MLS is often ridiculed for a liberal allotment of playoff places which strips away the pressure, importance and intensity of many regular season games. In this World Cup year, such has been the case much of the time.
Yet the All-Star break, rather than splitting the season more or less in half as
is the case in other American leagues, instead falls with only one-third of the
season left to play.
Cue pressure, importance and intensity. The MLS Cup and U.S. Cup double champion
is fighting for its life out West, and last year's Eastern representative in MLS
Cup is way behind D.C. United. Those dynamics alone will ratchet up play in the
final two months of the season.
GRIM GALAXY. Nothing more starkly illustrates the situation in Los
Angeles than its 5-10-5 record and 20 points that leaves it tied with Real Salt
Lake in fifth place, seven points out of fourth currently occupied by rival CD
Chivas USA. Real Salt Lake thus has won just 10 of 52 MLS regular-season games
since it began play last year yet is dead even with the defending champion.
Both Galaxy games this week - at Houston Wednesday and in Colorado Saturday -
are critical. It trails third-place Colorado by eight points in the standings
and after this road trip plays the first of three remaining meetings against
conference leader Dallas, which it also faces home-and-away the final two
weekends of the season. That's a tough road to playoff land.
Since taking the helm two months ago, Coach Frank Yallop has tried out
players and trimmed his squad so drastically the running joke is: "Frank, you do
know we have to play with 11, don't you?" But he's clearly amassing resources
for a final push and not relying on game-breaker Landon Donovan.
Canadian international left back Ante Jazic was cleared to play earlier
this week and the club sent a partial allocation and 2008 draft pick to D.C.
United for talented but troubled attacker Santino Quaranta.
The Galaxy plays CD Chivas USA Sept. 30 in what could be a playoff to get into
the playoffs, since the Rapids - despite playing eight of their final 13 games
on the road -- will probably finish strongly, having added midfielder Alain
Nkong. The Cameroonian sparked the attack last year and contributed five
goals and four assists in 28 games.
A sweep of home games with Los Angeles and Dallas this week would leave Houston
just one point behind the other Texas MLS team with 10 games to play. The Lone
Star showdown Saturday night is the best ESPN2 matchup to date this season, and
of course it will be shown on tape-delay.
REVVING IN NEUTRAL. Do what they may, the Revs can't get in gear.
They played another 1-1 tie Sunday against CD Chivas USA and while a point on
the road isn't to be sneezed at, their second-place status behind D.C. United
doesn't look so sparkling when attached to a 6-6-9 record.
Catching D.C. for first place is faintly feasible with eight of 11 remaining
games to be played at home, but the gap is 18 points and more importantly, MLS
ledgers of past seasons are littered with teams that pushed hard down the
stretch to catch a rival or gain homefield advantage, only to fizzle from
exhaustion in the playoffs.
Chances are the Revs could sweep all eight of their remaining home games and
still not catch D.C., so it's more important not to surrender second place by
turning ties into defeats by scrambling through the late stages of tight games.
Coach Steve Nicol has to forge his forces for the three (hopefully)
playoff games it will play.
The return to health of Pat Noonan, who has played all 90 minutes of the
past three games, is a godsend, as will be the return to form of central
defender Michael Parkhurst. Noonan is one of the league's nimblest
players in the attacking third. With him on the field, New England gets goals.
The Revs can open up a six-point cushion Wednesday with a home win against
Kansas City and perhaps build some momentum at the gate as well as on the field.
With an average announced attendance of 10,614, the defending Eastern Conference
champ is last among the 12 teams and more than 4,000 below the league average.
What's that all about?