MLS Power Rankings: Top two hold firm

By Ridge Mahoney

San Jose and Los Angeles played a typically wild 2-2 tie that could be a preview of the Western Conference semifinals, and Sporting Kansas City tied the league record for shutouts by blanking New York for the second time in a month, 0-0.

The penultimate week of regular-season play closed out the 10 playoff spots, but several placings will go down to the final weekend.

Real Salt Lake played with a man advantage for 60 minutes but was unable to crack the Seattle defense in a 0-0 tie; when Seattle eliminated FC Dallas from playoff contention, 3-1, a few days later, the teams were deadlocked with 56 points and destined to meet in the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

Sporting Kansas City’s 0-0 tie against New York didn’t guarantee the Eastern Conference crown; it needs at least a point in its season finale against Philly Wednesday to end the slim hopes of D.C. United, which closed to within three points of the top with a 3-1 victory that ended the Crew’s playoff chances.

New York and Houston, separated by a point, need victories to have any chance of avoiding each other in a wild-card game. The Dynamo scored twice in the second half of a 3-1 defeat of Philadelphia that nailed down its playoff spot.

1. SAN JOSE (19-6-8). The comeback Quakes rallied twice at home to get back even with the Galaxy but couldn’t conjure up any stoppage-time magic. So they settled for a 2-2 tie which gave them seven out of a possible nine points in their three meetings with last year’s Supporters’ Shield winner and MLS Cup champion. Chris Wondolowski scored his 26th goal and has one more game, at Portland Saturday, to tie or best Roy Lassiter’s league record of 27. Last week: 1.

2. SPORTING KANSAS CITY (17-7-9). Jimmy Nielsen tied Tony Meola’s league record of 15 shutouts by shutting off the Red Bulls in a 0-0 tie. Several excellent saves, one of which came on a carom off a teammate, enabled SKC to stretch its unbeaten streak to 11 games. Bobby Convey played the final five minutes after missing nine games with a strained hamstring. SKC needs at least a point in its final game against Philadelphia Wednesday to clinch the Eastern Conference’s top seed in the playoffs, and Coach Peter Vermes will be careful with midfielder Roger Espinoza, who has missed three games with a sore ankle but hopes to be ready for Philly. Last week: 2.

3. SEATTLE (15-7-11). Brad Evans, the Man of Many Roles, put on his goalscoring shoes to score twice in a 3-1 defeat of FC Dallas that moved the Sounders into a second-place tie with RSL in the Western Conference. Mauro Rosales notched the other goal as the Sounders finished their home schedule tied with SKC for the fewest goals allowed (11). Keeper Michael Gspurning showed a big-save capability that could be vital in the playoffs as the Sounders battled to a 0-0 tie with RSL Wednesday while a man short for the last hour of play. Last week: 3.

4. REAL SALT LAKE (17-11-5). Coach Jason Kreis admitted his team should have exploited a one-man advantage it enjoyed for 60 minutes of play in Seattle Wednesday, yet the 0-0 tie extended its unbeaten run at CenturyLink Field to four games. The teams are tied for second and RSL can put pressure on Seattle, which plays Sunday, by beating Vancouver in its home finale a day earlier. A weekend off from league play should set up a strong showing Tuesday in the Champions League group finale against Herediano. Last week: 5.

5. CHICAGO (17-11-5). A feeble attack mustered just one shot on goal in a 1-0 loss at New England as the flickering Fire lost for the third time in the last four games. Coach Frank Klopas elected not to play vetern defender Arne Freidrich on the Revs’ artificial surface, and midfielder Pavel Pardo – sidelined since mid-September with hamstring and calf injuries – also didn’t play. Chicago can overtake D.C. for second place in the East if it beats United Saturday, and it could also use a boost in momentum. Last week: 4.

6. LOS ANGELES (15-12-6). For the third time this season, the Galaxy squandered leads to San Jose, but at least this time it held on for a 2-2 tie that ensured it will finish fourth and play a wild-card match a week from Wednesday at Home Depot Center. Playoff opponents be warned: Robbie Keane’s goal against the Quakes was his 12th in the last 15 games, Edson Buddle – starting his first game since May 26 – powered home a Sean Franklin cross, and Omar Gonzalez played another solid game in his comeback from injury. Last week: 6.

7. D.C. UNITED (17-10-6). The rockin’ good times returned to RFK, where D.C. rallied to beat Columbus, 3-2, and clinch its first playoff spot since 2007. Lewis Neal’s winning goal in stoppage time, as the Crew pressed for the win it needed to stay alive, triggered a frenzied celebration from a crowd that had roared and chanted since the kickoff. Nick DeLeon got the first goal and a sweet left-footed, first-time finish by Marcelo Saragosa – his first of the season – forced the Crew into desperation mode. Hard to believe United could win the conference crown if SKC loses and D.C. beats the Fire. Last week: 8.

