Week in Review

MLS Week In Review (plus a quick playoff teaser)

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Covering what happened in Major League Soccer’s final round, Week 35 — then it’s time to turn our attention to the “Second season.”

The final round playoff clinchers

Big props to New England and Houston, which needed wins on the final day of regular season action to clinch playoff spots, and stamped “Mission Accomplished” on the thing.

Also wearing the flight jacket beneath the “Mission Accomplished” banner: the New York Red Bulls, whose comprehensive final-day win over Chicago was as meaningful  as it was impressive (see the next item), and also the Portland TImbers. Portland needed a win at Chivas USA to take the Western Conference’s top spot … and Caleb Porter’s team did it with a big flourish in a 5-0 result.

Supporters Shield decided

Congratulations to the New York Red Bulls, who needed just 18 years, 13 managers and hundreds of players to finally win a major trophy. So … nailed it!

Mike Petke’s team clinched the Supporters Shield (awarded to the team with best regular season record) with that mighty win (5-2) Sunday over Chicago.

Yes, that was the team’s very first major piece of silverware. (No truth to the rumor that workers were busy all night at RBNY headquarters actually building a trophy case.)

(MORE: Top story lines for the MLS playoffs)

The Golden Boot decided

With his early strike Sunday against New York, Chicago’s Mike Magee grabbed the Golden Boot — but he didn’t keep hold for long. Vancouver’s Camilo scored once before half and then twice on either side, seizing the league’s final goals leadership in high hat trick style at BC Place. (And putting a little Golden Boot bow on an otherwise humdrum season for his club.) His 22 goals trumped Magee’s total (21) and Montreal’s Marco Di Vaio’s (20).

And a potential MVP lost, too

As for Magee, his breakout season was a superb story for MLS, doing so much to rescue a season gone sideways around Toyota Park … but if may not be enough to get Magee a league MVP. Remember, only one MVP has come from a team that didn’t make the post-season (Dwayne De Rosario in 2011). And since Chicago finished sixth, one spot out of the post-season …

D.C. United’s dubious records – yuk!:

With its loss on Sunday, D.C. United sealed the statistical deal on what the eye test showed us all along: that this team was absolutely awful. Historically awful, in fact. The club set MLS all-time season records for fewest wins (just three for United this year, “beating” the old record by one) and worst goal difference (-37 this year, also setting the record by one goal). More on it here from Richard Farley.

Clint Dempsey gets one

It took him nine games, but the Sounders big summer signing (and the league’s highest wage earner) scored his debut goal for the Sounders in the league’s final regular season game. He came into the match with no goals and no assists in eight previous 2013 matches.

The goal that wasn’t — more controversy

Periodic calls for goal line technology arrive in the form of a close call along the line, between the pipes. But the one missed late Sunday in Seattle? Not. Even. Close.

Omar Gonzalez’s header off an LA Galaxy corner kick was a goal. Period. End of story. No “didn’t get a good angle” or any of that. Officials on site blew this one. More about that one here.

Weekend’s best goal

Thierry Henry has scored just three goals since July, but there can be no denying that that the Red Bulls’ fabulous Frenchman still has that “something special” about him. How else to talk about his first-half bit of awesome, chesting a ball inot the air (and away from a defender) with one touch, and then volleying splendidly into the corner with his second touch. Here it is:

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And now …. the MLS Playoffs

More on the MLS playoffs later today at ProSoccerTalk

For now, here are the matchups, with the single elimination matches set for Wednesday or Thursday:

  • East: Montreal Impact vs. Houston Dynamo

— Winner hosts New York Red Bulls this weekend in first leg conference semifinal

— New England hosts Sporting Kansas City this weekend in first leg conference semifinal

(MORE: MLS Eastern Conference playoffs are set)

  • West: Colorado Rapids at Seattle Sounders

— Winner hosts Portland Timbers this weekend in first leg conference semifinal

— Real Salt Lake hosts LA Galaxy this weekend in first leg conference semifinal

(MORE: MLS Western Conference playoffs are set)

The playoff schedule ahead:

Conference elimination matches (4th place vs. 5th place), Wednesday and Thursday

Conference Semifinals, Leg 1: Nov. 2-3 (Sat.-Sun.)

Conference Semifinals, Leg 2: Nov. 6-7 (Wed.-Thurs.)

Conference Finals, Leg 1: Nov. 9-10 (Sat.-Sun.)

Conference Finals, Leg 2: Nov. 23-24 (Sat.-Sun.)

MLS Cup: Dec. 7 (Sat.)

