Gonzalo Segares

Chicago hangs on to beat Dallas, go fifth in the Eastern Conference (video)

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[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x87nf7jKQXs]

Dallas needed a win to keep their postseason hopes alive, but seven minutes after halftime, Schellas Hyndman’s team was down three to the visiting Fire, who looked set to go fifth in the East with a win in Frisco.  The result would leave them on 46 points, even with fourth place Montréal and sixth place Philadelphia, who would slip by virtue of having one fewer win than Chicago.

Kenny Cooper, however, had other ideas. After holding off Gonzalo Segares to score Dallas’s 63rd minute opener, Cooper pulled his team within one with 15 minutes left, converting a controversially-awarded (and from Ramon Nunez’s perspective, selfishly-taken) penalty kick. Down 3-2, FCD had a little more than a quarter-hour to salvage their season.

But after a couple of close calls, Chicago finally settled down, and over the last minutes of this match, Dallas’s will drained. They needed two goals and a win to stay mathematically alive, so when their momentum didn’t quickly yield a third, the odds become very long, very quick. Juan Luis Anangonó’s opener, Mike Magee’s 19th of the year, and Jalil Anibaba’s game-winner would hold up, giving Chicago a 3-2 win.

The loss leaves Dallas seven back of Colorado (and Los Angeles) with two games to go, but although that makes Saturday the night the end point to their playoff dream, the team’s hopes had been running on fumes all fall. Leaders in the West going into the summer, Dallas seemed to regress to their mean as their year went on, finishing the season at the level many picked in February. While eighth place may have been slightly lower than most predicted, their 10-11-11 record describes a team many foresaw this winter.

For Chicago, their playoff destiny’s back in their own hands, though their final two games match them with opponents from opposite ends of the spectrum. That doesn’t mean they should sleep on Toronto, who visit Toyota Park on Saturday. Though TFC is struggling, they’ve still taken points in as many games (16) as they’ve lost. With Chicago drawing in Toronto last month, the Reds present a real danger to Frank Klopas’s side.

But if all goes as planned, Chicago’s big obstacle should be their finale at Red Bull Arena, where their playoff hopes may hinge on taking points from a team striving for the Supporters’ Shield.

Three interesting options: Players to watch in today’s Re-Entry Draft

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The thing that makes it difficult to get too excited about today’s Re-Entry Draft is the nature of the eligible players. All of them are being turned away by their current teams. Lack of performance, high salaries, or just bad fits – these players aren’t being pried away from their clubs. They’re being cast off. This draft is about square pegs being pulled out of round holes.

But among the 50-plus players available today, there are a few who still have promise, whose previous circumstances just didn’t add up for success. They’re still young. They’re still relatively cheap. And they’ve already shown some potential. They’re low risk and likely already have front offices around the league that like them.

MORE: Your Re-Entry Draft primer

From the player list, three names strike me as particularly worthwhile gambles:

source: Getty ImagesPaulo Araujo Jr.
Forward
Real Salt Lake
23 years old
$75,000 salary in 2012
Option declined

Paulo Jr.’s been splitting time between Utah and Fort Lauderdale over the last three seasons. Physically and technically, he has what it takes to be a regular contributor in Major League Soccer, but the output just hasn’t come. Though most of his time has come off the bench, the Brazilian has only six goals in 50 league appearances. As concerning, his production in the second division isn’t eye-openingly better (12 goals in 41 appearances).

He needs to play in a two forward system, but if he has the right players around him, he can be a solid contributor on a decent team – player that can play along the defense, challenge opposition wide, or drop back and help in a withdrawn role.

Then again, if he couldn’t make it at Real Salt Lake, where Jason Kreis has continuously refurbished talent, it’s fair to ask why it’d work elsewhere.

source: Getty ImagesEric Avila
Midfielder
Toronto FC
25 years old
$125,000
Out of contract

Avila is pricey for what he’s produced. Over six seasons in the league, he’s only play 63 games, and the one good team he was a part of (FC Dallas circa 2010) eventually swapped him for forward depth. Is he really worth a six-digit salary that, if you choose him, will have to go up this season?

Perhaps not, though based on what he showed early this season with Toronto, you can imagine at least one front office could be interested and won’t want to let him get to free agency. At the beginning of the season, Avila was among Toronto’s best players, but when Aaron Winter was replaced by Paul Mariner, he lost time in the team, Mariner’s system and style a slight mismatch for what Avila offers.

What he offers is a skilled player who can play wide-to-in. He’s good with the ball at his feet, can create as well as make the smart choices that promote possession. In time, he could score goals.

But everything surrounding Avila is “could,” and at the price, he’s really not a great value. But all it takes is for one general manager to rationalize “if he was a free agent and a bidding war happened, I don’t think I could let him go.” With that mindset, picking the talented former-Gaucho becomes as much about cost-certainty as risk.

source: APIke Opara
Central Defender
San Jose
23 years old
$100,000
Option declined

Opara has all the skills to be one of the better defenders in the league. His athleticism is off-the-charts. He could still develop into one of the most dangerous set piece targets in the league. In San Jose, however, timing was never on his side.

As a rookie, he spent time completing his degree at Wake Forest, which kept him away from the team. Then there were injuries, and by the time he was ready to go, a rebuild San Jose side had restocked in central defense. Without consistent playing time, the former number three overall pick has never shaken the error-prone qualities that accompany most rookie defenders. Given he’s only played 35 games in three years, it’s understandable.

Opara needs a team that can commit to playing him. With Victor Bernardez and Jason Hernandez, San Jose wasn’t that team, but you don’t have to go too far down the draft list to see a number of teams that can afford to take a chance on an all-star caliber talent.