Rapids hit crunch time, Heaps and Petke square off

[MLS PREVIEW: Week 32]  A matchup of rugged ex-defenders coaching their former teams and the thorny old problem of dealing with one’s bogey opponent headline this weekend’s slate of nine MLS matches of which the most enticing involve bubble teams.

Only three teams -- Toronto FC, D.C. United, and Chivas USA -- have been mathematically eliminated but several more could slip over the precipice by Sunday night, and a few could clinch.

Though both Sunday matches pair up rivals -- the StubHub derby between the Galaxy and Chivas USA (5 p.m. ET, UniMas), and a juicy Vancouver-Portland Cascadia Cup clash (8 p.m. ET, MLS Live) -- the most intriguing storylines frame around teams on the bubble, or in the case of the MLS conference standings, those closest to the red line above which five teams in each conference qualify for the playoffs.

TIGHTLY BUNCHED. With four more games to go, the Galaxy (13-11-6) and Colorado are tied for fourth place in the Western Conference, and hold just a one-point lead over sixth-place San Jose (12-11-8).

The fates of these teams are tightly intertwined. After hosting second-place Seattle (15-8-6, 51 points) Saturday, the Rapids travel midweek for a Wednesday game at San Jose, which sits out this weekend’s action and then doesn’t play again until Oct. 20 at StubHub against the Galaxy. The Quakes are the only Western Conference bubble team that has just three games left.

Colorado can greatly ease the pressure of that Buck Shaw showdown against the Quakes by beating Seattle (10 p.m. ET. NBCSN), but it has accomplished that feat just once in 11 regular-season meetings since the Sounders joined MLS in 2009. Colorado’s lone win came during its 2010 championship season when it pulled out a 1-0 victory at home.

This season the Sounders won, 1-0, at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in April, and the teams tied, 1-1, at CenturyLink Field in July. The head-to-head record stands 8-1-2 in Seattle’s favor, and the Sounders are also the league’s hottest team with five wins and two ties in their last seven games.

Veteran centerback Drew Moor is respectful, but undaunted. Though a hamstring injury has slowed Clint Dempsey’s adaptation to MLS, the Sounders balanced attack includes three eight-goal scorers: Eddie Johnson, Obafemi Martins and Lamar Neagle. Plus speed. Lots of it.

“Seattle’s a very dangerous team,” says Moor, one of few veterans from the 2010 squad still in Colorado. “They really don’t play much different on the road than they do at home. My biggest concern will be keeping E.J. and Martins off the scoresheet. They move off the ball extremely well, they’re fast, they’re strong. And they score a lot of goals on corner kicks and free kicks. They have very good passers and deliverers of the ball.”

Seattle has scored eight goals off set plays this year, not including the Brad Evans penalty kick last weekend in a 1-1 tie with the Red Bulls.

Since taking over Colorado prior to the 2012 season, Coach Oscar Pareja has steadily inculcated a technical, possession style of play. The entire season has been a work-in-progress: injuries swept a fleet of younger players into the starting lineup and many of them have been hard to dislodge. Midseason acquisitions Vicente Sanchez and Gabriel Torres have upgraded the quality and sharpened competition for spots.

This is its toughest test to date: a crucial game against a top team with the end of the season in sight. Not many games at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park have sold out this year, but a full house is expected Saturday, and Moor acknowledges that the fans this season have been at their most boisterous. A win would open up a four-point edge over the Quakes with three games to play.

“We’re going to have our hands full, but we want to make it about us Saturday night,” he says. “It’s a big one for us. If we can get three points that will be a huge step toward the playoffs.”

REVS GO RED. In the Eastern Conference, seventh-place New England (11-11-8, 41 points) heads into a date at Red Bull Arena Saturday (7 p.m., MLS Live) mindful a win doesn’t guarantee anything and a loss would be disastrous even though it trails fifth-place Philadelphia (11-10-9) by just a point.

New York (15-9-7, 52 points) leads the Supporters’ Shield race but has yet to clinch a playoff spot. A victory would attend to that detail, and Revs head coach Jay Heaps acknowledges that colleague Mike Petke has done an excellent job in his first season at the helm.

“I do see Mike Petke and his personality in that team,” says Heaps, a second-year coach whose playing career started in 1999, one year after that of Petke. “I’ve known Mike Petke for many years and I thought he was exactly what that team needed.”

The Heaps approach has worked pretty well, also, yet his young squad – Diego Fagundez, 18, leads the team in goals with 11 and seven of the regulars are 24 or younger – might have to win every remaining game to reach the postseason. The Revolution hasn’t played New York since May 12, when it managed a 1-1 tie at Gillette Stadium, three weeks after suffering a 4-1 spanking at Red Bull Arena.

New England reached four MLS Cups (2002, 2005-07) with Heaps in the lineup, He’s drawing upon that experience.

“We’re learning and getting better but our energy and our attitude have been spot-on for a lot of these games,” he says. “We just haven’t managed the little, tiny nuances you need to take care of. We wanted to be in contention at this point in the season. We didn’t have any illusions about running away with it or having 60 points. This is the time of year that, quite frankly, the best teams I was on as a player, guys showed up.”