MLS Week in Review: Round 34

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Who clinched … and who is now eliminated

As the weekend began, 13 teams were still in contention for 8 unclaimed playoff spots. Some were more “in contention” than others, so to speak. Still, that’s an impressive number, all things considered. But the picture looks much different this morning.

We know the five playoff teams from the West, even if it’s something less than official: Portland, Real Salt Lake, Los Angeles, Seattle and Colorado will take part in the post-season. San Jose maintains a mathematical chance but would have to score a ridiculous number of goals next week, and have help. That won’t happen.

In addition to New York and Kansas City, who have clinched, five teams now remain eligible for three remaining spots out of the East: Montreal, Chicago, New England, Houston and Philadelphia.

Columbus and Vancouver were the teams officially eliminated over the weekend, along with (unofficially) San Jose. Here’s how the standing look; pay attention to that telling red line, which indicates the teams now in playoff position:

source:

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Still much to play for

Even in the West, there’s still plenty to talk about with Round 35 coming up. Much of it is about teams seeking first, second or third. Remember, the fourth- and fifth-place finishers fact an extra playoff round, and one that puts them on the spot in terms of travel and packing matches into a small window going into the next round. That, and for some teams it’s also about …

Supporters Shield race

New York seized the inside track with a resounding (and somewhat shocking) 3-0 win over Houston. Sporting Kansas City and Portland remain within striking distance, but they both finish on the road. New York is the only club that controls its own Supporters Shield fate – and Mike Petke’s team has a winnable contest at home against just-hanging-on Chicago.

One MLS match is up Wednesday, then a full round of (nine) weekend matches will decide it all.

The quick goal – the quickest goal ever in MLS

When Deshorn Brown needed just 14 seconds after kickoff to score a few weeks ago, it was the second fastest goal in MLS history. Of course, Brown’s goal came at a loiterers pace compared to Tim Cahill’s doings. Cahill scored the fastest goal in MLS history, just seven seconds into New York’s 3-0 win at Houston.

Here’s his goal from BBVA Compass Stadium in South Texas on Sunday:

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Yes, Seattle is in the playoffs

There surely wasn’t any car honking in the streets, but Seattle did, in fact, qualify late Sunday night for the playoffs. It probably falls as cold comfort to Sounders fans, who have seen their team struggle so mightily over the last few weeks – and who cannot feel good about their team going into the post-season. (Although getting some players healthy will surely help.) Either way, it brings us to this …

The growing Dempsey debate

We might be talking even more about the Seattle Sounders unbelievable late-season collapse; Sigi Schmid’s struggling club is winless in six, having lost four in a row after yet another setback over the weekend, a 2-0 loss to Dallas. We would be, except that the growing Clint Dempsey discussion is a bit distracting. The count is now up to eight. As in, eight with no goals and no assists for the Sounders. It’s certainly not all the U.S. international’s fault. In fact, not much is his fault. The team looks simply awful. And, yes, expectations were unfairly exaggerated. But that’s what you get with transfer fees well into the millions, and with being the league’s highest paid man.

Two 20-goal scorers … and a great Golden Boot race

Marco Di Vaio and Mike Magee scored Saturday, both moving their goal total to 20 for the season, both still in contention for Golden Boot. And it’s fair to ask if a league MVP will go along with this year’s Golden Boot? It will certainly be an influence on voters.

Then again, Vancouver’s Camilo could still have something to say about it. He also scored on Saturday, although in a loss that saw his Whitecaps officially eliminated.

Best goal in Round 33

Considering not just the technical merit, but also that it was a game-winner for Colorado, Gabriel Torres’ wonderful left-footed strike against Vancouver checked a lot of boxes. It will go a long way toward getting his Rapids into the playoffs. And it put the Whitecaps out.

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Major League Soccer Week in Review: Round 33

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The big news

It has to be Seattle’s ongoing collapse. Following last night’s 1-0 loss to Cascadia Rival and fellow Western Conference champion aspirant Portland Timbers, Seattle has now lost three in a row. Further, Sigi Schmid’s team is winless in its last five matches.

Schmid made four changes but the final result was only better in that Seattle lost by one goal, not by three or four goals, as with the previous two losses.

Just four weeks ago Seattle led the league in points and, with games in hand on pretty much everyone, looked more and more like the team to beat for Supporters Shield. Today the team sits third in the West, with work ahead just to make the playoffs. It really has been a stunning turnabout.

Portland, by the way, thanks to Kalif Alhassan’s goal, have assumed top spot in the West.

