By Ridge Mahoney
While fans and journalists focus on the Supporters' Shield race as the final month of regular-season play begins, most of the coaches have a different SS on their minds: Simple Survival.
Getting points is important, yet so are minimizing fatigue and injuries. A few teams don’t have the luxury of resting important players, but those coaches who believe they can survive a game or two without the top guns will do just that.
Real Salt Lake captured the best of both worlds by sending out backup-laden squad at Vancouver, mindful of its Open Cup final against D.C. United on Tuesday. RSL took a 1-0 victory to cement its place among the top three in the Western Conference and should have a sharp, rested first XI available to face United. It also moved up two spots in the Power Rankings to fourth.
New York head coach Mike Petke went to Seattle without Thierry Henry and Jamison Olave rather than risk their injuries worsening on artificial turf. DP Tim Cahill did make the trip and his equalizer earned a 1-1 tie. With its point in Seattle, New York takes its haul from the last five games to 13 points, two more than the Sounders, which is just enough clout in the Power Rankings to nudge it into first place.
Week 31 Soccer America MLS Power Rankings
RANK TEAM (W-L-T) LAST WEEK
1. NEW YORK (15-9-7) 2. Whether predicated by the Henry training-ground spat with Petke or the latter’s motivational prowess, the Red Bulls ran their unbeaten streak to five at CenturyLink Field. Defender Markus Holgersson was unlucky to be penalized for handball when a cross hit his dangling arm and unluckier still when his back header hit the crossbar, yet a persistent NYRB was rewarded.
2. SEATTLE (15-8-6) 1. Despite a second straight tie, the Sounders still lead the league in points per game (1.75) as well as games to be played (5). Though Clint Dempsey’s arrival hasn’t shown up in the stats it has certainly lit a fire under Obafemi Martins and Mauro Rosales.
3. COLORADO (12-9-9) 3. The healing Rapids rested up for a demanding four-game push that will finish the season, including an Oct. 9 date at San Jose, which trails them by three points for fifth place and the final playoff spot. A home win Saturday would expand the lead to six points, but it’s the Sounders who are coming to town.
4. REAL SALT LAKE (15-10-6) 5. The backups brought their ‘A’ games out west; Devon Sandoval headed home a great Lovell Palmer cross following a sweet buildup and keeper Jeff Attinella dazzled a couple of times to down the Whitecaps,1-0. Still, the record, if not the formation, in the last 10 games is 4-4-2.
5. PORTLAND (12-5-13) 7. Elegant though it was, Maximiliano Urruti’s near-post flick of a Will Johnson corner kick wouldn’t have meant so much if a stout Portland defense hadn’t posted a second straight shutout. A third win in the last four games expanded the Timbers’ third-place edge to four points over the Galaxy.
6. LOS ANGELES (13-11-6) 6. The Galaxy just can’t seem to break clear of the bubble zone -- even a point in Portland would have helped -- but will take a big step in the right direction if it beats Chivas USA Sunday night. If it doesn’t, Coach Bruce Arena will pin the blame somewhere.
7. SPORTING KANSAS CITY (14-10-6) 4. Dom Dwyer and C.J. Sapong couldn’t supply the cutting edge to capitalize on Graham Zusi’s service during a 1-0 home loss to Philly in which possession didn’t translate into goals. Dwyer’s errant header of a point-blank chance encapsulated a frustrating night. SKC is 5-5 in its last 10 games.
8. MONTREAL (13-9-7) 8. Another expert finish at Chicago brought Marco Di Vaio his league-high 19th goal of the season and gave Montreal a 1-0 lead, but some abysmal defending and a Troy Perkins walkabout that gave the Fire the lead nearly produced a costly defeat. Maxim Tissot’s header in the 87th minute rescued a 2-2 tie yet the Impact has conceded 11 goals in the last five league games.
9. NEW ENGLAND (11-11-8) 9. The Revs would have captured fifth place in the East by beating Houston at home but couldn’t make Saer Sene’s blast into the roof of the net stand up. The close calls continue – Chris Tierney hit the post prior to Sene’s goal -- and time is running out. Three of the last four games are on the road, starting Saturday at New York.
10. HOUSTON (12-10-8) 10. Will Bruin scored in the second straight game and has eight goals for the season after the Dynamo rallied for a 1-1 tie at New England. Cam Weaver’s entry and a formation switch sparked a listless Houston attack, with Oscar Boniek Garcia sending a sharp pass to Bruin in the penalty area to set up the goal.
11. SAN JOSE (11-11-9) 12. The Quakes are not going quietly. Down to 10 men following the dismissal of Steven Lenhart and locked in a goalless game at Chivas USA, they snatched a 1-0 win when Chris Wondolowski banged home the rebound of a hopeful Alan Gordon hit. Twenty of their 42 points -- nearly one-half -- have been accrued in the last 10 games but they still trail the Rapids and Galaxy by one.
12. PHILADELPHIA (11-10-9) 13. The Union shook itself out of a winless and goalless funk to upend SKC, 1-0, with Conor Casey’s 10th goal and Zac MacMath’s league-high 11th shutout. Casey’s goal ended a 345-minute drought and the victory snapped a streak of five games without a ‘W.’ Only RSL and SKC have more away wins than Philly’s five.
13. COLUMBUS (12-14-5) 15. As a defender, Brian Bliss was rugged and straightforward; playing in the style of its interim head coach, the Crew blasted FC Dallas, 4-2, to win its third straight game. Federico Higuain and Dominic Oduro each had a goal and an assist. With Bliss in charge, the Crew is 4-1.
14. CHICAGO (11-12-7) 11. Two-goal scorer Mike Magee’s penalty kick off the crossbar took much blame for a 2-2 tie at home against Montreal, but Sean Johnson’ poor positioning greatly aided the Impact’s equalizer. After a run of 10 points in five games, the Fire has fizzled in the last five: one win, two ties, two losses.
15. VANCOUVER (11-11-8) 14. A fifth loss in the last 10 games, 1-0 to RSL, erased much of the good feeling generated by a 3-0 triumph in Montreal a week ago. The ‘Caps managed just one shot on goal against an opponent consisting mostly of second-teamers and in the last 11 games are 2-6-3. Yeesh.
16. TORONTO FC (5-15-11) 18. Pounding the patsy is one way to medicate the wounds of a rough season, and TFC scored three times in a 20-minute span to pull away from D.C. United in a 4-1 romp. Bright Dike scored the winner, and Alvaro Rey and Darel Russell netted as well. The victory snapped an eight-game winless streak and evened TFC’s home goal difference to zero.
17. FC DALLAS (10-10-10) 16. You can’t fall two goals behind in a home game you have to win, but FCD did just that in losing, 4-2, to Columbus. Some slick attacking yielded goals by Blas Perez and Mauro Diaz, but they were the only bright spots of a third straight defeat.
18. CHIVAS USA (6-16-9) 17. He’s been the hero far too many times during the past few years, but a rebound off keeper Dan Kennedy’s chest gave the Quakes the chance they buried to win, 1-0. The save was his league-leading 104th, for what it’s worth.
19. D.C. UNITED (3-21-6) 19. Jared Jeffrey scored a great goal, cutting inside to curl a left-footer into the top corner, and the backups battled valiantly until the dam broke in Toronto. The starters will get their shot Tuesday in the Open Cup final.