By Ridge Mahoney
After Week 29 of the MLS season, two more Western teams -- Seattle and RSL -- have clinched playoff spots, and seven Eastern teams are still in the hunt.
Heading into a week of league play reduced by FIFA fixture dates, here are the rankings of MLS teams based on overall record and tweaked by recent results ...
1. LOS ANGELES* (18-3-10, 61 pts.) The juggernaut rolled on with a new wrinkle: rallying from a 1-0 deficit at home to beat RSL, 2-1. Chad Barrett battled through a challenge to score the equalizer; left back Todd Dunivant drove a cross that bounced off two opponents and into the net for the winning goal. When there’s a talent-laden team finding these kinds of ways to win, which it has done in four straight league games and six of the last seven, there’s also an odds-on favorite to reach – and host – MLS Cup. Oh, and on Barrett’s goal, that Beckham guy picked up his league-high 15th assist. Last week: 1.
2. SEATTLE* (16-6-9, 57 pts.) Since joining MLS in 2009, the Sounders have produced some commendable accomplishments, including two playoff appearances and a pair of Open Cups. Yet last week, they scored a last-gasp goal (Osvaldo Alonso’s second of the game) in Guatemala City to tie Comunicaciones, 2-2, and advance to the CCL quarterfinals. Coach Sigi Schmid then rested four regulars and still they knocked off New England, 2-1, at Gillette Stadium, with two from Fredy Montero. This week, after the Open Cup final Tuesday, they host Philly on Saturday. Last week: 2.
3. REAL SALT LAKE* (15-10-6, 51 pts.) RSL lost two games last week, but the most important number may be 110, as in the minutes playmaker Javier Morales contributed. Out since May 7 with a leg fracture, he played the final half an hour of a dismal 3-0 home loss to Chicago, then put in 80 minutes and served up the ball Fabian Espindola stuck into the Galaxy net for a brief 1-0 lead. “The team is the star” credo is all well and good, but this team’s prospects brighten with him in the lineup. Still, some sloppy defending marred the HDC defeat, its third in a row. Last week: 3.
4. PHILADELPHIA (10-7-14, 44 pts.) After gutting out a 3-2 win at home against D.C. United Thursday when Michael Farfan nailed a shot into the top corner to break a 2-2 tie, the Union crossed the country to scrape out a 1-1 tie with Chivas USA thanks to a Justin Mapp golazo from distance. By scoring twice in the first game, Sebastian Le Toux upped his take this season to 10 goals, just three fewer than last year. That’s great news for an attack that has sputtered at times since Carlos Ruiz departed in mid-season. The bad news is that in both aforementioned games, Philly blew leads, and at HDC, conceded an equalizer in stoppage time. Last week: 5.
5. SPORTING KANSAS CITY (11-9-12, 45 pts.). In two crunch games with travel in between, SKC didn’t play particularly well yet still extracted four points. It tied San Jose, 1-1, by scoring straight from the kickoff (Teal Bunbury) after falling behind in the 86th minute. In a 2-1 midweek home defeat of the Crew, Kei Kamara scored his ninth of the season and the winner came from a Matt Besler throw-in that defender Julius James headed into his own net. Hey, they all count. Plus, Coach Peter Vermes has been able to spot-start some of his key performers – Roger Espinoza, Graham Zusi, etc. – and with Davy Arnaud back to health, SKC is probably in its best shape of the season. Last week: 6.
6. FC DALLAS (13-11-7, 46 pts.) One of the team’s strengths, its ability to keep and move the ball, surfaced only sporadically in a 1-0 loss at Colorado that followed a disturbing 5-3 shellacking in Panama by Tauro FC on Wednesday. FCD seldom threatened the Rapids’ goal, aside from a brief spurt from Brek Shea and good shots by Marvin Chavez and Ricardo Villar at the end of the first half. The FIFA break will provide some desperately needed rest for a team mired in a four-game losing streak. But will rest be enough for a team that seems to have lost its groove? Last week: 4.
7. HOUSTON (10-9-13, 43 pts.) How quickly things change; after a brief fling atop the conference, the Dynamo dropped to fourth after tying Chicago, 1-1, at home. Colin Clark’s goal in the 33rd minute was matched by one from ex-Dynamo Dominic Oduro 10 minutes later. Houston hasn’t lost in its last four games, during which it has accumulated six points, and may have already done enough to snag a wild-card. It finishes the season in Portland (next Friday) and at home against the Galaxy (in the season’s last game Oct. 23), so a top three placing will require a bit more work. Last week: 7.
8. COLUMBUS (12-12-8, 44 pts.) The week’s action started Wednesday with a 2-1 loss at Sporting KC in which a Robbie Rogers’ cross set up Emilio Renteria for the Crew’s goal. On Sunday, Eddie Gaven returned after an eight-game absence to head the winner in a 2-1 defeat of D.C. United that closed out the home schedule. Rogers sat out the latter game; if both play in the final two games of the season at New England and Chicago, and the forwards are on target, the Crew can avoid a wild-card game. Last week: 8.