FRIDAY TWO-FER. The weekend’s games begin Friday at NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET when another Eastern Conference bubble team, Chicago (11-12-7, 40 points), plays D.C. United, fresh off its Open Cup upset of Real Salt Lake Tuesday. The Fire is in eighth place yet trails the Union by just two points.

The only Eastern Conference team with five games to play, third-place Montreal (13-9-7, 46 points), is at fourth-place Houston (12-10-8, 44 points) in the other Friday match (8:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live). The Dynamo has lost both of this season’s meeting by combined scores of 7-0 yet the Impact is winless in its last three games and would surrender third place by losing.

MLS WEEK 32, Schedule:
Friday, October 4
8 pm ET
D.C. United vs. Chicago, NBCSN
8:30 pm ET
Houston vs. Montreal

Saturday, October 5
7 pm ET
New York vs. New England
7:30 pm ET
Columbus vs. Sporting KC
Philadelphia vs. Toronto FC
9 pm ET
Real Salt Lake vs. FC Dallas
10 pm ET
Colorado vs. Seattle NBCSN

Sunday, October 6
5 pm ET
LA Galaxy vs. Chivas USA UniMas
8 pm ET
Vancouver vs. Portland

Eastern Conference:

52 (31) New York 15-9-7 48/37
48 (30) Sporting KC 14-10-6 43/29
46 (29) Montreal 13-9-7 48/44
44 (30) Houston 12-10-8 38/37
42 (30) Philadelphia 11-10-9 38/39
41 (31) Columbus 12-14-5 40/41
41 (30) New England 11-11-8 42/34
40 (30) Chicago 11-12-7 38/45
26 (31) Toronto FC 5-15-11 29/45
15 (30) D.C. United 3-21-6 20/52

Western Conference:
51 (31) Real Salt Lake 15-10-6 54/39
51 (29) Seattle 15-8-6 39/29
49 (30) Portland 12-5-13 46/31
45 (30) LA Galaxy 13-11-6 46/37
45 (30) Colorado 12-9-9 37/31
44 (31) San Jose 12-11-8 32/41
41 (30) Vancouver 11-11-8 42/39
40 (30) FC Dallas 10-10-10 42/46
26 (31) Chivas USA 6-17-8 29/55
19 Marco Di Vaio (Montreal)
18 Mike Magee (Los Angeles/Chicago)
16 Camilo (Vancouver)
12 Dominic Oduro (Columbus)
12 Robbie Keane (Los Angeles)
11 Federico Higuain (Columbus)
11 Blas Perez (FC Dallas)
11 Diego Fagundez (New England)
10 Conor Casey (Philadelphia)
10 Claudio Bieler (Sporting KC)
10 Alvaro Saborio (Real Salt Lake)
10 Jack McInerney (Philadelphia)

MLS WEEK 33, Schedule:
Wednesday, October 9
8:30 pm ET
Houston vs. Sporting KC
10 pm ET
Seattle vs. Vancouver
10:30 pm ET
San Jose vs. Colorado

Saturday, October 12
2:30 pm ET
Montreal vs. New England
7 pm ET
D.C. United vs. Philadelphia
8:30 pm ET
FC Dallas vs. Chicago

Sunday, October 13
9 pm ET
Portland vs. Seattle ESPN

MLS WEEK 34, Schedule:
Wednesday, October 16
10:30 pm ET
LA Galaxy vs. Montreal

Friday, October 18
8 pm ET
Sporting KC vs. D.C. United NBCSN

Saturday, October 19
2 pm ET
Montreal vs. Philadelphia
3 pm ET
FC Dallas vs. Seattle NBCSN
6 pm ET
Colorado vs. Vancouver
7:30 pm ET
New England vs. Columbus
8:30 pm ET
Chicago vs. Toronto FC
10:30 pm ET
Portland vs. Real Salt Lake

Sunday, October 20
4 pm ET
Houston vs. New York UniMas
9 pm ET
LA Galaxy vs. San Jose ESPN

MLS WEEK 35, Schedule:
Wednesday, October 23
9 pm ET
Real Salt Lake vs. Chivas USA

Saturday, October 26
3 pm ET
Philadelphia vs. Sporting KC NBCSN
4 pm ET
Toronto FC vs. Montreal Univision Dep.
5:30 pm ET
San Jose vs. FC Dallas NBCSN
10:30 pm ET
Chivas USA vs. Portland

Sunday, October 27
1:30 pm ET
D.C. United vs. Houston NBC
4 pm ET
Columbus vs. New England
5 pm ET
New York vs. Chicago UniMas
8 pm ET
Vancouver vs. Colorado
9 pm ET
Seattle vs. LA Galaxy ESPN
1 comment about "Rapids hit crunch time, Heaps and Petke square off".
  1. Tony Biscaia, October 4, 2013 at 8:06 a.m.

    Jay Heaps did NOT play his entire MLS career with the Revs, he was rookie of the year with Miami.

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