Western Conference Timeline: Gaps are razor-thin

Decision Day would determine if Sporting Kansas City, which for a time led the league in standings points-per-game, would fall out of the playoff altogether, or misfortune would claim Cascadia Cup rivals Seattle or Portland in the Western Conference.

MLS moved the Chicago-Red Bulls game to jibe with the Western finales so Supporters’ Shield contestant FC Dallas would play its game against San Jose at the same time. The Quakes had hopes of snagging a playoff berth at the expense of several teams, not just sixth-place Sporting Kansas City, which had stumbled at home Wednesday against Colorado, 2-0, and though at home, was hosting the Galaxy.

All the games kicked off at 7:18 Eastern time with the standings looking like this:

1. FC Dallas 57 points, clinched conference title.
2. LA Galaxy 51 pts., clinched playoff spot.
3. Vancouver 50 pts., clinched playoff spot.
4. Portland 50 pts., clinches with win or tie.
5. Seattle 48 pts., clinches with win.
6. Sporting KC 48 pts., clinches with win.
7. San Jose 47 pts., needs at least one point and some help. 

CLINT ON THE BOARD. The Sounders take a 1-0 lead on Real Salt Lake with a Clint Dempsey goal officially credited in the fifth minute. Two home losses at home last week had eliminated RSL and Seattle exploits a sluggish start by the visitor.

PORTLAND POUNCES. The Timbers had greatly improved their playoff prospects by hammering the Galaxy, 5-2, last weekend at StubHub Center, and any fears of a hangover dissipate at Providence Park when Darlington Nagbe strikes home a sweet free kick against Colorado in the sixth minute.

PAPPA PUNISHES RSL. Seattle is rolling. Dempsey plays a ball to Marco Pappa, who unleashes a left-footed shot that skips inside the far post. Ten minutes into the match, Seattle looks confident.

BWP ON TARGET. The Red Bulls take a 1-0 lead at Chicago on Bradley Wright-Phillips 17th goal in the eighth minute, and move three points ahead of FCD in the Shield duel. Will this affect the approach of head coach Oscar Pareja, since FCD started the day six goals behind NYRB in the second tiebreaker, goal difference?

QUINCY LIFTS QUAKES. Maybe this will alter Pareja’s mindset, or that of SKC head coach Peter Vermes, whose team is locked in a 0-0 tie with the Galaxy: Quincy Amarikwa bulldozes through Matt Hedges to steer a low, left-footer into the net in the 13th minute. The Quakes move past SKC into sixth place.

RAPIDS REPLY. At nearly the same moment, Colorado gets on the board. Dominique Badji ties the game on a deflected shot, which locks up the three Cascadia Cup teams at 51 points but doesn’t alter the scenario for San Jose (50) and SKC (49).

DEUCED. Dempsey scores again and Seattle is all but assured of a playoff spot. Which one is very much up in the air: Vancouver is tied, 0-0, with Houston and Portland is also deadlocked.

NAGBE NOTCHES ANOTHER. Known for his speed and slick feet, Nagbe’s aerial prowess is moderate at best. Yet he gets enough noggin on a fine Lucas Melano cross to loop a shot home in the 33rd minute to restore the lead and ramp up the noise.

RED BULLS REDUX. It’s a 2-0 lead for the Red Bulls after a Sacha Kljestan penalty kick in the 35th minute and so FCD’s fate is just about set.

MAURO SCORES FROM A MELEE. Yet Pareja’s men all season have found inspiration from within, not external factors, and in the 38th minute Fabian Castillo blows past his marker to center a ball that pings off a foot. Mauro Diaz corrals it and scores.

CONTROVERSY IN K.C. At about the same time, struggling SKC gets a break. Off a throw-in, Chance Myers drills a low shot that bounces off Kevin Ellis, in an offside position, and then caroms off Galaxy keeper Donovan Ricketts. Ellis knocks home the loose ball, the Galaxy defenders protest, but the goal stands. SKC joins the Cascadia Cup teams on 51 points and San Jose is back down to seventh place with 48.

KEANE AS YOU LIKE. Well, that didn’t last long. Just before halftime at Sporting Park, Robbie Keane dinks his 20th goal of the season over Tim Melia and SKC goes into the locker room the same way it started the game, with a one-point edge on San Jose:

HALFTIME. 1. FCD 58 pts., 2. Portland 53, 3. Galaxy 52, 4. Seattle* 51, 5. Vancouver 51, 6. SKC 49, 7. San Jose 48. (At this point, the Sounders are fourth on goal difference.)

There’s no question which of the conferences has provided more entertainment on Decision Day. Only four goals were scored in the first halves of the four early Eastern games; the five Western games have produced 10 at the break.

Unfortunately, ESPN isn't nearly as quick cutting from the SKC-Galaxy game to show goals of the other matches; Fox Sports 1 had fewer instances to leave Columbus-D.C. in the earlier block of Eastern Conference games yet did so in short order.

‘CAPS GET OFF THE MARK. No goals at halftime at B.C. Place, though Cristian Techera had drilled a shot off the underside of the crossbar that came down on the goal line and bounced clear. The fans wait nearly 15 more minutes before Kekuta Manneh finds space near the top of the penalty arc to fire a low shot into the net. Just like that, the ‘Caps are second and because of tiebreakers only the Galaxy has a realistic chance to catch them.

