Philly needs win desperately; pressure shifts to 'Caps

[MLS: Three Games to Watch] The Philadelphia Union desperately needs a victory against the Crew to stay in the chase, as does Vancouver when it hops across the border to play Northwest rival Seattle Friday. The Eastern playoff dogfight resumes with each of the five intraconference games jumbling the postseason puzzle. Portland’s 3-0 defeat of San Jose returned the Timbers to fifth place in the Western Conference, two points ahead of Vancouver.

MLS SCHEDULE, Week 31:
Friday, October 10
8:30 p.m. ET
Sporting KC vs. Chicago
10 p.m. ET
Seattle vs. Vancouver, NBCSN
Saturday, October 11
4 p.m. ET
Montreal vs. New England
7 p.m. ET
Philadelphia vs. Columbus
New York vs. Toronto FC
9:30 p.m. ET
Real Salt Lake vs. San Jose
10:30 p.m. ET
Chivas USA vs. Colorado
Sunday, October 12
3 p.m. ET
Houston vs. D.C. United, UniMas
7 p.m. ET
FC Dallas vs. LA Galaxy, ESPN2, WatchESPN, ESPN Deportes

ANOTHER CASCADIA CLASSIC? The Sounders will capture the tri-team Cascadia Cup by winning or tying their game with Vancouver Friday (10 p.m., NBCSN), and the ‘Caps desperately need at least a point in their duel with the Timbers for a playoff spot.

Vancouver trails Portland by two points and after this weekend each team has just two remaining matches: the ‘Caps play at San Jose and then host Colorado; the Timbers are at home against Real Salt Lake and finish up at Colorado. Portland holds an 11-10 lead in the first tiebreaker, most victories.

Nearly a year ago to the day, Vancouver drilled the Sounders, 4-1, at CenturyLink Field behind a scintillating Kekuta Manneh hat trick. In two meetings this season at B.C. Place, the ‘Caps posted a 1-0 victory in early July, and on May 24 they outshot Seattle, 24-8, yet were caught by a late penalty kick to wind up tied, 2-2.

Manneh threatened the Sounders goal several times in the last meeting, and a spectacular 30-yard blast by Sebastian Fernandez turned out to be the only goal of an open game. The teams equally shared the 26 total shots and possession percentage was nearly even as well (51-49 in favor of Seattle).

Fernandez then struggled through a long goalless drought -- 14 games to be exact -- but regained the scoring groove last weekend by netting both goals in a 2-0 defeat of FC Dallas that temporarily returned the ‘Caps to fifth place. Both goals were setup by ex-Sounder Mauro Rosales, who was traded during the winter to Chivas USA, which sent him to the Whitecaps in August.

Since the latest move, Rosales has started seven games and chalked up three assists for the ‘Caps. His addition has opened up space for Pedro Morales and significantly upgraded Vancouver’s ability to keep the ball and probe for openings. The match Friday will also be a homecoming of sorts; he’s not played in Seattle since the team traded him.

Seattle rolls into the game after slamming Colorado, 4-1, last weekend for its sixth win in the last eight games. The ‘Caps upgraded possession game is all well and good, but they will be severely stretched trying to contain Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey, who have combined for 31 goals and 19 assists this season and shared three goals between them against the Rapids. Their interchanging runs and slick touches have carved up numerous teams since Dempsey returned from World Cup duty.

The magnitude of the game could produce a tight, conservative match, but both of these teams thrive on their attacking players. Vancouver is the stingier of the two teams -- 40 goals allowed compared to the Sounders’ 47 -- and head coach Carl Robinson was very proud of his team’s shutout of FCD. It is tied for the league lead in blankings with 10.

PHILLY NEEDS FOCUS. So tight are the Eastern standings that eighth-place Philadelphia and fifth-place Columbus, who square off Saturday (7 p.m. ET, MLS Live/Direct Kick) at PPL Park, could both make the playoffs or miss out entirely. Since the Union trail Columbus by four points, if it loses its only hope would be to catch New York.

There’s no more wiggle room for Philly, which threw away a victory last week against Chicago when keeper Rais Mbolhi scuffed a ball right to Robert Earnshaw, who then exacerbated the Algerian’s humiliation by chipping over him a stoppage-time equalizer. The crushing blow came just minutes after midfielder Amobi Okugo had darted forth from midfield to bang home a Danny Cruz cross that had bounced off Brian Brown into his path. Okugo also blocked  a goalbound shot and nearly won it very late with a header that was saved.

A 2-1 loss at New England last weekend slowed down the Crew’s playoff surge, yet it has won five of the last eight and won the first meeting between the teams, 2-1, way back in March. Houston's defeat of Toronto tied the Union with 39 points and though the Dynamo's next match is against conference leader D.C. United on Sunday, it is at BBVA Compass Stadium.

