MLS Power Rankings: Playoff race heats up

Sporting Kansas City, Chicago and Los Angeles are all surging into the final month of the regular season and in both conferences the competition to reach MLS Cup looks extremely intense.

Several teams can clinch playoff spots this weekend as MLS heads into its final week of play, yet coaches mindful of postseason matchups will be wary of letdowns.

No Eastern team has yet clinched a spot, while the West's top three -- San Jose, Los Angeles and Real Salt Lake -- are assured of postseason appearances. In the East, the race figures to be tight all the way even as teams nail down their spots.

Chicago moved into second place in the East by beating Columbus and trails Sporting Kansas City by just two points in the race for the conference title. The Red Bulls took just one of six points from two games, and squandered a win in New England -- for which Thierry Henry was suspended -- by conceding an equalizer shortly after taking the lead in stoppage time.

Coupled with two D.C. United wins those results left the teams tied for third place in the Eastern Conference with 50 points but not yet assured of a playoff spot.

1. SAN JOSE (18-6-6). The Sounders were humbled in their home, 2-1, with a searing Simon Dawkins strike, a classic Chris Wondolowski re-direct from close range, and a stifling defensive effort. Wondolowski had scored both goals on Wednesday as the comeback Quakes rallied from a 2-0 deficit to get a 2-2 tie in Portland. They are the only team in the league averaging two points and two goals per game, and can clinch the conference title by beating FC Dallas on Saturday. Last week: 1.

2. SPORTING KANSAS CITY (16-7-7). A 0-0 tie in Montreal Saturday gave SKC four points for the week following its convincing 2-0 triumph Wednesday at Red Bull Arena. Early goals by C.J. Sapong and Kei Kamara ended the Red Bulls' unbeaten home record and the dual shutouts increased SKC's league-leading total to 13. The return to form of Sapong is bad news for the rest of the Eastern Conference as SKC is unbeaten in its last eight games. Last week: 4.

3. CHICAGO (16-8-5). The Fire confirmed its status as a serious title contender by wiping out a 1-0 deficit against the Crew with a pair of Chris Rolfe goals three minutes apart and maintaining that 2-1 edge to the final whistle. Sean Johnson fought off a fierce shot from Josh Williams to help preserve the victory. Seven wins in the last eight games fueled by one of the league's most potent lineups has the Fire burning hot heading into a conference showdown Friday in Kansas City, where its back line and young keeper, whose gaffe provided the Crew with the only chance it converted, will be sharply tested. Last week: 5.

4. SEATTLE (13-7-9). After enduring a midweek trip to Honduras, where it clinched a spot in the CCL quarterfinals by downing Marathon, 3-2, Seattle scurried and hustled but couldn't keep pace with the Quakes in a 2-1 defeat. Eddie Johnson (suspended) and Mauro Rosales (injured) didn't play; Sammy Ochoa's robust efforts opened up the Quakes back line a few times and earned him a goal before he tired. With no CCL action this week, the Sounders get a bit of rest they will need Saturday in Vancouver. Last week: 3.

5. LOS ANGELES (15-11-4). A tighter defense with centerback Omar Gonzalez back in the fold has obscured recognition of the Galaxy's offense. It it second only to the Quakes with 54 goals after blasting Toronto FC. 4-2, as Robbie Keane took his season tally to 14 by scoring twice and Juninho also netted a pair. For his first goal Juninho curled home a free kick a la David Beckham, who watched the game from the stands alongside a member of Frank Lampard's representation. Well, well. Last week: 7.

6. NEW YORK (14-8-8). Presented with prime opportunties to take the wheel in the East, the Red Bulls instead left the driving to somebody else. They fell behind early at home to SKC and mounted only moderate threats in a tepid 2-0 loss on Wednesday, then traveled to New England and took a 1-0 lead in stoppage time playing 10-against-11 before faltering in the final seconds to end up tied, 1-1. Connor Lade's second yellow left the Red Bulls shorthanded yet Joel Lindpere's headed goal during a scramble should have been enough. They've won only one of their last five. Last week: 2.

7. REAL SALT LAKE (15-11-4). Fielding one of its strongest lineups this season -- only forward Alvaro Saborio was missing -- RSL dispatched Portland, 2-1, on goals stemming from free kicks by Fabian Espindola and Javier Morales. The latter played a short ball to to the former for the first goal and Morales scored the second himself with a top-class bender into the top corner. Yet RSL didn't look all that secure riding out Timbers' pressure in the second half and with a playoff spot clinched there will be more attention to maintaining defensive pressure. Last week: 8.

8. D.C. UNITED (15-10-5). Back-to-back victories, both in edgy 1-0 matches, ran United's win streak to three in a row and moved it firmly into the playoff tier. Lionard Pajoy scored on his return to PPL Park to give United a vital win in Philly, and maligned DP Branko Boskovic stooped to head in Pajoy's cross Sunday to defeat Chivas USA and score his first goal for D.C. The post-Dwayne De Rosario era continues Saturday in Portland, after which United finishes the season with three games against Eastern foes. Last week: 10.

