Rapids roll into playoffs

[MLS] Colorado clinched the eighth and final playoff spot before taking the field at Home Depot Center when Kansas City, needing a win, lost 1-0 at New England, yet the Rapids bounced back from conceding an early goal to pound the Galaxy, 3-1. RSL and Seattle were the only other playoff-bound teams to post victories. The race for the Supporters’ Shield -- regular-season champ -- will go down to the final game, with Los Angeles (56 points) leading RSL (55), in the Western Conference by one point, which is the same margin by which Eastern Conference leader New York (48) edges Columbus (47), after both teams failed to win.

TFC fans are probably convinced their team has been cursed this season. How could a fourth straight losing season, increased ticket prices for 2011, and the firing of technical director Mo Johnston and head coach Preki be made worse?

How about losing a win in stoppage time to a goalkeeper goal? Yea, verily, so it goes.

Crew goalie Will Hesmer became only the second MLS keeper to score when he banged home from close range to give the Crew a 2-2 tie at BMO Field. Chad Marshall jumped at the far post to head an Eddie Gaven corner kick back into the middle; the ball hit Hesmer in the thigh and so astonished were the TFC defenders none of them closed quickly enough to stop his right-footed shot.

Maybe this was Fate’s version of a make-up call. Two years ago (Oct. 18, 2008), New York keeper Danny Cepero scored with a free kick from about 80 yards at the Meadowlands. His kick bounced once and sailed over Columbus keeper Andy Gruenebaum, who was on the bench for the Crew on Saturday.

Two record streaks could have continued Saturday when FC Dallas (unbeaten in 19 games) played at defending champion Real Salt Lake (unbeaten in 24 home matches), but instead RSL turned its final home game of the season into a 2-0 victory to end FCD’s remarkable run.

Dallas (12-3-14) can still the claim the record for fewest losses -- in a 30-game season it must be pointed out -- if it wins or ties against the Galaxy Sunday at Home Depot Center in the league’s season finale. The 2005 Quakes lost just four of 32 games.

FCD had maintained the streak despite injury absences for Daniel Hernandez, Dax McCarty and Ugo Ihemelu. All played against RSL; for Ihemelu it was his first match since suffering a concussion against Philadelphia Aug. 8. RSL broke open a goalless game when Ihemelu lost the mark on Ned Grabavoy, yet Coach Schellas Hyndman cited the midfield as his team’s problem area.

“I don’t know if any of our midfielders had a good game.” Hyndman said to MLSsoccer.com. “They put a lot of pressure on us the whole game. Dax and Daniel spent a lot of time chasing the game. It was a very difficult day.”

MIDFIELD MIGHT. The burden to score goals falls mainly on the forwards, and yet not all of the 13 players to hit double digits this season are frontrunners. The Galaxy’s Edson Buddle scored his league-leading 17th of the season in a 3-1 loss to Colorado last weekend, for which Omar Cummings (13) and Conor Casey (12) each tallied as well.

Cummings, like Chris Wondolowski (14 goals), and Sebastien Le Toux and Dwayne De Rosario (13 each), also line up occasionally in midfield. There are outright midfielders among the leaders, as in Seattle’s Steve Zakuani (10 goals). In the playoffs, tighter games and tougher marking often opens up space for midfielders to get chances, and several hit the target last weekend to score vital goals.

One such player won’t be in the playoffs, yet the Revs’ Shalrie Joseph officially ended the Wizards’ postseason chances by running onto a long ball by Chris Tierney, nicking past a bone-headed challenge by keeper Jimmy Nielsen, and slotting the ball neatly into the empty net.

Grabavoy got in behind Ihemelu to head home a Robbie Russell cross for the winning goal. He’s scored three goals this season yet told MLSsoccer.com of that headed goal it was his: “First -- and it’s probably gonna be the last.”

Zakuani isn’t Seattle’s only midfield scoring threat. After being blanked for the entire season, Sanna Nyassi scored four goals in three games – including a pair in the Sounders’ 2-1 Open Cup final win over Columbus – and on Saturday midfield goals by the Sounders downed Chivas USA, 2-1.

After Zakuani opened the scoring in the ninth minute, Alsonso won a ball in midfield and ghosted into the penalty area tuck away a feed from Zakuani for his first goal of the season. Alsono’s central midfield partner, Nathan Sturgis, should have joined the group in the 62nd minute, but he shot wide from just nine yards out on a rebound after keeper Zach Thornton brilliantly parried a close-range Zakuani header.

OLD VS. NEW. Since moving to Houston from San Jose, the Dynamo reached the playoffs in each of the past four seasons, while the reconstituted Quakes missed out in their inaugural 2008 season as well as last year.

Those roles are reversed this season, yet on Saturday at Buck Shaw Stadium, Houston knocked off San Jose, 1-0, with a goal by defender Andrew Hainault. After the game, Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear – a Quakes assistant when they won the 2001 and 2003 crowns prior to the move – addressed a dismal (8-15-6) campaign.

“At no point during this season did I feel our players weren’t giving their best effort,” said the longtime Northern California resident. “I think at times our performances weren’t what they could have been, obviously, but I can’t fault the effort.

“The last month and a half or so I think we’ve actually played pretty well but we struggled early and never caught up.”

Kinnear didn’t speculate as to whether there would be a clearout of players. Last month, veteran midfielder Brian Mullan (age 32) was traded to Colorado for younger counterpart Colin Clark (26); there are several other veterans on the long side of 30, and spots opening up on the rosters of expansion teams Vancouver and Portland.

“I don’t this team needs to be blown up, like some people have suggested,” says Dynamo midfielder Richard Mulrooney, who will be 34 next month. Though the records are comparable he doesn’t see parallels to the miserable campaign (7-17-8) he suffered through in San Jose a decade ago.

“I was here in 2000; that was a bad team, I mean really bad. That isn’t the case with this team.”

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