Kansas City goes top of -- and Chicago joins -- Eastern logjam

[MLS PLAYOFF WATCH] Two teams posted vital wins in MLS action Wednesday: Chicago stunned RSL, 3-0, to keep alive its flickering playoff hopes and Sporting Kansas City jumped atop the crowded Eastern Conference by beating Columbus, 2-1.

Telling the Chicago Fire that the MLS playoff guest list is closed will do no good; it's crashing the party anyway.

Chicago exploited the sending-off of RSL captain Kyle Beckerman to win for the fifth time in the last six games, and moved to within three points of a playoff spot via the emphatic 3-0 victory.

With the spotlight on returning RSL playmaker Javier Morales, out since May with a broken ankle, Fire midfielder Marco Pappa hit a hat trick to break a personal scoring drought that extended to last June, the same month that the Fire also last won a road game. Pappa scored in the ninth, 36th, and 75th minutes to increase his season total to eight goals and reverse a barren run against RSL: he’d failed to score in five previous league meetings.

Beckerman went off in the 11th minute for apparently head-butting midfield Daniel Paladini, who had apparently shoved him moments earlier. Four minutes later, RSL head coach Jason Kreis brought in a recent signing from USL PRO, Yordany Alvarez, to replace teenager Luis Gil in midfield, but the move didn’t enable the home team to gain much traction in the center of the park.

As for the humbled home team, it has lost the last two games by combined scores of 7-1 and won’t have Beckerman when it plays the Galaxy at Home Depot Center Saturday. Morales replaced Chris Wingert in the 60th minute and he looked reasonably fit for having sat out four months. His status for the Galaxy game won’t be known until Friday.

CREW CRUMBLES.
In the other league match played Wednesday, Sporting Kansas City leap-frogged Eastern Conference leader Houston by beating Columbus, 2-1, at Livestrong Sporting Park. (The Fire plays at Houston on Saturday.)

SKC, notorious for blowing leads this season, went up 1-0 in the 15th minute with a Kei Kamara penalty kick whistled for a debatable foul by Chad Marshall on C.J. Sapong, and true to form, conceded an equalizer by Emilio Renteria in the 34th minute. But this time, SKC got some reward – albeit with considerable luck – for its endeavor with a long Matt Besler throw-in into the opposing goalmouth that Columbus defender Julius James headed over his keeper, Will Hesmer, and into the net.

With yet another critical Eastern Conference match scheduled for Thursday, when Philadelphia hosts D.C. United, here’s how the playoff race looks:

Eastern Conference automatic qualifiers (3):
E1 -- Sporting Kansas City (11-9-11, 44 pts.); E2 – Houston (10-9-12, 42 pts.); E3 – Columbus (11-12-8, 41 pts.).
All three teams have three more games to play.

Western Conference automatics (3):
W1 – Los Angeles (17-3-10, 61 pts.); W2 – Seattle (15-6-9, 54 pts.): W3 – Real Salt Lake (15-9-6, 51 pts.)
All three teams have four games left to play.

Wild Cards (4):
WC7 – FC Dallas (13-10-7, 46 pts.); WC8 – Colorado (10-9-12, 42 pts.); WC9 – Philadelphia (9-7-13, 40 pts.); WC10 – New York (8-7-15, 39 pts.).
Games remaining: FCD 4, Colorado 3, Philadelphia 5, New York 4.

Chasers:
11 – D.C. United (9-8-11, 38 pts.); 12 – Portland (10-13-7, 37 pts.); 13 – Chicago (7-8-15, 36 pts.); 14 – Chivas USA (8-12-11, 35 pts.).
Games remaining: D.C. United 6, Portland 4, Chicago 4, Chivas USA 3.

Do the math:
15 – San Jose (6-11-13, 31 pts.); 16 – Toronto FC (6-13-12, 30 pts.); 17 -- New England (5-13-12, 27 pts.); 18 – Vancouver (4-15-10, 22 pts.). Games remaining: San Jose 4, Toronto FC 3, New England 4, Vancouver 5.

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