Monday Postgame: Playoff picture coming into focus in Major League Soccer
If they’d stuffed any more action into Week 21, you’d have to put a knee on top of it to get the thing zipped shut.
There were 40 goals (several of them spectacular), five red cards and, despite the scoring deluge, some sensational goalkeeping.
A handful of young players made splashes, two veterans produced virtuoso performances, and two teams saw their league-leading unbeaten streaks halted in dramatic fashion.
There were also three CONCACAF Champions League games (MLS went three-for-three), and the first round of national-team call-ups from new United States national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann (MLS got nine).
Let’s see if we can squeeze it all in.
All Good Things…
It’s hard to believe now, but Sporting Kansas City were 1W-6L-3D as recently as June 9, when they stumbled to the end of their 10-game, season-opening road trip.
That was also the day they opened their sensational new stadium, LIVESTRONG Sporting Park, and everything changed: Peter Vermes’ men rescued their playoff hopes, launching an unbeaten run that stretched to 14 games with this past Wednesday’s impressive 2-0 win over Real Salt Lake.
(Well, almost everything changed: One holdover from the season’s rocky start is the club’s penchant for drawing red cards. Kansas City players saw red in games in March, April - twice - and June, while struggling through their monster road trip. This week, SKC played two games and picked up two more reds.)
On Saturday, SKC were minutes away from extending their streak to 15 and vaulting into a tie for second in the East with Philadelphia Union. But as the game clock neared 90, Seattle Sounders FC midfielder Mauro Rosales appeared - hands on hips, cape flapping in the wind - to score a goal and set up Lamar Neagle for another to deliver an improbable, thrilling win for the visitors.
The LA Galaxy saw their unbeaten streak stopped at 14 as well when they were blanked 3-0 by Portland Timbers at JELD-WEN Field on Wednesday.
Three days later, Portland went on to tie San Jose 1-1 on Kenny Cooper’s first goal since April, while first-place LA rebounded to clip FC Dallas in a Western Conference showdown. David Beckham had two assists, as LA recovered from Hoops winger Marvin Chávez’s lightning-strike, ninth-minute opener, getting goals from Omar Gonzalez, Juninho, and Mike Magee to win 3-1.
Despite the loss, FC Dallas remain very much in contention for the playoffs and the Supporters’ Shield. Their Western Conference brethren, the defending MLS Cup champion Colorado Rapids, are 11 points off the pace for the Shield, but if the playoffs started today, the Rapids - who have won four of their last six - would be in as a wildcard. That would suit them just fine - they came from back in the pack to win it all last year.
Colorado’s current hot streak has been fueled by their new strike duo of Sanna Nyassi and Omar Cummings, who teamed up for the second goal in a 2-0 win over Columbus Crew on Friday night. Winger Brian Mullan opened the scoring with a sizzling strike into the top corner 10 minutes after halftime, and goalkeeper Matt Pickens made a huge save on Andrés Mendoza in the 74th minute to preserve the lead.
While the Western Conference leaders firmed up their playoff prospects, the defending regular-season champs in the Eastern Conference, New York Red Bulls, saw theirs downgraded from probable to questionable after a 3-0 shellacking at Rio Tinto Stadium. It was the second straight lopsided loss in the West for New York (after a 4-1 defeat to Colorado in Week 19), and kept them winless in their last five.
If the decline in form weren’t bad enough, the Red Bulls lost midfielder Jan Gunnar Solli and goalkeeper Frank Rost to quadriceps injuries during the game.
The Red Bulls remain in the playoff picture, but they are starting to feel the heat from teams below them in the East, including Houston Dynamo, who are just two points behind and have a game in hand, and D.C. United, who got three goals from former Red Bull Dwayne De Rosario to salvage a wild, controversial 3-3 draw against Toronto FC on Saturday.
Both D.C. keeper Bill Hamid - who received his first national-team call-up on Thursday - and coach Ben Olsen were sent off in the back-and-forth affair. Hamid plowed into Eric Avila in the seventh minute, and Olsen vehemently protested Toronto’s second goal, scored in the 69th, while D.C. were making a substitution and play wasn’t stopped properly. The result left D.C. at 6W-6L-9D, just three points behind New York (6W-6L-12D).
Making his case for the MLS Player of the Week award alongside DeRo was Vancouver Designated Player Eric Hassli, who bagged his ninth and 10th goals of the year, along with his first assist, to lead the always-entertaining Whitecaps FC to a 4-2 demolition of revamped Chicago Fire, who saw their playoff hopes dim further, as they fell to 2W-7L-13D.
Stealing the Show
This was a week in which major signings such as Pável Pardo, Sebastián Grazzini (Chicago), Carlo Costly (Houston), and Milton Caraglio (New England) made their MLS debuts. And while Pardo scored a crucial equalizer in his first MLS game, lifting the Fire into a 1-1 tie with Philadelphia this past Wednesday, and the others showed flashes of quality, none of those veterans matched the debut of 16-year-old Diego Fagundez in New England.
The homegrown Revolution product, who recently finished his freshman year of high school, came into the game in the 66th minute, with New England trailing Chivas USA 2-0. Two minutes later, he drew a penalty kick that Shalrie Joseph buried. With four minutes remaining, after Chivas had gone up 3-1, Fagundez gave New England a chance, scoring his first MLS goal to make it 3-2.
(Alejandro Moreno scored two goals for Chivas, and Dan Kennedy made two terrific saves to preserve the Goats’ win.)
Fagundez wasn’t alone in the youthful heroics: RSL’s 17-year-old midfielder Luis Gil scored his first MLS goal, blasting a 25-yarder past New York’s Frank Rost, and Philadelphia’s Jack McInerney, who turned 19 on Friday, celebrated the occasion with a goal and a solid performance in Philadelphia’s 1-1 tie with Houston on Saturday.
Orr Barouch, 19, scored an 80th-minute consolation goal in Chicago’s 4-2 loss at Vancouver, and 19-year-old Gershon Koffie scored Whitecaps FC's second goal in that game.
Finally, while last week’s results favored both the Eastern Conference teams and visiting teams, those outcomes were reversed in Week 21, as the West went 5W-1L against the East and home teams were 6W-2L-4D.