No goals for Clint Dempsey

The other story to be explored here is the mounting struggle for Clint Dempsey, who is having horrible injury luck since his high profile move from Tottenham back into MLS. Only recently having returned from a hamstring issue, Dempsey hurt his shoulder in the 12th minute Sunday against Portland. He played into the second half and even popped a close-range header off the crossbar, but … still no goals. Or Assists.

That’s seven games now (including four starts) for Major League Soccer’s highest paid man. This will continue to be a story – especially if Seattle does not make the playoffs.

Another team clinches a playoff spot…

Sure it would have been nice to get the job done on the field, but Kansas City will surely take this. Philadelphia’s 1-1 draw with D.C. United on Saturday officially rang the playoff bell for Peter Vermes’ team. So Kansas City joins New York with officially clinched berth.

This is SKC’s third straight year with playoff soccer.

… and another team eliminated

FC Dallas joined D.C. United, Toronto and Chivas USA as teams officially eliminated from the playoff race. That happened in a 3-2 loss to Chicago at Toyota Stadium outside of Dallas. With New York and Sporting Kansas City having officially qualified, that leaves 13 teams in contention for 8 remaining playoff positions, with two rounds remaining.

Jack McInerney scores again. Finally

What heartbreak it must have been for D.C. United, so close to getting its fourth win this year – which would help the club avoid being single worst club in league history. But it was Jack McInerney to the rescue with a late goal in a 1-1 draw.

It was McInerney’s 11th goal this year, which still sounds pretty good for such a young striker. But consider that it was his first in 14 matches … going all the way back to June 1.

Major League Soccer weekend review: Round 32

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Landon Donovan sets a big record

Galaxy superstar Landon Donovan matched Jeff Cunningham’s all-time Major League Soccer scoring mark of 134 league goals. Donovan had two goals in Los Angeles’ 5-0 win over Chivas USA, and will share the all-time mark for now, and will have one or two matches (depending on availability around U.S. national team matches) to pull ahead and own the achievement by himself.

Here is the historic goal by Donovan, who may own every important scoring record in the land (MLS and for the national team) before it’s over.

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The Red Bulls qualify for playoffs

Mike Petke’s team became the first officially book a post-season berth – and what a wild way to get there. Tim Cahill’s dramatic header in the seventh minute of stoppage time was the punctuation mark on a match that went all kinds of crazy over the last quarter hour or so. Details of the wild 2-2 draw at Red Bull Arena are here.

The teams that are eliminated … or practically eliminated, at least

Columbus, Dallas, Vancouver and New England all left themselves on the brink of elimination by failing to pick up maximum weekend wins. None are officially eliminated, but all would need to win their remaining matches and, in some case, look for an improbable series of events to provide assistance. The current standings are here.

The big routs

An unusual number of unusually lopsided matches marked a weekend (in a league driven by parity). The rout was on early outside of Denver, where the Colorado Rapids owned a 4-0 lead after just 40 minutes against the Seattle Sounders. Seattle did find enough team pride to make a better second half of it, but the damage was done in a 5-1 clobbering. That was the Sounders’ worst MLS loss since joining the league.

A day later, just west of there, Los Angeles made similarly quick work of Chivas USA, pulling away early in a 5-0 win. Rookie Gyasi Zardes and Irish international Robbie Keane joined Donovan in creating all the offensive destruction.

Back on Friday night, Chicago began the weekend with a 3-0 win over D.C. United at RFK Stadium. Three-goal wins are exactly rare in MLS – but three goal margins on the road are pretty uncommon.

Another scoring record almost set

Speaking of the big whuppin’ at Dicks Sporting Goods Park outside Denver: Rapids rookie Deshorn Brown scored 14 seconds into the contest. That was the second fastest goal in league history; only Dwayne De Rosario, back in 2003, found goal faster. Is this the moment that gets Brown over the Rookie of the Year hump for good? He looks like the clear favorite now. Here is that goal:

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The unlikely hero in Philadelphia

Philadelphia Union attacker Kleberson had done absolutely nothing since joining the team early in the summer to justify his Designated Player status. But the Brazilian World Cup veteran did finally rise and score a huge goal Saturday, a precision free kick in stoppage time as John Hackworth’s team kept its playoff hopes alive with a 1-0 win over Toronto. The Union still has work ahead, but now has an inside track to the fifth and final spot out of the East.

The weekend’s top performance

Chicago’s big win over D.C. United may have looked all lopsided … but that’s only because Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson turned in such an impressive performance. The visitors needed his nine saves, including some real gems, to eventually pull away from United.

