10. Montréal Impact – Quietly, the Impact has become one of Major League Soccer’s better clubs lately. Only, the Impact ran up against another of the “better clubs lately” in a weekend loss to the fortified Crew. It’s hard to see a path that would put Jesse Marsch’s side into the playoffs at this point. Not impossible, but quite difficult – especially with just two matches remaining at home.
9. Real Salt Lake – There’s been a little late-summer uptick around Rio Tinto Stadium, after a couple of months where RSL news mostly landed between “Meh” and just plain bad. But the Champions League train got back on its Utah tracks two weeks ago, followed by a useful MLS draw on the road. The chaser was last weeks’ 1-0 win over D.C. United. It was far from perfect, but Jason Kreis and Co. will take it at this point. They play a big one Thursday down in Houston.
8. Houston Dynamo – Dominic Kinnear’s team needs to get hold of things – and his players know so. The last Orange win was Aug. 3 over New York, a full five games back. Success in Champions league is masking some of the league slippage, although the CCL wins do serve as a useful reminder that not everything around BBVA Compass Stadium has hit the skids. The inability to win on the road (last week’s 3-1 loss at Chicago was the latest clunker) is as concerning as the poor, late-season timing of the slide.
7. Chicago Fire – After a Round 25 stinker against D.C. United, the Fire were back on top of things in a 3-1 win at home over Houston. There were good performances all around the park, starting with Sean Johnson in goal, up through center back Arne Friedrich and reserve midfielder Daniel Paladini, on into … well, a lot of the Fire men had big nights. Along those lines, Alvaro Fernandez (pictured above), a summer acquisition from Seattle, is fitting in quite nicely at Toyota Park.
6. Columbus Crew – Mark it down: If Federico Higuain, Jairo Arrieta, Eddie Gaven, Chad Marshall and Andy Greunebaum remain healthy, the Crew will make the playoffs. Book it, I tell ya. In all honesty, they could probably lose one of those (except perhaps the suddenly irreplaceable Higuain) and probably still be OK. Last week’s pair of 2-1 wins (both after trailing) were nothing short of massive. They moved into fifth place and now completely control their playoff destiny. The two closest pursuers, D.C United and Montreal, can no longer say the same.
5. Angeles Galaxy – Scribble this down in your little MLS notebook: much of the Galaxy’s summer rise has been without one of the DP dandies, either Robbie Keane, David Beckham or Landon Donovan. So, the side may not have yet seen its tip-top best just yet. Last weekend’s 2-0 win over Vancouver was the Galaxy’s seventh shutout in 15 games. Bruce Arena’s boys are 10-3-2 in that time, and 12-3-2 in all competitions.
4. Seattle Sounders – I know the box score doesn’t reflect it, but Fredy Montero was an absolute beast in a tough, 1-1 draw down in Dallas. He kept two center backs occupied all by his lonesome. And Montero’s rise lately seems even more critical given the murky circumstances of Eddie Johnson’s curious period of “rest.” The former U.S. international striker was “rested” for last week’s Champions League game and then again for Sunday’s match in Dallas. Man, that sure is an awful lot of rest. Hmmm.
3. New York Red Bulls – It seems that Hans Backe creeps ever closer to the first-choice lineup, which now apparently includes Wilman Conde at left back. (Did you see his game-winner in last week’s 2-2 tie at D.C. United? Heavens!) Most interesting, of course, is that DP Rafa Marquez doesn’t seem to be anywhere near this first-choice starting arrangement. That’s OK … he’s got some kind of injury. Again. But not the same one. Apparently. Or, who knows? (Seriously, guys … most of us figure you’re just making things up at this point. Just say he’s not playing and be done with it.) A nice, long break ends with a Sept. 15 contest against hot, hot, hot Columbus.
2. Sporting Kansas City – A 2-1 win at home over bottom-rung Toronto FC was closer than it seems. Graham Zusi (right) needs to rediscover his playmaking shoes for this team to perform at top rev. (Of course, it would help if Zusi was back regularly into his playmaking spot in midfield rather out wide. But details, details, I suppose.) Jacob Peterson has returned to training, so that might move things along nicely.
1. San Jose Earthquakes – When Ramiro Corrales scores twice (Good on ya, man!) you know things are going just peachy. The Earthquakes set a club record for goals scored in a season, now at 56. (And still seven matches to go!) Meanwhile, that gap between the high-performance, turbo-charged leader and the smaller-engine chase cars just keeps growing. Mathematically, a couple of teams may stay in the Western Conference race for another two or three matches. But realistically the ‘Quakes are about six points, give or take, away from cinching off this puppy.