LD EXPECTED IN BIG ‘D.’ The weekend’s action concludes Sunday night when the Galaxy visits FC Dallas (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2), with Landon Donovan scheduled to arrive in plenty of time after representing the USA for the last time Friday against Ecuador. Not present will be Robbie Keane, summoned by Ireland for a pair of Euro 2016 qualifiers. Not clear is whether defender Omar Gonzalez will stay with the USA to face Honduras Tuesday or accompany Donovan to Dallas.

FCD has lost four of its last six, including a 2-0 defeat last weekend at Vancouver, yet is just a point behind third-place Real Salt Lake. It lost to the Galaxy, 2-1, at StubHub Center three weeks ago. A Blas Perez header from an Andres Escobar cross in the 54th minute provided a 1-0 lead, but Galaxy subs Stefan Ishizaki and Alan Gordon reversed the momentum. Keane equalized after Gyasi Zardes had stolen the ball from Victor Ulloa, and then hit a cross that Gordon headed home for the winner.

Gordon netted the final goal with a long-range blast last week in a 3-0 thumping of Toronto that extended the Galaxy’s unbeaten streak to 10 games. Since being acquired in a trade from San Jose, Gordon has logged five goals and one assist in 11 games. Zardes is second on the team with 16 goals; he scored one and assisted on the other when the Galaxy beat FCD, 2-1, back in May.

MLS RESULTS, Week 31:
Wednesday, October 8
Toronto FC 0 Houston 1.
HOU: Giles Barnes (Kofi Sarkodie) 35
Red Card: HOU -- A.J. Cochran 55.
Att.: 18,269.

Portland 3 San Jose 0.
POR: Rodney Wallace (Darlington Nagbe) 41
POR: Diego Valeri pen. 51
POR: Diego Valeri 73
Att.: 20,814

MLS Standings:
EASTERN CONFERENCE

PTS (GP) TEAM W-L-T GF/GA
52 (31) *D.C. United 15-9-7 46/34
48
(31) New England 15-13-3 46/43
46 (31) Sporting KC
13-11-7 45/37
44 (31) New York 11-9-11 49/46
43
(31) Columbus 11-10-10 44/38
---------------------------------------
40 (31) Toronto FC 11-12-7 42/49
39 (31) Houston 11-14-6 36/51
39
(31) Philadelphia 9-10-12 46/45
33 (31) x-Chicago 5-8-18 38/46
25 (31) x-Montreal 6-18-7 34/54

WESTERN CONFERENCE
PTS (GP) TEAM W-L-T GF/GA
60 (31) *LA Galaxy 17-5-9 66/31
60
(31) *Seattle 19-9-3 61/47
49 (31) Real Salt Lake 13-8-10 50/39
48 (31) FC Dallas 14-11-6 52/42
45
(32) Portland 11-9-12 59/52
-----------------------------------------
43 (31) Vancouver 10-8-13 40/40
32 (31) x-Colorado 8-15-8 42/58
29 (31) x-San Jose 6-14-11 35/47
27 (31) x-Chivas USA 7-18-6 26/58
*Clinched playoff berth.
x-Eliminated from playoffs.
------------------------------------------------
MLS: Leading Scorers
G PLAYER, TEAM
24 Bradley Wright-Phillips, New York
20 Dom Dwyer, Sporting KC
19 Robbie Keane
, LA Galaxy
17 Obafemi Martins
, Seattle
16 Gyasi Zardes, LA Galaxy
15 Erick Torres, Chivas USA
14 Clint Dempsey, Seattle
14 Lee Nguyen, New England
14 Chris Wondolowski
, San Jose
13 Joao Plata, Real Salt Lake

MLS SCHEDULE, Week 32:
Thursday, October 16
8 p.m. ET
Houston vs. New England, ESPN2, WatchESPN, ESPN Deportes
Friday, October 17
10 p.m. ET
Portland vs. Real Salt Lake, NBCSN
Saturday, October 18
2 p.m. ET
Toronto FC vs. Montreal, UDN
3 p.m. ET
Colorado vs. FC Dallas, NBCSN
7 p.m. ET
D.C. United vs. Chicago
Philadelphia vs. Sporting KC
10:30 p.m. ET
San Jose vs. Vancouver
Sunday, October 19
3 p.m. ET
New York vs. Columbus, UniMas
8:30 p.m. ET
LA Galaxy vs. Seattle, ESPN, WatchESPN, ESPN Deportes

MLS SCHEDULE, Week 33:
Wednesday, October 22
9:30 p.m. ET
Real Salt Lake vs. Chivas USA
Friday, October 24
8 p.m. ET
Chicago vs. Houston
Saturday, October 25
2:30 p.m. ET
Seattle vs. LA Galaxy, NBC
4 p.m. ET
Montreal vs. D.C. United
7:30 p.m. ET
New England vs. Toronto FC
8:30 p.m. ET
FC Dallas vs. Portland
10 p.m. ET
Vancouver vs. Colorado, UDN
Sunday, October 26
3 p.m. ET
Chivas USA vs. San Jose
4 p.m. ET
Columbus vs. Philadelphia, UniMas
8:30 p.m. ET
Sporting KC vs. New York, ESPN, WatchESPN, ESPN Deportes
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