MLS playoff pretenders exposed

[MLS] A spate of road victories, starting Friday with the Red Bulls knocking off the Galaxy at Home Depot Center, has further clarified the playoff picture.

HOME WOES. During a weekend when the league’s best team at home needed a stoppage-time goal just to get a tie, the playoff pretenders were exposed.

Kansas City, Chicago, and Toronto all desperately needed to hold serve at home and all failed. Though it retained its top spot in the Western Conference and the overall standings, Los Angeles didn’t look anything like a No. 1 team at Home Depot Center while losing to New York, 2-0.

By routing Chivas USA, 3-0, expansion Philadelphia ended the weekend as the only home team to win. New England squandered a 2-0 lead to the Crew in a 2-2 tie, and cellar-dwellar D.C. United also scored first, then crumbled against Houston and lost, 3-1. (Despite getting points, both the Dynamo and Revs have joined D.C. United as teams eliminated from the playoffs. Because it has five games to play, Chivas USA still has a very slim chance.)

Only a desperation late goal by defender Nat Borchers – his first of the season – earned RSL a 1-1 tie with Colorado to extend its unbeaten streak at home to 24 matches. In the eight games played Friday and Saturday, home teams compiled a dismal 1-5-2 record. For the season, home teams are winning 49 percent of all games (100-53-51, wins-losses-ties).

DO YOU KNOW THE WAY? Weeks ago, Quakes coach Frank Yallop sounded cautiously optimistic about his team’s playoff chances, based largely on its ability to win on the road this season.

He was, however, hoping to wrap up a playoff spot before closing the season Oct. 23 at Kansas City. “I don’t want us to be going into that game needing a result to get into the playoffs,” he said.

A 3-2 win at Toronto Saturday courtesy of a Chris Wondolowski hat trick upped San Jose’s road mark this season to 5-4-3 and inched it into a tie with Seattle at 39 points for sixth place in the overall standings. Last year, San Jose posted a terrible 1-9-5 road mark.

Three weeks ago, San Jose won in Houston for the first time (2-1), and this season has also beaten Philadelphia, Chicago, and Seattle away. It has two more road games before the season finale against the Wizards that Yallop hopes will not be crucial.

“To go and win in Houston in a real crunch game, that’s massive,” says Yallop. “We’ve got some really good away results. Our run-in is not bad, but we have a game in Columbus [Saturday], and even D.C. won’t be easy. None of these games are.”

WIZARDS FIZZLE. Kansas City, fresh off a rousing 4-3 comeback win over Houston that followed a 2-0 road win against Chivas USA, had hoped to further its playoff push with another spirited effort at home against FC Dallas, which had also played Wednesday (a 2-2 tie with New England) and in missing five regulars seemed somewhat vulnerable.

Instead, goals by Marvin Chavez and Milton Rodriguez in the first 12 minutes cast the Wizards into a two-goal hole it never escaped. The 3-1 defeat left Kansas City (9-10-7, 33 points) five points behind eighth-placed Colorado and six points back of San Jose and Seattle. By winning FCD improved its road mark to 4-1-8 and extended its unbeaten streak to 17 games, one short of the league record.

“It's extremely disappointing considering the work we've put in to put ourselves back in the mix,” said Kansas City attacker Davy Arnaud to the team’s Web site. “We conceded two goals 12 minutes in … that's not good. We need to come out better than that.

“When you give up early goals like that, you're not always able to pull it out of the bag. Especially at home, we should be the team driving the game, and we should be the team getting two great chances in the first ten minutes. That wasn't the case.”

FIRE DOUSED. Chicago’s loss to Seattle might have been anticipated, since for the second year in a row the Fire has labored to win at Toyota Park. At 3-3-6, Chicago is tied for last with D.C. United in home victories this season, and will be eliminated from postseason contention the next time it fails to win or the Rapids garner at least one more point.

Blaise Nkufo’s shot in the 88th minute deflected off Fire defender C.J. Brown and past keeper Sean Johnson for the only goal. The Sounders thus swept the season series over Chicago, which lost, 2-1, in Seattle Aug. 28 to Fredy Montero’s stoppage-time winner. In addition to its poor home form, Chicago’s penchant for conceding late goals – 10 in the final 15 minutes of games – has defined its fate.

“This is typical for our season,” Brown told “We try stupid stuff and we don’t know how to get out of it. This is par for the course, basically – par for the course.”

WOBBLY IN THE WEST. Overall points leaders Los Angeles and Real Salt Lake suffered a home malaise similar to that experienced by their less accomplished Eastern rivals. The Galaxy has a two-point lead atop the Western Conference and in the overall standings; both teams have four games to play.

The Galaxy (15-6-5, 50 points) looked listless in losing to New York, which squelched top goalscorer Edson Buddle and league assist leader Landon Donovan – 14 in both categories -- for most of the match. All three of the Galaxy’s home losses in league play have occurred since the All-Star Break.

RSL had something of a mitigating circumstance, having played a Concacaf Champion’s League match Wednesday in Panama City, where it beat Arabe Unido, 3-2. Coach Jason Kreis didn’t use keeper Nick Rimando and playmaker Javier Morales, and a bizarre officiating decision wiped away a handball ruling on Rapids’ defender Marvell Wynne that would have given RSL a penalty kick.

Yet RSL extended its league record unbeaten mark when Borchers crashed the penalty area to head home a lofted ball from Andy Williams. The 2005 Quakes finished 9-0-7 at Spartan Stadium. At 10-0-4, RSL is within one game of becoming only the second team in MLS history to go through an entire season unbeaten at home, but that home finale is against FC Dallas Oct. 16.

2 comments about "MLS playoff pretenders exposed".
  1. Nancy Carr-swaim, September 27, 2010 at 9:59 p.m.

    Marco, I think you're right. It seems as though the Galaxy peaked too early in the season. Ever since the World Cup, the team hasn't quite been as good as it was before. I hope they find that wonderful rhythm they demonstrated back in April and May.

  2. Abe Carranza, September 28, 2010 at 9:37 a.m.

    I think we'll be just fine, Let's Go LA!

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