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Can new signings alter playoff picture?
by Ridge Mahoney, August 8th, 2013 11:43PM

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TAGS:  mls

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[MLS PREVIEW: Week 24] The possible debut of U.S. international Clint Dempsey for Seattle is just one of many recent signings to affect this weekend's MLS matches.

Among a flurry of deals – some already completed, a few more in the final phases – league action resumes. The closest playoff race in league history seems assured.

With roughly one-third of the season to play, 16 teams are realistically vying for the 10 playoff spots. A five-point margin separates conference leaders New York and Real Salt Lake from the respective fifth-place teams, which are in turn narrowly in front of the teams chasing them.

Tight playoff races in both conferences have not only set up two head-to-head matches this weekend in which the participants are separated by three points or less, but the weekend’s results can certainly move teams in and out of the playoff tiers.



Here’s a rundown of what’s at stake in league play Saturday and Sunday:

Western Conference:

‘CAPS AIM TO SLOW QUAKES’ ROLL. Winners of three in a row in league play, the Earthquakes head to Vancouver -- the Western Conference’s fifth-place team -- knowing that a win will tie the teams with 33 points apiece.

After a month of duty at the Gold Cup, Chris Wondolowski marked his return by scoring both goals in a 2-0 defeat of Chivas USA that saw the San Jose debuts of his U.S. teammate Clarence Goodson and Salvadoran midfielder Jaime Arias. Playoff prospects that looked bleak two months ago when assistant coach Mark Watson replaced Frank Yallop have brightened – the Quakes are 5-3-0 under Watson – and Caps’ fans will vividly remember that a year ago their team went into a skid and barely made the playoffs.

After losing two in a row, Vancouver rallied for a 1-1 tie at Portland on Saturday. The game against San Jose is the second of their three meetings this season; on April 6, they tied, 1-1, and the ‘Caps goalscorer in that match, Corey Herzog, was loaned this week to FC Edmonton of the NASL.

Like Vancouver, the LA Galaxy has 33 points heading into its own critical match Sunday at FC Dallas, which is winless in its last eight games and desperately looking for an offensive spark. FCD has been blanked in five straight league matches, though Argentine playmaker Mauro Diaz livened up the attack somewhat when he debuted for FCD in the second half of a 3-0 loss in Seattle. Sixth-place FCD is just one point behind the Galaxy, which is fourth.

Second-place Colorado –- which signed Uruguayan Vicente Sanchez this week and announced Thursday is has signed Panamanian striker Gabriel Torres as a DP -– plays at Chivas USA.

Eastern Conference:

CAN THE FIRE STAY HOT? Chicago pumped up its playoff hopes last weekend by winning, 2-1, at Philadelphia, and gets another great opportunity to prove its mettle when it hosts Montreal Saturday. The Impact has won just one of its last seven games and is trying to rebound from a 3-1 loss last weekend to bottom-dweller D.C. United.

Since falling off the top of the Eastern Conference, Montreal has been busy in the player market. New DP Hernan Bernardello earned an assist with a corner kick that Hassoun Camara headed home in the Impact’s 1-0 defeat of San Jose in Concacaf Champions League play Wednesday. But Spanish defender Adrian Lopez has been training with the team for two weeks and has yet to play.

In its 2-0 Open Cup semifinal loss to D.C. United Wednesday, Chicago unveiled Ecuadoran striker Juan Luis Anangono, who came on as a sub in the 57th minute. He replaced Chris Rolfe and gives head coach Frank Klopas another option to take the scoring burden off Mike Magee, who regained the league lead with his 14th goal of the season against Philly. Impact forward Marco Di Vaio is in third place with 11.

New York’s 3-2 win at Kansas City last weekend secured first place at the expense of SKC. The Red Bulls have an easier road task this Saturday at Columbus, which has lost three in a row and five of its last six. SKC hasn’t lost in its last five games against New England, which it hosts Saturday. The teams tied 0-0 at Gillette Stadium March 23 and do not meet again in the regular season. The Revs fluffed a great chance to catch Houston in the standings when it lost at home to TFC, 1-0, Sunday.

Philly’s loss snapped a three-game winning streak. It can make amends at PPL Park against D.C. United, for which Luis Silva has scored three goals in as many games. United is also riding the momentum of a 2-0 Open Cup triumph over the Fire Wednesday that clinched its fifth appearance in the final.

