Hurtado’s winner means it’s time to start worrying in Columbus

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Columbus came into Saturday’s game with a six-match winless run, but after encouraging performances on the road against Sporting Kansas City and Houston, there was some reason to believe the Crew weren’t as bad as their slide indicated. The big red flag was goals. Columbus was still doing a good job of playing games on their terms, and the defense had been decent (if imperfect), but the team hadn’t scored in two games. If Gregg Berhalter’s men could right the ship, score some goals against visiting Vancouver, the streak would look more phase than trend.

Instead, Columbus played its worst game of the season. With a 37th minute goal from Erik Hurtado, the Whitecaps were able to earn their first road win of the year, out-shooting Columbus 22-12 in the process.

With Omar Salgado and Kektua Manneh nearly doubling the team’s lead late, Vancouver could have made the 1-0 final look much worse. Still, holding the ball for only 40 percent of the time while waiting for the Crew to open up, the Whitecaps wrote their chapter in the growing book on Columbus.

The Crew are as intent to keeping the ball as any team in the league (second only to Kansas City), and they’re willing to commit their fullbacks forward early to do so. The problem comes when you get players like Hurtado, Manneh, and Sebastian Fernandez coming at your defenders in transition. When somebody like Pedro Morales (who created five chances, per Opta) has the range of passing to find them, the problem gets worse. And players like Matias Laba (11 tackles) can create turnovers, your way of playing becomes a recipe for failure. Vancouver really should have scored more.

Regardless, the Whitecaps implemented a plan other teams can, too, provided they’re willing to let Columbus have the ball. Do you have ball-winners in front of the defense that can also get the ball out of your own end? Do you have players that can get at isolated defenders before Josh Williams, Waylon Francis, and midfielder Tony Tchani can recover? Do you have people who can score goals? Unfortunately for Columbus, a number of teams in the league can now check these boxes.

This would all be different if Columbus had more credible attackers. Then teams couldn’t just let the Crew have chances to pick apart defenses.  Instead, the Crew were trying to get one of Jairo Arrieta or Dominic Oduro to work. They’re trying to get goals from Bernardo Anor and Hector Jimenez. On a minute-by-minute, chance-by-chance basis, it’s just not enough. Columbus’s attackers aren’t doing enough with Berhalter’s scheme or Higuain’s distribution.

Vancouver deserve credit for accumulating the pieces to pick apart a team that was once 3-0-0 team, and in games like these, the experience and pragmatism that made Carl Robinson’s promotion so appealing may have paid off. But in hindsight for the Crew, those early wins came against a slow starter (D.C. United), one of the league’s worst teams (Philadelphia), and with help from a red card (Seattle). In the seven games that have followed, the Crew have scored five goals.

MLS to the death: Taking stock of playoff scenarios

Portland Timbers' Diego Valeri, right, challenges Montreal Impact's Laurent Ciman during the first half of a soccer game, Saturday, May 9, 2015 in Montreal. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP
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Five MLS teams have made the playoffs, but in the world of probability that number is a lot closer to 10.

Red Bulls, DC, L.A., Vancouver and Dallas are in the postseason, while Toronto, Columbus, New England and Sporting KC are on the verge. Seattle is just behind that group.

[ MORE: Three big battles between U.S. and Mexico ]

So how about those final two slots?

Eastern Conference

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
x – New York 31 16 6 9 55 39 16 11-2-3 5-4-6 54
x – D.C. 32 14 6 12 39 40 -1 10-3-3 4-3-9 48
New England 32 13 8 11 45 45 0 9-6-1 4-2-10 47
Columbus 32 13 8 11 51 53 -2 8-4-4 5-4-7 47
Toronto FC 31 14 4 13 55 53 2 10-1-4 4-3-9 46
Montreal 31 12 6 13 44 43 1 10-2-4 2-4-9 42
Orlando City SC 32 11 8 13 44 54 -10 6-5-5 5-3-8 41
New York City FC 32 10 7 15 47 53 -6 6-4-6 4-3-9 37
Philadelphia 32 9 7 16 40 51 -11 6-3-7 3-4-9 34
Chicago 32 8 6 18 42 52 -10 8-1-7 0-5-11 30

Matches remaning
at Colorado, vs. New England, at Toronto 
vs. NYC, at Philadelphia
New York City: at Orlando, vs. New England

Obviously, the Impact have the wheel here, though a pair of road tests — one across the continent — aren’t easy. If it comes down to a match against their rivals at BMO Field, all bets will be off. NYC can do Montreal a huge favor by getting a result in Orlando, but Jason Kreis’ side need all three points (Well, all six points… and a load of help). No one is playing better than Orlando right now.

Western Conference

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
x – FC Dallas 31 15 6 10 47 38 9 11-2-2 4-4-8 51
x – Los Angeles 32 14 9 9 53 39 14 12-3-1 2-6-8 51
x – Vancouver 32 15 5 12 42 34 8 8-2-6 7-3-6 50
Sporting KC 31 13 9 9 46 41 5 9-5-1 4-4-8 48
Seattle 32 14 5 13 40 34 6 10-2-4 4-3-9 47
San Jose 32 12 8 12 39 37 2 7-6-3 5-2-9 44
Portland 31 12 8 11 31 36 -5 7-6-3 5-2-8 44
Houston 32 11 8 13 41 45 -4 9-3-4 2-5-9 41
Real Salt Lake 31 11 8 12 37 43 -6 7-6-2 4-2-10 41
Colorado 31 8 10 13 30 38 -8 5-5-6 3-5-7 34

Matches remaning
San Jose:
vs Sporting KC, at Dallas
at RSL, at LA, vs. Colorado
Houston: vs. Seattle, at Vancouver
Real Salt Lake: 
vs. Portland, vs. Dallas, at Seattle

Quite literally anything can happen here in terms of these four. Pressure’s surely on Caleb Porter and the Timbers to finally give their supporters a side worth their passion. RSL is the only other side with three matches left, and the two pair up next. Houston has a harrowing pair of matches, one without Cubo Torres, while San Jose also has two tough efforts.

Chelsea make it official with former AC Milan keeper Amelia

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Longtime Serie A goalkeeper and World Cup winner Marco Amelia is giving Chelsea some cover.

The ex-AC Milan man, 33, has also played for Roma and Livorno amongst other stops in Italy, and has been on trial at Stamford Bridge for some time.

[ MORE: Klopp to Liverpool announcement expected shortly ]

Amelia will backup Asmir Begovic, and give the Blues three keepers in the absence of Thibaut Courtois.

He’s available for Chelsea’s next match, against Aston Villa, and will potentially slide into the No. 2 slot ahead of 21-year-old Jamal Blackman. Whether he’s an upgrade in skill is debatable, but his experience could prove invaluable.