Major League Soccer Week in review: Round 31

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Less than a month remains in the regular season, and the playoff races remain tight as rush hour traffic on the 405. Here’s what you need to know about Round 31, which finished with an usually busy Sunday foursome of matches.

The big results

So many, really, considering playoff races in each conference that simply refuse to yield all that fascinating congestion.

But the big-big result was surely Portland’s 1-0 win over the two-time defending champion LA Galaxy helps establish Caleb Porter’s team as a real contender. The Timbers are learning now to grind out results, with two 1-0 wins at home over Western foes lately.

Tim Cahill’s second half equalizer gave the Red Bulls a useful 1-1 draw in Seattle, where the Sounders fumbled away numerous chances to put away a side missing its its top attacker (Thierry Henry) and top defender (Jamison Olave). Seattle retains the inside track on Supporters Shield (based on the number of games remaining), but it was a result the Red Bulls can take pride in.

Columbus’ surprising 4-2 win in Dallas, the Crew’s second consecutive road win, was massive in the playoff jostle. The Crew looked so close to dead a few weeks ago, but a string of impressive results has kept interim coach Brian Bliss and his troops among the post-season hopefuls. Oh, and it was also was probably a knockout punch for FC Dallas, now five points out of the race.

The “controversial” decision – that wasn’t a bit controversial

LA Galaxy players and coaches, reinforcing that sense of entitlement that has become so familiar through the Bruce Arena years in Southern California, were absolutely apoplectic about a late Robbie Keane goal that was waved off, judged offside, in Portland. And it was a swell strike, a crisp near-post header off Landon Donovan’s precision free kick service.

But replays demonstrated that Keane was offside, just as the referee’s assistant correctly ruled.

We get on the men in the middle a lot on this site, so it’s only fair to point out when they get a very close, and quite important decision absolutely correct. Job well done, guys. Here’s that one:

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The most surprising result

Philadelphia was perhaps one more big punch from being knocked plum out of this fight, having fallen from second all the way to seventh. So going into Sporting Kansas City and coming away with a 1-0 win (over a team still thinking “Supporters Shield”) was easily the big upset of Round 31.

The most impressive result

It’s not like Real Salt Lake had much of a choice, surely needing to trust the reserves Saturday night in Vancouver. With the U.S. Open Cup final coming up Tuesday at Rio Tinto Stadium, RSL manager Jason Kreis filled his lineup at BC Place with young talent and backups – and what a night it was for his club when the reserves came through with a 1-0 win.

So the starters are rested for Tuesday’s huge match, the team remained up near the top of the West and Vancouver … well, Martin Rennie’s team is left to rue the squandered opportunity.

The top tactical change

A goal down, Houston got aggressive on the road, subtracting a defender in favor of an extra attacker in a 3-5-2 look. It paid off quickly as Will Bruin found goal for the equalizer in a 1-1 draw at New England. By splitting the points, not only did Houston keep the inside track on a playoff spot (the Dynamo schedule ahead is favorable compared to other Eastern Conference playoff chasers), but Dominic Kinnear’s team simultaneously prevented one of its pursuers from picking up two additional points.

Oh, the Dynamo has done something quite similar before, and somewhat famously so.

The Golden Boot chase

source:  Saturday’s match at Toyota Park outside Chicago didn’t just have playoff implications (like so many of Week 31 contests did), it also featured the league’s top two scorers. Montreal’s Marco Di Vaio scored once, but top pursuer Mike Magee from Chicago slotted home a pair. So Magee cut the gap to one. The update list of MLS top scorers is on the right.

Caleb Porters great choice

Ryan Johnson has been the Portland Timbers first-choice striker for most of the season. So the decision by manager Caleb Porter to give young Argentine Maximiliano Urruti the start in such a meaningful match Sunday afternoon at rainy, wind-swept Jeld-Wen Field was a bit of a gamble. Urruti, 22, made his manager look good, scoring the game’s only goal in the 1-0 result mentioned above.

The weekend’s huge boo-boo

Montreal’s attackers eventually bailed out their goalkeeper, but it looked for a while like Troy Perkins embarrassing mistake in the back was going to be the difference in an important Eastern Conference clash.

Perkins, Montreal’s veteran goalkeeper, tried to get a little cute and evade Magee inside his own penalty area. Big. Mistake.

Yes, Magee fouled the Impact goalkeeper, but that hardly excuses such a blunder, a “howler” in the vernacular. Montreal’s subsequent equalizer made the final 2-2 at Toyota Park. Here’s the play:

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