueling a furious finish. Real Salt Lake rallied to beat the Galaxy, 2-1, at Home Depot Center to take a three-point lead over third-place Seattle, and drop the Galaxy into fourth place.
A break from league play for the FIFA international dates doesn’t clear the calendar entirely. The one game to be played before the full resumption of league action is a big one – Seattle hosts Real Salt Lake Oct. 17. The Sounders are the one postseason participant with three games left to play.
1. SAN JOSE (19-6-7). Road games aren’t supposed to be this easy, but the Quakes cruised past Colorado, 4-1, as Chris Wondolowski’s hat trick closed him to within two goals of Roy Lassiter’s seasonal record (27). Coach Frank Yallop started Wondo in a midfield role supporting strikers Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart, and so occupied were the Rapids with those three they lost track of several others, including Rafael Baca, who got free down the left to set up a Wondo tap-in.Last week: 1.
2. KANSAS CITY (17-7-8). A sensational double-save by keeper Jimmy Nielsen highlighted a staunch defensive display that nearly got SKC to the final whistle with a 1-0 win in Columbus, but a late goal left instead a 1-1 tie. SKC scored when C.J. Sapong headed the rebound of his own shot past the keeper in the 10th minute, and a few squandered chances to double the lead came back to hunt Peter Vermes’ men in stoppage time. Roger Espinoza’s departure on a stretcher is a major concern as the Eastern Conference leader heads into the FIFA break riding a 10-match unbeaten streak. Last week: 2.
3. SEATTLE (14-7-10). The Sounders took great joy in demonstrating how far the Timbers have fallen from their expansion season by routing their Northwest rivals, 3-0, in front of more than 66,000 fans. Eddie Johnson celebrated his recall to the national team with his 14th goal of the season after he’d tweeted the news a day before the game, and Fredy Montero scored No. 13. Last week: 4.
4. CHICAGO (17-10-5). The Fire outclassed New York, 2-0, with a resilient defensive performance and two clever through balls that were polished off by Sherjill MacDonald. Operating in the space behind MacDonald, Chris Rolfe and Alvaro Fernandez were too clever for the ponderous Red Bulls. After a feeble showing a week ago in Kansas City and a shockingly bad 3-1 home loss to Philadelphia Wednesday, Chicago reconfirmed its class. Last week: 3.
5. REAL SALT LAKE (17-11-4). He’s the epitome of an emotional, streaky attacker, and Fabian Espindola showed how dangerous he can be on a good day by scoring an equalizer and the winning goal three minutes apart to power RSL past the Galaxy, 2-1, at Home Depot Center. Now, if coach Jason Kreis can get Javier Morales back to his best, and re-ignite the tridente that also includes Alvaro Saborio (17 goals), RSL’s recent form (6-1-1 mark in the last eight games) may carry it a long way in the playoffs. Last week: 7.
6. LOS ANGELES (15-12-5). Shorn of regular defenders Todd Dunivant and A.J. DeLaGarza because of injuries, the Galaxy conceded twice within a few minutes after taking a 1-0 lead and fell to RSL, 2-1, at home. Landon Donovan limped off late with an injury but reported to USA training camp much improved. As he showed earlier in the season, centerback Tommy Meyer doesn’t seem ready for starting duty. With the Western Conference teams scrapping for playoff positions, does coach Bruce Arena stick with Meyer to ready him for the playoffs, or test out someone else? Last week: 5.
7. NEW YORK (15-9-5). A management shakeup – Jerome de Bontin has replaced Erik Soler as managing director -- may have jarred the team’s concentration, but the Red Bulls simply didn’t look prepared for a tough test as they were humbled at home by Chicago, 2-0. Coupled with a loss by the same scoreline to Sporting Kansas City at home Sept. 19, this defeat suggests that sparking home record at Red Bull Arena was a facade. After nearly three seasons in charge, why can’t Hans Backe assemble a defense capable of stepping up in big games? Last week: 6.
8. D.C. UNITED (16-10-6). Crew fans – who desperately need someone to stumble so their team can get into the playoffs -- were gnashing their teeth after a goalkeeping gaffe presented Hamdi Salihi the chance he converted for a crucial 1-0 triumph over Toronto FC. United isn’t doing it with style, but a run of 13 points in the last five games has it on the brink of playoff qualification. Last week: 8.