9. COLORADO (11-9-12, 45 pts.) The Rapids added to FCD’s woes with a 1-0 victory that snapped a five-game winless streak in league play and, barring some bizarre results in the final weeks, confirmed a playoff spot. Drew Moor scored from Sanna Nyassi’s corner kick and with a few key saves Matt Pickens chalked up his seventh shutout. The Rapids also stayed alive in the CCL when an under-strength team led by assistant coach Steve Guppy surprised Isidro Metapan, 3-1, in El Salvador. Seattle coach Sigi Schmid criticized the move (not that anybody cared). Last week: 10.
10. NEW YORK (8-7-16, 40 pts.) A few minutes after flummoxing two TFC opponents to serve Luke Rodgers a ball he flailed over the crossbar, Thierry Henry did the job himself with an immaculate set-up touch and crisp shot from a corner kick. The goal, his 13th of 2011, in the 88th minute produced a 1-1 tie in Toronto. The final three games are tricky; after a visit Tuesday by the Galaxy, in the final week of the season there’s a road game at SKC, and a home finale with Philly. Last week: 11.
11. CHICAGO (7-8-16, 37 pts.). Before he departed in the 51st minute, Dominic Oduro scored his 12th goal of the season and pointed to the back of his jersey to remind Dynamo fans one of their former players had scored against them, again. Yet the road point left the Fire well shy of a playoff spot with three games to play. It can lift the Open Cup in Seattle Tuesday by beating the Sounders, then has to play the numbers game as it finishes the season with FC Dallas, D.C. United, and Columbus. It’s possible but not likely. Last week: 12.
12.PORTLAND (11-13-7, 40 pts.) After starting fast and then fading in midseason, Kenny Cooper is back in goalscoring form; his third goal in four games, a fierce blast into the top corner from 25 yards, earned the Timbers a 1-0 win in Vancouver. Their ninth shutout and second road win moved them into a tie with New York for the 10th and final playoff place. After a week off for the FIFA break comes a daunting stretch run of three games in nine days: at home against Houston (Oct. 14), and road battles at D.C. United and RSL. If the Timbers get into the postseason, they’ll have earned it. Last week: 13.
13. D.C. UNITED (9-10-11, 38 pts.). Setbacks in Philadelphia (3-2) and Columbus (2-1) magnified the problems of a makeshift back line necessitated by injuries. United rallied from a 2-0 deficit in Philly when Dwayne De Rosario and Andy Najar scored nine minutes apart but couldn’t reply to a third goal. De Ro assisted on Daniel Woolard’s goal that provided a 1-0 lead in Columbus, but defensive breakdowns in the second half opened the gates. Of the playoff contenders, only United has four more games, and it may need points in all of them – starting a week from Wednesday in Vancouver – to make up enough ground. Last week: 9.
14. CHIVAS USA (8-12-12, 36 pts.) A stoppage-time goal by Juan Pablo Angel – his seventh in seven games since a trade from the Galaxy – gave Chivas USA a tie in a game it desperately needed to win. The 1-1 home result with Philly narrows playoff chances to infinitesimal and it could be eliminated by the time it plays the Galaxy Oct. 16. Strides have been made under the guidance of Coach Robin Fraser yet a 5-6-5 mark at HDC is one area that needs work; no team has lost as many at home. Last week: 14.
15. SAN JOSE (6-11-14, 32 pts.). The Quakes found another excruciating method of failing to win while tying SKC, 1-1; they must have been watching big-screen replays of the goal they scored in the 86th minute as their opponents kicked off and went right up the middle to equalize. This tie tasted much worse than single points secured last week at Toronto and Colorado. Final approval of plans for a new stadium is expected before the end of the year; a roster revamp has to start the day the season ends. Last week: 15.
16. TORONTO FC (6-13-13, 31 pts.) The Red Patch Boys, et al, must be thinking what TFC might have done with DP Danny Koevermans for a full season. He netted his seventh goal in nine league matches as TFC tied New York, 1-1. The league season is cooked, but TFC can snag some unexpected CCL glory if it can win the group finale in Dallas Oct. 19. A decent late-season surge – it has taken eight points from the last five games – has burnished hopes for 2012 somewhat, even though TFC is on course to lead the league in goals allowed (currently 56) and goal difference (minus 23). Last week: 16.
17. NEW ENGLAND (5-14-12, 27 pts.) Diego Fagundez’s second MLS goal, in his first pro start, and general play earned praise from Sounders coach Sigi Schmid after Seattle rallied with two goals by Fredy Montero to win, 2-1. The Revs, sad to say, are only five points better than the league’s worst team, Vancouver, and with five wins could fall short of the team’s previous lowest victory total: seven in the shortened (27 games) 2001 season. Yes, this is the worst season ever for a three-time MLS Cup finalist. Last week: 17.
18. VANCOUVER (4-16-10, 22 pts.) Fans and team officials hoped the unveiling of B.C. Place would inspire the ‘Caps to knock off Portland in the Cascadia Cup finale; alas, the new digs yielded yet another defeat, 1-0. Forward Eric Hassli and midfielder Camilo Sanvezzo have combined for 19 goals this season but struggled in lieu of service and support. (Hassli’s personal goal drought stands at seven games.) Several players were questioned about the team’s heart after a rather lackluster effort, but just as apparent was a talent gap between the expansion teams that is reflected by an 18-point separation in the standings. Last week: 18.
* Clinched playoff spot.