10. FC Dallas – Talk about hanging on in the playoff race by your chinny-chin-chin. That’s FC Dallas, which got out-muscled in the end of that crazy 3-3 weekend draw with San Jose. Brave and worthy as it was, a result against the league’s best won’t mean a thing of David Ferreira and Co. cannot take all three points this week at the league’s worst, Chivas USA. Rookie center back Matt Hedges (pictured) rose to the challenge in George John’s absence last week.
9. Houston Dynamo – Dominic Kinnear’s crew had three matches at home down the stretch and desperately needed to maximize points against three teams already out of it for 2012. So, one down and two to go. But it wasn’t as smooth as all that, as the goals came late and even later in a 2-0 win over New England. There’s still something not quite right about Houston at the moment.
8. D.C. United – This site points out that United needs four points from its next two matches reach the playoffs (for the first time since 2007). Can they get there? Things look good, as the loss of talisman Dwayne De Rosario has hardly proved to be the crusher it could have been. Ben Olsen’s club posted close wins over New England, Philadelphia and Chivas USA lately and a managed a 1-1 draw on the road at Portland, which is playing better lately. A betting man might reckon that Columbus, not D.C. United, will be the odd man out of this playoff debate.
7. Real Salt Lake – Is Real Salt Lake rising at just the right time? Fabian Espindola was a creative monster in a showy 4-0 win over Chivas USA. Alvaro Saborio did his share of damage with a hat trick. On the one hand, it was Chivas USA, easily the league’s worst side at the moment. On the other, RSL is 5-1-1 across two competitions lately, and that’s not bad. Nat Borchers is not getting a lot of mentions in 2012, but the veteran center back is still performing at a high level.
6. Chicago Fire – How big does that game in hand look in the MLS Eastern Conference standings? It certainly helps take some of the bitter sting from last weeks’ 2-0 loss to conference-leading Kansas City. Beyond the standings and playoffs and such, the organization celebrates its 15th anniversary Wednesday. What better way to celebrate than with a win over Philadelphia that scoots the boys from Bridgeview right back up the backside of first-place KC?
5. New York Red Bulls – I got some heck for referring to Thierry Henry as “King Henry” after last week’s commanding performance, with a goal and three assists in the 4-1 result over beleaguered Toronto FC. But you know what? Who cares. A man delivering such a commanding performance as that one deserves a royal moniker. Goalkeeper Luis Robles looked sharp in his MLS debut.
4. Seattle Sounders – Like Chicago, Seattle has a game in hand that looks enormous in the three-team jostle. At stake is second and third place, which is highly preferable to finishing fourth or fifth and playing one extra post-season contest (and a perilous one). For this week’s Cascadia Cup clash against rival Portland, club officials have opened up all 66,000-plus seats – and you can bet your lucky green scarf they’ll all be full. That means Sunday’s nationally televised match will set a club record, and will likely be the second largest MLS crowd in 17 years that’s not a part of a doubleheader.
3. Angeles Galaxy – “Paging Tommy Meyer – you are on the spot, son.” Meyer appears to be the man tapped for replacement duty following A.J. DeLaGarza’s injury. Otherwise, things look sunny in So Cal, with David Beckham (pictured right) back on the field for Sunday’s 1-1 draw outside Denver. Becks was far from his best, and he said as much, but there’s a month to go before the playoffs, so just getting back into the lineup was the important mile marker here.
2. San Jose Earthquakes – A 3-3 draw at home with FC Dallas exposed the best and the worst in Frank Yallop’s men of high drama. They keep falling behind. But they absolutely, positively never believe they won’t make up the deficit. Stephen Lenhart was the late hero this time. One point will seal the deal in the West, but the Earthquakes clearly have something more grand in mind: the Supporters Shield.
1. Sporting Kansas City – Did Sporting KC show a little vulnerability late in last week’s sizeable clash with second-place Chicago, dropping a notch over the last 30 minutes as the visitors, overrun early, worked steadily into the game? Or was it down to spot-on tactics, with high-pressure providing the early goal, followed by a wise dropping-off later? Either way, well done, ye men of SKC. This late-season change in defense – volatile All-Star center back Aurelien Collin out, Lawrence Olum in – is interesting, isn’t it?