9. HOUSTON (13-8-11). The Dynamo took a lead against Montreal it couldn’t hold, and then lost an apparent winner in stoppage time when Cam Weaver’s flick of a long Tally Hall kick landed for an offside Brian Ching to put away. The 1-1 tie leaves the Dynamo needing a few more points, or a Columbus collapse, to get into the playoffs, even though it’s already exceeded last year’s point total of 49 that was good enough for second place. Last week: 9.
10. COLUMBUS (14-11-7). The Crew stayed just a point behind Houston in the race for fifth place by tying Sporting Kansas City, 1-1, thanks to a stoppage-time Eddie Gaven header from an Emilio Renteria cross. Gaven’s eighth goal tied him with Jairo Arrieta for the team lead yet nobody else has more than four. For such an important match a crowd of 13,566 at Crew Stadium wasn’t all that impressive, and despite the late drama the tie felt like a loss. Last week: 10.
11. MONTREAL (12-15-5). Sanna Nyassi followed up on the rebound of his own shot to score an equalizer in Houston but the ensuing 1-1 tie eliminated the Impact from the playoff pool. When the season ends in three weeks, team management can assess which midseason moves made sense, and which need amending in preparation for a second MLS season. The first one certainly brought ample reason for optimism. Last week: 12.
12. VANCOUVER (11-12-9). The goat of a 0-0 tie with Seattle a week earlier when he missed a sitter in stoppage time, Camilo led a 4-0 thrashing of Chivas USA Wednesday with a goal and three assists. Dane Richards, Barry Robson and Gerson Koffie also scored as the ‘Caps snapped a seven-game winless streak and they gained some breathing space when FCD could only tie Chivas USA, 1-1, three days later. They can clinch a playoff spot by beating Portland in the Cascadia Cup finale Oct. 20. Last week: 13.
13. PHILADELPHIA (10-15-6). No impromptu parades were staged, yet the Union faithful left PPL Park feeling better than they have for months after a 1-0 defeat of New England on Saturday that followed a 3-1 thumping of the Fire in Chicago three days earlier. Jack McInerney scored in both games to take his team-high tally to seven in just his second pro season. He also got an assist against the Fire, which was caught by strikes from Gabriel Gomez and Antoine Hoppenot. Philly has won three of its last four. Last week: 14.
14. FC DALLAS (9-12-11). On the rate of exchange in games with Chivas USA, FCD came up two points short of Vancouver, which posted a convincing 4-0 win a few days before a late goal resulted in a 1-1 tie. Blas Perez followed up to score on a rebound for his third goal in the last two games but the 1-0 lead evaporated with about 20 minutes left and FCD couldn’t get it back. Last week: 11.
15. COLORADO (9-19-4).The Rapids got Wondoed, plain and simple. The San Jose ace hit them for a hat trick in the Quakes’ 4-1 win that was a shutout as well as a rout until Andre Akpan tallied a very late goal on a penalty kick. With only two wins in the last 16 games -– nearly one-half of a season -- they’ve undergone one of the more dramatic second-half collapses in league history. There will be consequences. Last week: 13.
16. PORTLAND (7-16-9). About 1,500 Timbers fans showed up at CenturyLink Field to witness a thorough 3-0 thumping by their fiercest rivals. Squabbling amongst the players, plus an own goal and a clearance that was blocked into the net by a Sounder for another goal, marked yet another dismal performance on the road, where the Timbers are 0-12-4. Last week: 15.
17. NEW ENGLAND (7-17-8). The Revs failed for the seventh time to beat the Union, and after a 1-0 defeat their record is 0-4-3 against the 2010 expansion team. Keeper Bobby Shuttleworth came out to collect a free kick but couldn’t reach it, and the Union took advantage to score. Chances of a comeback after they fell behind in the 73rd minute were hampered when Benny Feilhaber was issued cautions two minutes apart. Last week: 17.
18. CHIVAS USA (7-16-8). Well, at least this team still has a pulse. Jorge Villafana, the MLS Sueno contest winner of a few seasons ago, tucked home a centering pass from Miller Bolanos to end a 600-minute scoreless streak and earn Chivas USA a 1-1 tie with FC Dallas. Nothing this positive seemed possible when it succumbed meekly to Vancouver, 4-0, on Wednesday to run its loss streak to seven games, but Chivas USA did come back from the shock of conceding a goal at home in the eighth minute. Last week: 18.
19. TORONTO FC (5-20-7). Keeper Milos Kocic showed he isn’t immune to the malaise infecting his team this season; one of the team’s few bright spots coughed up a ball he should have handled and D.C. turned the bobble into the winning goal of a 1-0 decision. The winless streak stands at an even dozen, the goals-allowed column a league-worst 60. Last week: 19.