With one week to go, the playoff picture is nearly set, but it’s looking a little Jackson Pollack at the moment.
While nine of the 10 berths are filled, there are four teams still alive for the final spot and a dizzying array of possibilities for the final seeding. Four sides are battling for first place in the Eastern Conference, and third place in the West - along with the automatic quarterfinal bid that accompanies it - is still up for grabs.
But what a week it was that got us to this point! There were fierce controversies, last-minute thrills, historic moments and some PhD-level permutations involved, as six teams clinched postseason places.
Fire In a Hole
Chicago Fire kicked off the week on a hugely disappointing note this past Wednesday, losing 2-1 at home to FC Dallas, a team that hadn’t won - or scored - in four straight matches.
The defeat left Chicago six points out of the playoffs with two games to play.
Their next match was against fellow playoff hopefuls D.C. United, who had lost three straight and were coming off a similarly deflating loss, falling 2-1 to last-place Vancouver Whitecaps FC in a game they desperately needed. (Vancouver’s Long Tan made history in that match, becoming the first Chinese-born player ever to score in MLS.)
With a win over D.C., Chicago could keep their slim playoff hopes alive and overtake United in the postseason chase.
But after Dwayne De Rosario converted a debatable 90th-minute penalty call on defender Gonzalo Segares, the Fire were staring elimination in the face.
While Segares could have griped about the soft penalty decision, with only three minutes of stoppage time remaining, he decided to spend his energy more productively. In the second minute of added time, he laid the ball back to Sebastián Grazzini, who deposited a beautifully taken volley into the back of the D.C. net to make it 1-1.
It was a thrilling moment - but not enough: A tie would be as useless as a loss for Chicago.
Roger that, said Segares. One minute later, the Costa Rican took off from a deep-lying position to beat the D.C. offside trap - and he did beat it - and chased a ball over the top from Orr Barouch. He caught up to it at the endline, slid and cut it back for Diego Chaves. The Uruguayan slid past Perry Kitchen to stuff the ball into an open net for an astonishing victory.
It may have been the most electrifying finish of the season, even if the Fire still face long odds to make the postseason.
Chicago’s thriller left them with 40 points, three behind New York in the 10th and final playoff spot after the Red Bulls fell 2-0 at Sporting Kansas City on Saturday afternoon.
That game hinged on a 27th-minute red card shown to New York’s leading scorer, Thierry Henry, for clattering over Sporting’s Roger Espinoza, while the Honduran was on the ground.
Henry insisted he had stumbled innocently over the player, catching him with a knee, but match referee Kevin Stott saw otherwise - and did not hesitate to send the Frenchman to an early shower. Short-handed, New York could not hold off the home side, and Teal Bunbury and Rookie of the Year frontrunner C.J. Sapong eventually found the net.
New York’s loss put Philadelphia Union, which tied Toronto FC 1-1 at PPL Park on Saturday, into the postseason. Sébastien Le Toux scored the Union’s goal, his 10th goal in his past 11 games.
The Union and New York, minus Henry, will square off in the season finale for both teams on Thursday night at Red Bull Arena. If the Red Bulls win, they’re in the playoffs.
Celebration in Seattle
Seattle’s postseason position is secure, but they still took care of some important business on Saturday, which marked Kasey Keller’s final regular-season home game at CenturyLink Field. The United States legend drew a club-record 64,140 fans to his retirement party - the third-largest stand-alone crowd in league history - and the game lived up to the momentous atmosphere those fans created.
San Jose Earthquakes, who are out of playoff contention, took an early lead on Chris Wondolowski’s league-leading 15th goal of the season. The Quakes nearly made it 2-0 in the 64th minute, after Seattle defender Patrick Ianni misplayed a backpass to Keller, setting off a haywire sequence in which San Jose got off four shots on Keller - who turned them all aside in a brilliant flourish.
Seattle brought on Mauro Rosales for his first appearance since injuring his knee in mid-September, and he sparked the team, which netted two goals in the last eight minutes for a thrilling comeback win.
Of course, despite all the pomp and circumstance, Keller is not done yet. He still has the MLS Cup Playoffs for a chance to put a real storybook ending on his remarkable career.
Two teams likely to be standing in Seattle’s way come the postseason, Colorado Rapids and Real Salt Lake, squared off in a Rocky Mountain Cup decider at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on Friday night.
Real Salt Lake were missing Kyle Beckerman and Will Johnson, and it showed as they struggled to generate chances, didn’t put a single shot on goal, and committed 24 fouls while drawing four yellow cards.
Colorado produced a number of chances but only two shots on goal, and the game ended - you guessed it - in a scoreless draw, delivering the Rocky Mountain Cup to RSL for the fifth year in a row.
Salt Lake were already in the playoffs, but now find themselves deadlocked on 52 points with FC Dallas (but holding the tiebreaker). Colorado clinched a playoff spot following New York’s 2-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City.
Portland Timbers and Houston Dynamo played a similarly scrappy match at JELD-WEN Field the same night, totaling 30 fouls and two yellows in the Dynamo’s 2-0 win. That game was also tinged with controversy after Houston midfielder Danny Cruz flattened former teammate Mike Chabala, and escaped with a yellow card - then went on to hit the decisive second goal, a 30-yard screamer into the top corner in the 59th minute.
Houston strengthened their playoff bid with the win, but had to wait until Columbus Crew's 3-0 pasting of New England Revolution before they officially clinched a postseason berth.
Home and Away
In the week’s other two matches, Brek Shea produced a goal and an assist to lead FC Dallas to a 2-0 win over Vancouver, and Chad Barrett headed in the game’s only goal to lift LA Galaxy over arch-rivals Chivas USA.
Dallas’ win ensured Whitecaps FC became just the fourth team in league history to go winless on the road for an entire season, while LA’s win ensured that the Galaxy became just the third team go unbeaten at home for the season.