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Wild Card Watch
by Ridge Mahoney, August 31st, 2009 4:30PM
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Of the five home teams in desperate need of a victory last weekend, three of them not only failed to win, they failed to score a goal.

Seattle was outplayed and outhustled by Toronto FC and escaped with a 0-0 tie, Chicago and Kansas City were blanked, 1-0, by D.C. United and Real Salt Lake, respectively.

On the plus side, the Galaxy nicked Chivas USA, 1-0, with a nifty goal by David Beckham, and Colorado got a header from emergency replacement Julien Baudet to down the Dynamo by the same score.

Kudos to both D.C. and RSL, whose road form has been abysmal this season, for posting critical away victories. Shame on both Chicago and Kansas City; the Fire's home mark of 4-4-4 doesn't bode well for the playoffs, and by losing their third straight game by shutout since Peter Vermes replaced Curt Onalfo as head coach, the Wizards - which play their next three on the road -- have just about freed up their calendars for November.

New blood has infused TFC with more speed and quickness, which throttled Seattle for much of the game and left Freddie Ljungberg, in particular, very frustrated.

Chivas USA took the initiative early against the Galaxy and kept Landon Donovan quiet, but its own attacks sputtered and Beckham pounced on a partially cleared corner to score.

Right back Bryan Namoff looped to the back post and headed home a Christian Gomez corner kick to give United only its second win in 13 away matches this season and first since April 26.

Ljungberg wasn't the only go-to guy suppressed last weekend. Though the Fire generated 17 shots, Cuauhtemoc Blanco seldom sparkled, and Kansas City didn't get much from Claudio Lopez aside from a free kick that keeper Chris Seitz tipped over the bar for RSL, which played a man down for the entire second half.

Baudet came on for defender Cory Gibbs, who was injured in the 12th minute, for his first action since suffering a broken forearm a month ago. He scored his first MLS goal 10 minutes into the second half to give the Rapids their fourth win in the last five home games.

The weekend's results left Columbus (39 points) and Chicago (38) as the one-two teams in the East, and Houston (40) and Los Angeles (38) atop the West.

Below is a rundown of the seven teams in serious contention for the remaining four spots, ranked not by record, but by their chances to reach the elite eight.

The bottom two teams in each conference (Kansas City and New York in the East, FC Dallas and San Jose in the West) though not mathematically eliminated, have been excluded.

Toronto FC's visit to Colorado this weekend is the first of 10 head-to-head matchups among teams in the Serious Seven.

NEW ENGLAND (9-6-6), 33 points
)
Upside: Lots of games left, solid spine of veterans, role players - Kheli Dube, Wells Thompson, Darrius Barnes, Kevin Alston - stepping up at critical moments.

Downside: Winter departure of Michael Parkhurst and injury to Taylor Twellman deprives Revs of two game-changing players, five of eight remaining games on the road.

Schedule: Kansas City, @ Chivas USA, @New York, Seattle, @FC Dallas, @ Colorado, Chicago, @ Columbus.

D.C. UNITED (7-5-11, 32 points)
Upside: Rookies Chris Pontius and Rodney Wallace have bought into the D.C. battling mentality personified by Ben Olsen; veterans Jaime Moreno, Fred and Christian Gomez imbue flair and skill; might clinch a spot during five straight at home.

Downside: Concacaf Champions League commitments will induce fatigue and attrition, depth still a question mark, goalkeeper going ballistic not a good sign.

Schedule: @ FC Dallas, Kansas City, Seattle, San Jose, Chivas USA, Columbus, @ Kansas City.

SEATTLE (8-6-10, 34 points)
Upside:
Solid defense and excellent goalkeeper, potent group of attackers, incredible home support, proven head coach.

Downside: Pressure building again as it did in late spring after run of ties, only two more home games, inconsistent midfield flank play, still leading the league in ejections (8).

Schedule: @ D.C. United, Chivas USA, @ New England, @ Columbus, @ Kansas City, FC Dallas.

CHIVAS USA (10-9-3, 33 points)
Upside:
One of only four teams with 10 wins, solid defensive record, among league's best teams at possessing ball in midfield.

Downside: Mired in scoring drought, deprived of veteran leadership by injuries, three tough road games remaining.

Schedule: New England, @ Seattle, New York, @ D.C. United, Kansas City, San Jose, @ Chicago, Houston.

REAL SALT LAKE (9-9-6, 33 points)
Upside: Great home record (7-1-4), experience from 2008 playoff run, emergence of Tony Beltran at outside back, midfield presence of Clint Mathis and Kyle Beckerman, pace of Robbie Findley.

Downside: Quiet seasons for Javier Morales and Fabian Espindola, injury to Yura Movsisyan.

Schedule: Chicago, @ Houston, @ FC Dallas, New York, @ Toronto FC, Colorado.

COLORADO (9-7-6, 33 points)
Upside:
Fearsome combo of Conor Casey and Omar Cummings up top, capable midfield with Pablo Mastroeni and Nick LaBrocca, only bubble team with two remaining dates against the lowly Quakes.

Downside: Meager crowds at DSG (Dismally Small Gatherings?) Park doesn't help the mood, swap of Ugo Ihemelu for Drew Moor indicates defensive concerns.

Schedule: Toronto FC, @ Toronto FC, @ San Jose, San Jose, @ Kansas City, New England, @ FC Dallas, @ Real Salt Lake.

TORONTO FC (8-8-7, 31 points)
Upside:
Game-breaker in Dwayne De Rosario, rabid home fans, Gambian youngsters Emmanuel Gomez and Amadou Sanyang add depth, return to fitness of O'Brian White.

Downside: Still plagued by flaccid finishing and miscommunication in the back.

Schedule: @ Colorado, Colorado, @ Los Angeles, @ Chicago, San Jose, Real Salt Lake, @ New York.

 



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