Fire & Blanco oust Beckham and Galaxy

[POSTSEASON PICTURE] The MLS playoff field is set after the Galaxy's gallant quest falls short in Chicago; Kansas City finally gets it done in Dallas; Chivas thwarts Houston to win the Western Conference; and Colorado surrenders the Rocky Mountain Cup at home. Columbus and Toronto finish with encouraging results against D.C. United and New England, respectively. Soccer America's Ridge Mahoney looks at how the 2007 regular season wrapped up. ...

THE SEMIS. In the first round, Eastern Conference champion plays Chicago and second-place New England takes on Red Bull New York; Western Conference winner Chivas USA meets Kansas City, and Texas rivals Houston and FC Dallas tangle again. The semis begin Thursday when Chicago hosts D.C. United, and continue on Saturday and Sunday.

SCORCHED. "The hottest team in MLS." i.e. the Galaxy, got burned at Toyota Park, 1-0, by a ambitious rival generating some heat of its own.

Substitute John Thorrington lobbed a bouncing ball over Galaxy keeper Joe Cannon in stoppage time to punctuate a home streak during which Chicago went 3-0-3. The strong run landed the Fire (10-10-10) in a tie with Kansas City for the final playoff spots with 40 points apiece. The Fire earned seventh place on the head-to-head tiebreaker (2-1-0).

Los Angeles needed a win to nick into the playoffs ahead of Chicago, but seldom pinned the Fire back in its own half and produced just one shot on goal. It relied on bursts by Landon Donovan and Cobi Jones, who were usually swallowed up by the Fire back line and central midfielders, or high balls that posed few problems for keeper Matt Pickens and Wilman Conde, often stationed just in front of the back line as a shield.

Cannon's goalkeeping kept Los Angeles (9-14-7) in the chase despite it being outplayed and outshot, 22-5. He pushed away a chip from Cuauhtemoc Blanco, stopped a C.J. Brown header, stoned Conde on a stone-cold one-v-one, and plunged into the feet of Chad Barrett to strip him of the ball.

David Beckham entered the game in the 67th minute but the Fire repelled his crosses and corner kicks. Fire defender Bakary Soumare got away with a body wrap of substitute Edson Buddle as he reached to tap in a dipping serve and so incensed was Buddle he earned a caution with a clumsy foul minutes later. Carlos Pavon shot over the crossbar from 12 yards before Chicago put the game, and the Galaxy's season, away.

Blanco scooped up a poor Beckham pass in midfield and Calen Carr, another sub, lofted a long ball that Thorrington ran onto as Cannon came out. The keeper lunged but the delicate lob easily cleared him and bounced into the net.

SEALY THE DEAL. For the third straight season Kansas City went into its final game needing a result to reach the playoffs and after two straight failures, they finally got there.

Scott Sealy scored late in the first half and early in the second as the Wizards (11-12-7) beat an FCD team that had nothing to play for, 2-0, at Pizza Hut Park. Coach Steve Morrow rested a couple of his regulars, didn't have Bobby Rhine because of suspension, and left Denilson on the bench.

The Wizards, missing the suspended Kerry Zavagnin, flew out of the gates with Davy Arnaud and Eddie Johnson running through their opponents. Arnaud threatened twice in the opening minute, FCD keeper Ray Burse saved from Carlos Marinelli and Kurt Morsink a minute apart, and then Johnson dribbled around Burse only to shoot over the crossbar.

Arnaud set up the first goal in the 39th minute with a great chip that Sealy chested down and fired into the net. Pablo Ricchetti nearly equalized with the last touch of the first half but he shot too high.

Ten minutes into the second half, Arnaud triggered another goal with a ball into space on the right flank. Jack Jewsbury ran onto it and apparently shot errantly, but the ball went right to Sealy, who redirected it past Burse for his seventh goal.

Strikers Carlos Ruiz and Dominic Oduro launched a few shots after coming on as subs but were unable to test keeper Kevin Hartman as Dallas (13-12-5) disappointed a sellout crowd in its home finale.

FINDLEY'S FINISH. He won't win the Rookie of the Year award yet in his first pro season Robbie Findley has shown he can score important goals.

His eighth goal officially extinguished Colorado's fading playoff hopes in the 87th minute of a 1-0 Real Salt Lake victory at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. The Rapids (9-13-6) needed three points to retain a stake in the postseason but were unable to crack RSL's defense and won't get the chance to duplicate its playoff upsets of Dallas in the past two seasons.