8. HOUSTON (14-8-11). Macoumba Kandji stormed through the Philly defense to open the scoring in a 3-1 win that clinched a playoff spot for the 2011 MLS Cup finalist. Though he also blazed a close-range chance over the bar, he supplies a sharp edge that meshes nicely with Brad Davis’ elegance on the ball and Oscar Boniek Garcia’s piercing runs. Those two also scored against the Union as the Dynamo finished the season unbeaten at home (11-0-6). If it can rise higher than fifth and thus host a playoff game, it will be a tough out. Last week: 9.

9. NEW YORK (15-9-9). Yes, the Red Bulls poured some pressure on the SKC defense, but they left a Red Bull Arena MLS-record crowd of 25,139 deeply disappointed at the 0-0 tie. New York heads into its season finale at Philadelphia informed by head coach Hans Backe that troubled Mexican star Rafael Marquez will play on the back line. Pending the result against Philly and the outcome of other games, NYRB can finish second, third, fourth, or fifth. Makes sense: Uncertainty is what this team is all about. Last week: 7.

10. COLUMBUS (14-12-7). Needing a victory at RFK to stay alive, the Crew took a 2-1 halftime lead with goals by Eddie Gaven and Jairo Arrieta before unraveling in the second half of a 3-2 defeat. The midseason arrivals of Arrieta and Federico Higuain revived the attack, and keeper Andy Gruenebaum is destined to lead the league in saves (currently 122), but Chad Marshall has looked shaky since returning from a concussion-induced absence. The Crew will also finish with more points than the playoff-qualified Whitecaps. Last week: 10.

11. MONTREAL (12-15-6). A 0-0 tie with Toronto left the Impact winless (0-2-3) in its last five games. Veteran Marco Di Vaio and rookie Andrew Wenger combined for nine of Montreal’s 17 shots; the emphasis on attack left the back line a bit exposed, and keeper Troy Perkins came up with seven saves to earn his seventh shutout of the season. Last week: 11.

12. VANCOUVER (11-13-9). The ‘Caps reverted to their losing ways in Portland, 1-0, yet still claimed the first MLS place landed by a Canadian team thanks to FCD’s loss in Seattle. Just one win in the last nine games and a wild-card matchup on the road against the Galaxy takes some luster off the accomplishment, but at least head coach Martin Rennie has the option of resting players Saturday at RSL. Last week: 12.

13. PHILADELPHIA (10-16-6). Jack McInerney showed his chops by scoring a difficult goal: backing up to meet a cross from Sheanon Williams and snapping his head to loop the ball over the goalkeeper. But the Union couldn’t do much more than Jack Mac’s fourth goal and lost in Houston, 3-1. The defeat ended a modest two-game winning streak for the Union and dropped John Hackworth’s record as head coach to 8-9-4 heading into the last two games against playoff qualifiers SKC and New York. The Union can still have a say in how the East stacks up. Last week: 13.

14. FC DALLAS (9-13-11). Playoff hopes evaporated in Seattle, where Blas Perez’s ninth goal of the season gave FCD a 1-1 tie heading into the locker room for halftime, but a pair of second-half mistakes led to a 3-1 defeat. A foul in the penalty area by Hernan Pertuz provided the Sounders with their first goal. FCD has won just one of its last six heading into the season finale against Chivas USA. Last week: 14.

15. COLORADO (10-19-4). Goalie Steward Ceus pitched a shutout in his first MLS start as the Rapids took advantage of a weaker opponent to beat Chivas USA, 2-0, for just their third road victory of the season. Martin Rivero and Kamani Hill scored in the first half as the Rapids ended a four-game winless streak. Hill’s goal was his third of the season against Chivas USA and Rivero’s assist gave him the team lead with eight. They at least give Coach Oscar Pareja something to rebuild with. Last week: 15.

16. PORTLAND (8-16-9). The Timbers picked a good time to get their first road win; by beating Vancouver, 1-0, with a 30-yard screamer by Jack Jewsbury, they captured the Cascadia Cup and broke a six-match winless streak. “Captain Jack” is one of many holdovers from the promising 2011 team who struggled in 2012 and anxiously await the arrival of a new head coach, Caleb Porter, in 2013. Last week: 16.

17. NEW ENGLAND (8-17-8). Diego Fagundez smacked home a shot from distance as the Revs closed out their home season (7-4-6) by beating Chicago, 1-0. Indicative of the team’s struggles this season is its 0-2 record against expansion Montreal, against which it ends the season Saturday. Last week: 17.

18. CHIVAS USA (7-18-8). A knee injury sidelined keeper Dan Kennedy, so Tim Melia made his MLS debut in a 2-0 home loss to Colorado. His failure to control a loose ball prompted the sequence by which the Rapids took the lead. Melia finished with four saves and the Chivas USA attack put just two shots on goal. Since beating Portland July 28, Chivas USA has tied three and lost 10. Last week: 18.

19. TORONTO FC (5-20-8). TFC posted its first league shutout since July 14 by carving out a 0-0 tie with Montreal. Keeper Freddy Hall preserved the donut with a pair of sharp saves in stoppage time of TFC’s 13th-straight winless game. This dismal season with the league’s worst record ends Sunday in Columbus. Last week: 19.

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