BENNY TO THE RESCUE. Vermes elected to start the match with midfielder Benny Feilhaber on the bench, perhaps mindful of a likely knockout-round game in midweek should SKC advance. Feilhaber’s entry for the second half energizes SKC, and with a few slick touches and body swerves, he makes just enough room to slip a ball through a sliver of space to Dom Dwyer, who smacks a left-footer off Ricketts and into the net. SKC’s lead over San Jose is back to three points.

CASCADIANS CLOSE IT OUT. Vancouver and Portland add to their leads, so unless the Galaxy can turn things around against SKC, it can’t finish higher than fourth.

QUAKES CRUMBLE. Midfielder Matias Perez Garcia is sent off midway through the second half for taking a swing at an opponent, and FC Dallas cashes in 10 minutes later. Victor Ulloa steals the ball, swaps passes with Castillo, and drills a low shot just inside the near post. FCD winds up tied with the Red Bulls for the overall lead (60 points) and on the goal-difference tiebreaker NYRB wins its second Supporters’ Shield in three years. FCD sets a team record with 18 wins.

FULLTIME. 1. FC Dallas 60 pts., 2. Vancouver 53 pts., 3. Portland 53 pts., 4. Seattle 51 pts., 5. Galaxy  51 pts., 6. Sporting KC 51 pts., 7. San Jose 48 pts.

Vancouver edges Portland on the first tiebreaker, more wins. Seattle takes fourth on total wins over the Galaxy, which edges SKC on goal difference.

Decision Day ends with a lot of swings and dips if not many surprises. Parity has its perils, but with five of six Western playoff slots decided on tiebreakers, the gaps between some teams are paper-thin.

MLS Results, Week 34:
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 25
Chicago 1 NY Red Bulls 2.
NY: Bradley Wright-Phillips (Sal Zizzo, Sacha Kljestan) 8
NY: Sacha Kljestan pen. 35
CHI: Gilberto (Patrick Nyarko, Patrick Doody) 78
Att.: 19,850.

FC Dallas 2 San Jose 1.
SJ: Quincy Amarikwa 6 (Chris Wondolowski, Fatai Alashe) 13
DAL: Mauro Diaz 38
DAL: Victor Ulloa (Fabian Castillo) 79.
Att.: 16,937.

Portland 4 Colorado 1.
POR: Darlington Nagbe 5
COL: Dominique Badji 13
POR: Darlington Nagbe (Lucas Melano) 33
POR: Jorge Villafana (Darlington Nagbe, Rodney Wallace), 63
POR: Fanendo Adi (Dairon Asprilla, George Fochive), 88
Att.: 21,144.

Sporting KC 2 LA Galaxy 1.
SKC: Kevin Ellis 38
LA: Ronnie Keane (Giovani dos Santos) 45+
SKC: Dom Dwyer 12 (Benny Feilhaber, Soni Mustivar) 65
Att.: 19,422.

Seattle 3 Real Salt Lake 1.
SEA: Clint Dempsey (Obafemi Martins, Leo Gonzalez) 5
SEA: Marco Pappa (Clint Dempsey) 10
SEA: Clint Dempsey 20
RSL: Luis Gil (Tony Beltran, Javier Morales) 77
Att.: 55,435.

Vancouver 3 Houston 0.
VAN: Kekuta Manneh (Gershon Koffie, Matias Laba) 59
VAN: Kendall Waston (Cristian Techera) 72
VAN: Robert Earnshaw (Mauro Rosales) 90+3
Att.: 21,000.

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 21
Sporting KC 0 Colorado 2.
COL: Dillon Powers (Juan Ramirez, Kevin Doyle) 78
COL: Marcelo Sarvas (Juan Ramirez) 86
Red Card:
COL: Sam Cronin 84.
Att.: 18,897.

Final MLS Standings:
EASTERN CONFERENCE

PTS (GP) TEAM W-L-T GF/GA

60 (34) *NY Red Bulls 18-10-6 62/43
53 (34) *Crew SC 15-11-8 58/53
51 (34) *Montreal 15-13-6 48/44
51 (34) *D.C. United 15-13-6 43/45
50 (34) *New England 14-12-8 48/47
49 (34) *Toronto FC 15-15-4 58/58
--------------------------------------
44 (34) Orlando City 12-14-8 46/56
37 (34) New York City 10-17-7 49/58
37 (34) Philadelphia 10-17-7 42/55
30 (34) Chicago 8-20-6 43/58
*Clinched playoff berth.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

PTS (GP) TEAM W-L-T GF/GA
60 (34) *FC Dallas 18-10-6 52/39
53 (34) *Vancouver 16-13-5 45/36
53 (34) Portland 15-11-8 41/39
51 (34) Seattle 15-13-6 44/36
51 (34) *LA Galaxy 14-11-9 56/46
51 (34) Sporting KC 14-11-9 48/45
--------------------------------------
47 (34) San Jose 13-13-8 41/39
42 (34) Houston 11-14-9 42/49
41 (34) Real Salt Lake 11-15-8 38/48
37 (34) Colorado 9-15-10 33/43

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