Interconference:

SOUNDERS BACK IN HUNT. Dempsey’s return to MLS action may happen Saturday against Toronto at BMO Field in one of two interconference games.  The Sounders are in good form -- two straight victories -- and could jump into a playoff spot by winning.

Western leader Real Salt Lake hosts Houston; the Dynamo takes a four-game unbeaten streak (including three wins) into the match at Rio Tinto Stadium and on Wednesday announced the acquisition of 21-year-old Honduran midfielder Alexander Lopez.

MLS SCHEDULE, Week 24:
Saturday, August 10
7 pm ET
Toronto FC vs. Seattle, Univision Dep.
7:30 pm ET
Columbus vs. New York
Vancouver vs. San Jose
8 pm ET
Philadelphia vs. D.C. United, NBCSN
8:30 pm ET
Sporting KC vs. New England
Chicago vs. Montreal
9:30 pm ET
Real Salt Lake vs. Houston

Sunday, August 11
8 pm ET
FC Dallas vs. LA Galaxy, ESPN2
11 pm ET
Chivas USA vs. Colorado, UniMas
------------------------------------------------------------
MLS STANDINGS:
Eastern Conference:
PTS TEAM W-L-T +/-

38 New York 11-7-5 36/29
36 Sporting KC 10-7-6 33/24
35 Montreal 10-6-5 33/32
34 Philadelphia 9-7-7 34/32
33 Houston 9-6-6 26/21
-----------------------------
30 New England 8-8-6 27/20
28 Chicago 8-9-4 27/31
23 Columbus 6-11-5 25/30
20 Toronto FC 4-10-8 20/29
13 D.C. United 3-15-4 13/36

Western Conference:
PTS TEAM W-L-T +/-

38 Real Salt Lake 11-7-5 38/26
35 Colorado 9-7-8 30/26
35 Portland 8-3-11 32/21
33 LA Galaxy 10-9-3 32/27
33 Vancouver 9-7-6 35/29
-------------------------------
32 FC Dallas 8-6-8 27/30
31 Seattle 9-7-4 27/22
30 San Jose 8-9-6 25/33
17 Chivas USA 4-13-5 19/39
------------------------------------------------------------
MLS LEADING SCORERS:
G PLAYER (TEAM)
14 Mike Magee (Los Angeles/Chicago)
13 Camilo (Vancouver)
11 Marco Di Vaio (Montreal)
10 Jack McInerney (Philadelphia)
9 Dominic Oduro (Columbus)
9 Claudio Bieler (Sporting KC)
8 Alvaro Saborio (Real Salt Lake)
7 Chris Wondolowski (San Jose)
7 Fabian Espindola (New York)
7 Obafemi Martins (Seattle)
7 Ryan Johnson (Portland)
7 Diego Fagundez (New England)
7 Conor Casey (Philadelphia)
7 Thierry Henry (New York)
7 Robbie Keane (Los Angeles)

MLS SCHEDULE, Week 25:
Saturday, August 17
7 pm ET
Montreal vs. D.C. United
7:30 pm ET
New England vs. Chicago
Columbus vs. Toronto FC
8 pm ET
New York vs. Philadelphia, NBCSN
9 pm ET
Houston vs. Seattle
9:30 pm ET
Colorado vs. Vancouver
10:30 pm ET
LA Galaxy vs. Real Salt Lake
11 pm ET
Portland vs. FC Dallas

Sunday, August 18

11 pm ET
San Jose vs. Sporting KC, UniMas

MLS SCHEDULE, Week 26:
Wednesday, August 21
10:30 pm ET
Chivas USA vs. FC Dallas
11 pm ET
Portland vs. Real Salt Lake

Friday, August 23
8:30 pm ET
Chicago vs. Sporting KC, NBCSN

Saturday, August 24
7 pm ET
D.C. United vs. Toronto FC
7 pm ET
Montreal vs. Houston
9 pm ET
FC Dallas vs. San Jose
9 pm ET
Vancouver vs. LA Galaxy
9:30 pm ET
Real Salt Lake vs. Columbus

Sunday, August 25
5 pm ET
Chivas USA vs. New York, UniMas
7:30 pm ET
New England vs. Philadelphia
10 pm ET
Seattle vs. Portland, ESPN2


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