Monday Postgame: Playoff races tighten in Major League Soccer
Landon Donovan is back, Thierry Henry is back in form, the Chicago Fire are back in a big way and — oh, baby — did the full MLS slate come roaring back after the international break.
There were 10 games, 25 goals, and several high-octane finishes, as the chase for the final playoff berths tightened.
The week’s four most hotly anticipated match-ups all lived up to their billing and, to top it all off, there were a handful of noteworthy late-season signings, as teams tinkered for the postseason push.
There was a down note in a season-ending injury to superstar Dwayne De Rosario, but his team responded with a big win to stay in playoff contention.
Let’s heft the recap, starting in the City of Broad Shoulders.
Firing on All Cylinders
Last week, it was the Columbus Crew, reeling off wins and surging up the Eastern Conference table thanks to the white-hot form of some key players.
HIGHLIGHTS: Chicago blow past Montreal
This week, the league’s mojo shifted two states to the west, as Chicago Fire produced a pair of wins to make it six victories in their past seven outings and move into second place in the MLS Eastern Conference standings.
On Wednesday, Álvaro Fernández nodded in a chip from Pável Pardo in the 13th minute to get Chicago off on the right foot against Toronto FC at BMO Field. Chris Rolfe struck from distance just before halftime, and the Fire held on for a 2-1 victory after Eric Hassli pulled one back for The Reds with 11 minutes to play.
Chicago then followed up Friday’s signing of former Mexican international Guillermo Franco with a 3-1 win over Montreal Impact on Saturday, as Alex struck a golazo, Fernández produced another goal and an assist, and Rolfe bagged an assist.
When Frank Klopas’ men woke up on Sunday morning, they were just one point behind conference leaders Sporting Kansas City, with the recent departures of Sebastián Grazzini and Marco Pappa all but forgotten.
Dazzler in Dallas
Speaking of departures, and forgotten things, remember when Vancouver used to play that silky, entertaining style of soccer, stringing passes together through Davide Chiumiento, Camilo Sanvezzo, and Hassli?
Yeah, that seems like a while ago now. It wasn’t, but it is far removed from the current version of Whitecaps FC, who lead the league in fouls committed, have lost five games in a row and, after Saturday night’s stunner at FC Dallas Stadium, are in danger of dropping out of playoff contention.
GOAL: Julian de Guzman wins it late
Vancouver began the match with a four-point lead over FCD for the fifth and final playoff spot in the West. The teams traded chances in a frenetic final 10 minutes before Dallas won the game in the most dramatic way imaginable.
With the clock ticking down on the sixth minute of stoppage time, Fabián Castillo’s corner kick was looped clear of the box by the Vancouver defence and dropped to Dallas midfielder Julian de Guzman.
The Canadian international took the ball off his chest and lashed a 25-yard volley inside the right post past Brad Knighton. A Goal of the Year contender, de Guzman’s flourish pulled his team to within a point of the playoffs.
Congestion in the East
New York’s Thierry Henry also iced a game with a sensational late goal, bending a stoppage-time corner kick in off the far post against Columbus. Henry had scored the Red Bulls’ first goal and set up their second in a back-and-forth 3-1 win.
GOAL: Henry bangs corner kick off post and in
The result bounced the Crew out of the top five in the East, and put New York in second place for about an hour, until Chicago moved ahead by a point with their win over Montreal.
But all standings in the East are subject to change, as only nine points separate first-place Sporting Kansas City from sixth-place Columbus.
In a hard-fought game on Friday night, Kansas City tied fourth-place Houston Dynamo 1-1, getting a dramatic 93rd-minute header from C.J. Sapong to cancel Brad Davis’s 58th-minute opener.
Rounding out the East’s top five are D.C. United, who shook off the injury to De Rosario to score a 2-1 comeback victory over New England Revolution on Saturday night.
Matters are a little more settled in the West, where San Jose - who added 2008 Hermann Trophy winner Marcus Tracy to their roster last week - took an eight-point lead on second-place Seattle Sounders FC with a 2-0 win at Chivas USA.
HIGHLIGHTS: Chivas no match for San Jose
The last-place Goats were unhappy with a delayed penalty call that went against them just before halftime - resulting in Chris Wondolowski’s league-leading 19th goal of the season - but there was nothing controversial about Alan Gordon’s goal that made it 2-0 in the 49th minute.
In a clockwork team move, Justin Morrow blazed down the left and sent in a cross that Mehdi Ballouchy dummied to Wondolowski, who laid it off for Gordon, who stroked it first time past Dan Kennedy from the top of the box.
Trailing the Quakes by 10 points are third-place LA Galaxy, who blanked Colorado Rapids 2-0 on Friday to move past idle Real Salt Lake on goals scored (both clubs are 14W-11L-4D).
The Galaxy’s Robbie Keane pocketed his ninth goal in his past 14 games (assisted by Landon Donovan, back from injury after nearly a month on the sideline), and new signing Christian Wilhelmsson scored in his LA debut, his 20-yard shot squeaking through Colorado goalkeeper Matt Pickens’ grasp.
One day after signing former United States international goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann, Seattle missed an opportunity to keep pace with the first-place Quakes, surrendering a 1-0 lead at JELD-WEN Field in a passionate Cascadia Cup match broadcast on NBC.
HIGHLIGHTS: All even in Cascadia clash
Fredy Montero opened the scoring in the 57th minute, firing a lightning-quick volley over Portland Timbers back-up goalkeeper Joe Bendik, who had just entered the game in place of the injured Donovan Ricketts.
Much to the delight of the sell-out crowd, Timbers defender Rodney Wallace equalized for Portland, heading home Jack Jewsbury’s corner kick in the 78th minute.
The Timbers’ Bright Dike clanged the post in stoppage time, but the game ended 1-1, leaving the Cascadia Cup standings up in the air until the final month of the season, when Portland, Vancouver, and Seattle all meet each other one more time to decide regional bragging rights.
The week’s remaining match also featured a late equalizer, as Philadelphia’s Sheanon Williams scored in the 85th minute to lift his side to a 1-1 draw with Toronto FC.