Finley, traded to RSL (6-15-9) by Los Angeles in midseason, scored in a 1-0 win over the Galaxy in early September and finished tops among rookies in goals.

Colin Clark nearly opened the scoring in the first half when a nice ball from Jovan Kirovski sent him past keeper Nick Rimando, but his shot hit the post. A few minutes later Rimando saved from Colorado rookie Kosuke Kimura. The keeper also stopped a hard shot by Jacob Peterson as the desperate Rapids pressed forward.

Findley sprang the offside trap in the 81st minute but couldn't squeeze his shot past Coundoul and inside the post. But when Carey Talley sent him clear a second time, he spotted the advancing Coundoul and stroked the ball past him.

More acrobatics from Rimando in the final minutes secured the victory. He punched away a cross and scrambled to his feet to elastically turn away a Tony Sanneh volley.

DICHIO DELIVERS. Of all the injuries that afflicted Toronto FC in its expansion season, none have been as detrimental as those that sidelined striker Danny Dichio. But despite a wave of maladies and the worst record in MLS, TFC has seldom been easy to beat.

The powerful if inelegant striker struck in the second minute of stoppage time to score the goal, his sixth of the season, that earned TFC (6-17-7) a comeback 2-2 tie with New England.

Michael Parkhurst and Taylor Twellman both scored in the 47th minute - in first half stoppage time and early in the second half, respectively - as the Revs (14-8-8) rolled up a 2-0 lead. Collin Samuel punched home the rebound of a Marvell Wynne shot that had hit the post in the 59th minute and well into stoppage time, Dichio, playing his first match since Aug. 25 because of a torn foot muscle, first-timed a Carl Robinson feed into the net from outside the penalty area.

D.C. DOWNED. Columbus soured the presentation of the Supporters' Shield at RFK by beating D.C. United, 3-2, on a pair of goals by Robbie Rogers and one by Alejandro Moreno. Worse were ankle sprains suffered by Luciano Emilio and Jaime Moreno during a match rife with chances.

Christian Gomez scored two late goals for D.C. United (16-7-7), which couldn't contain Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who played a diagonal ball Rogers tucked past Troy Perkins, and then hit a great crossfield ball that Moreno lashed into the net with a spectacular volley.

The Crew (9-11-10) held off United for most of the match thanks to keeper Will Hesmer and defender Ezra Hendrickson. Hesmer touched a point-blank Emilio header onto the crossbar, deflected a powerful shot by Ben Olsen, and pushed away a blast from Jean-Martial Kpene. Hendrickson cleared a ball Moreno was about to knock home and deflected a Kpene header over the bar.

Gomez chipped a spectacular goal in the 89th minute to cut the 2-0 deficit in half, but Columbus swept upfield to score again when Moreno laid the ball for Rogers to rap into the net in the 91st minute. Gomez tacked on his 10th goal from the penalty spot.

BLANK CHECK. The two best defensive teams met at Home Depot Center with the Western Conference title in the balance. Chivas USA took the top spot after playing a 0-0 tie with Houston, which would have captured the crown by winning.

The Dynamo (15-8-7) held a man advantage after referee Baldomero Toledo sent off Lawson Vaughn with a straight red card for a studs up tackle in the 40th minute, but poor final passes and sloppy shooting negated its edge in possession. Brian Ching headed a great chance over the crossbar and both Stuart Holden and Dwayne DeRosario shot high from good positions.

Chivas USA (15-7-8) might have had a penalty in the final minutes when Brian Mullan sent Jonathan Borstein sprawling but referee Toledo waved off Chivas USA protests. He also dismissed objections for a yellow card, rather than a red, he gave to Pat Ianni for a hard tackle on Maykel Galindo.

A scuffle broke out at midfield after the final whistle as the teams merged to shake hands. Chivas USA coach Preki responded testily to a remark from Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear and the two barked at each other as players and assistant coaches jostled. Both Preki and Kinnear refused to reveal the contents of their comments.