9. HOUSTON (12-8-10). The 2011 MLS Cup finalist didn't look very interested Sunday in Philly while losing, 3-1, and fatigue after beating Salvadoran club FAS, 4-0, Thursday can't be the full explanation. A nice goal by Oscar Boniek Garcia just before halftime should have given the Dynamo a boost heading into the second half but instead the home team took command. The CCL burden seems to have taken a toll, however; Houston is 1-3-3 in its last seven league matches yet can right the ship Saturday at home against the Revs. Last week: 6.

10. COLUMBUS (13-11-6). A week that started well enough with a 1-0 defeat of Chivas USA on a goal by Justin Meram nine minutes after he came on as a sub went sour Saturday in Chicago, where an early 1-0 lead (goal by Jairo Arrieta) quickly evaporated into a 2-1 loss. Which is real Crew: the team that has lost three of the last four, or the one that posted a fourth straight win just a few weeks ago? Have teams found ways to thwart Federico Higuain? Last week: 9.

11. MONTREAL (12-15-4). The Impact is still in the playoff hunt, mathematically, after tying SKC at home Saturday, 0-0, but it could be on the very edge of elimination after sitting out this weekend's action. Justin Mapp returned to the lineup for his first start since missing three games with an injury and had one of Montreal's few good chances to break the deadlock. The tie ran the Impact's unbeaten streak at home to seven but its next two matches are at Houston and Toronto; it has lost 12 of 15 on the road this season. Last week: 11.

12. FC DALLAS (9-12-9). A week off left FCD two points behind the 'Caps in the battle for the last Western Conference playoff spot. It plays Saturday in San Jose, where it lost, 2-1, July 18; since then, it has climbed into the postseason race with a 5-2-2 record and has received a boost from former Quakes' forward Scott Sealy, who has started eight games and scored two goals. Last week: 12

13. COLORADO (9-18-3). Jamie Smith's persistence produced a tying goal as the Rapids garnered a 2-2 tie in Vancouver. He plucked a bouncing ball away from two opponents in the 86th minute and drilled home a shot by which Colorado avoided losing a 10th straight road match. Omar Cummings had scored earlier but the Rapids' defense faltered and Smith's arrival as a sub salvaged the point. Last week: 14.

14. VANCOUVER (10-12-6). Ending a five-game losing streak as the playoffs loom should be a laudable feat; instead, the 'Caps are brooding over a 2-2 tie with Colorado that they led, 2-1, midway through the second half. Kenny Miller came on as a sub and polished off a nice feed from Barry Robson to provide the lead, but Alain Rochat and Y.P. Lee got into a tangle trying to clear a ball that the Rapids eventually drove home for the equalizer. That's six games without a win heading into a titantic home match with Seattle Saturday. Last week: 13.

15. PHILADELPHIA (8-14-6). Freddy Adu got his groove back by scoring twice in a 3-1 defeat of Houston in which Philly atoned for a 1-0 loss to D.C. United Thursday that had the PPL faithful fuming at an eight-game winless streak. Coach John Hackworth shifted from a 4-3-3 formation to a 4-4-2 that stretched the Dynamo with wide midfielders Michael Farfan and Danny Cruz, and opened up the field for Adu and Josue Martinez, who clinched the victory with his first MLS goal in the 70th minute. Last week: 16.

16. PORTLAND (7-15-8). There's something about the Timbers in 2-0 games. They took a lead at home against top dog San Jose Wednesday on a pair of golazos by Danny Mwanga, then conceded a pair to wind up tied, 2-2. On the road against RSL, they fell behind, 2-0, before battling back to get a goal from Bright Dike, who also hit the crossbar in the 85th minute in a 2-1 defeat that left them winless in their last four games and blanked for the season (0-11-4) away from home in 2012. Last week: 15

17. NEW ENGLAND (7-15-8). The Revs rescued a 1-1 tie with New York when Darrius Barnes headed in his first MLS goal with only seconds remaining in stoppage time. Ryan Guy's desperation cross from the right flank dropped between two opponents and Barnes directed it high into the net. Even with the tie, New England's record is 1-8-4 since it beat the Red Bulls in early July, and it will finish the season without midfielder Lee Nguyen, who underwent shoulder surgery Monday. Last week: 18.

18. CHIVAS USA (7-15-7). Offensive woes persist: 1-0 defeats at Columbus and D.C. United left Chivas USA with just 21 goals, at least 10 fewer than any other MLS team. it is winless in the last nine games and Saturday hosts Real Salt Lake, its expansion partner from the 2005 season. How radically the two teams' paths have diverged. Last week: 17.

19. TORONTO FC (5-18-7). Scoring two goals on the road is commendable, but unfortunately for TFC, Terry Dunfield and Luis Silva netted after falling behind, 3-0, to the Galaxy at Home Depot Center, and a late strike by Robbie Keane sent it down to a 4-2 defeat. A much shorter road trip, to Red Bull Arena, is on tap for Saturday. Last week: 19.

1 comment about "MLS Power Rankings: Playoff race heats up".
  1. James Madison, September 25, 2012 at 5:59 p.m.

    San Jose may take the Supporter's Shield, but, if I were a bettor, my money would be on LA to capture the MLS Cup.

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