Oct. 20 in Toronto
Toronto 2 New England 2.
Parkhurst 47+, Twellman (Ralston) 47; Samuel 59, Dichio (Robinson) 92+.
New England - Reis, Heaps, John, Parkhurst, Ralston, Thompson (Dorman, 51), Joseph, Larentowicz, Smith, Noonan (Cristman, 88), Twellman.
Toronto FC - Stamatopoulos, Boyens, Marshall, Dunivant, Wynne, Edu, Hemming, Robinson, Lombardo (Pozniak, 52), Cunningham (Dichio, 46), Samuel.
Yellow Cards: Toronto FC - Lombardo 7, Robinson 43; New England - Thompson 42.
Referee: Steven DePiero.
Att.: 20,374.

Oct. 20 in Washington, D.C.
D.C. United 2 Columbus 2.
Goals: Gomez (Fred, Olsen) 89, Gomez pen. 93+; Rogers (Schelotto) 21, Moreno (Schelotto, Gaven) 66, Rogers (Moreno) 91+.
D.C. United - Perkins, Namoff, Boswell, McTavish, Burch, Mediate (Olsen, 46), Carroll, Gomez, Fred, Emilio (Simms, 49), Moreno (Kpene, 12).
Columbus - Hesmer, Ward, Hendrickson, Peterson (Junge, 76), Gaven, Schelotto, Miglioranzi, O'Rourke, Moffat, Moreno, Rogers.
Yellow Cards: D.C. United - Namoff 18, Burch 80.
Referee: Terry Vaughn.
Att.: 23,149.

Oct. 20 in Frisco, Texas
FC Dallas 0 Kansas City 2.
Sealy (Arnaud) 39, Sealy (Jewsbury, Arnaud) 55.
FC Dallas - Burse, Dello-Russo, Goodson, Moor, Wagenfuhr, Alvarez (Ruiz, 76), Ricchetti (McCarty, 64), Serioux, Toja, Cooper, Thompson (Oduro, 64).
Kansas City - Hartman, Jewsbury, Conrad, Garcia, Harrington, Arnaud, Marinelli (Pore, 42), Victorine, Morsink, Johnson, Sealy (Colombano, 65) (Watson, 72).
Yellow Cards: FC Dallas - Thompson 6; Kansas City - Morsink 42.
Referee: Abiodun Okulaja.
Att.: 20,500.

Oct. 20 in Commerce City, Colo.
Colorado 0 Real Salt Lake 1.
Findley (Talley) 87.
Colorado - Coundoul, Kimura, Ihemelu (Sanneh, 40), Petke, Erpen, Cooke (Peterson, 22), Cancela, Mastroeni, Clark, Casey, Kirovski (Cummings, 61).
Real Salt Lake - Rimando, Wingert, Mantilla, Pope (Lancos, 54), Kotschau, Sturgis, Talley, Beckerman, Brown (Williams, 73), Eskandarian, Espindola (Findley, 57).
Yellow Cards: Colorado - Erpen 72; Real Salt Lake - Beckerman 1, Talley 34, Mantilla 90.
Referee: Jair Marrufo.
Att.: 14,777.

Oct. 20 in Carson, Calif.
Chivas USA 0 Houston 0.
Chivas USA -
Guzan, Zotinca, Suarez, Thomas, Perez, Kljestan, Nagamura, Vaughn, Bornstein, Galindo (Hernandez, 70), Merlin (Nunez, 76).
Houston - Onstad, Mullan, Ianni, Waibel, Barrett (Ashe, 60), Holden, De Rosario, Mulrooney, Davis, Ching, Ngwenya (Jaqua, 64).
Yellow Cards: Houston - Barrett 46+, Ianni 68, Mulrooney 82, Mullan 90.
Red Card: Chivas USA - Vaughn 40.
Referee: Baldomero Toledo.
Att.: 16,853.

Oct. 21 in Bridgeview, Ill.
Chicago 1 Los Angeles 0.
Thorrington (Carr, Blanco) 93+.
Chicago - Pickens, Robinson, Brown, Segares, Pause, Rolfe (Carr, 91+), Armas, Blanco, Conde, Barrett (Thorrington, 61), Wanchope (Soumare, 80).
Los Angeles - Cannon, Klein, Jazic, Roberts, Randolph, Donovan, Jones, Tudela (Gordon, 72), Vagenas (Beckham, 58), Glinton (Buddle, 61), Pavon.
Yellow Cards: Los Angeles - Buddle 86.
Referee: Alex Prus.
Att.: 21,374.


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