NEW YORK — This week featured more spoilers than a Lost fan site, as out-of-contention teams made a big impact on the MLS playoff field, which is now officially filled with one week to play.
Also-rans killed the chances of the final team hoping for the postseason, and they spoiled golden opportunities for both conference leaders to clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The spoiler act wasn’t limited to playoff implications either: A landmark streak was squelched out, a record bid denied, and a home finale ruined on a goal by … a goalkeeper.
But before we get to all that:
Let Us Now Praise Brian McBride
The Chicago–DC match had no impact on the playoff picture—both teams were eliminated before kickoff—but it was a home sendoff for a player who’s had as much impact on US soccer as just about anyone before or since, Fire striker Brian McBride.
The game was also hit by this week’s spoiler effect: A debatable offside flag, some superb goalkeeping by Troy Perkins and a few missed chances combined to deny McBride a storybook sendoff—or at least a finale with some goals in it.
As it happened, the US, Fulham and MLS legend left near the end of a 0-0 draw—to a well-deserved standing ovation from the home crowd.
Playoff Picture: All Set, and Totally Unsettled
Kansas City’s flickering playoff hopes were officially extinguished in a 1-0 loss to New England at Gillette Stadium on Saturday. That put Colorado in the postseason and finalized the field of eight.
A pair of surprising results produced the only change in the playoff positioning: San Jose lost at home to last-place Houston, while Colorado won on the road at first-place Los Angeles.
That combination flopped the teams in the playoff standings; the Rapids now sit seventh while San Jose fell to eighth, though they have a game in hand.
The as-of-today postseason matchups remain much the same as they were last week:
Los Angeles vs. Seattle
Real Salt Lake vs. FC Dallas
New York vs. San Jose
Columbus vs. Colorado
But after a weekend of table-tightening results—Real Salt Lake, Seattle and Columbus all narrowed gaps on the teams above them—every one of those pairings is subject to change pending Week 30 games.
Stay tuned for what’s sure to be a wild final week.
(Speaking of wild, Columbus closed to within a point of New York atop the East after tying Toronto 2-2 on goalkeeper Will Hesmer’s dramatic stoppage-time equalizer. Afterward, the stunned BMO fans looked like they were channeling Luke Wilson from the rumble scene in Anchorman: “I did not see that coming!”)
Getting Real in Salt Lake
The Postgame has a soccer-snob buddy who, upon hearing about the founding of Real Salt Lake back in 2005, said, “they should be called get Real Salt Lake.” Oof.
Well, even he—an England fan, so he’s been duly humbled in the interim—will have to admit that Real Salt Lake, just a few years on, are the real deal.
They have one MLS title under their belt, and this year they’ve produced one of the more impressive seasons in league history, no matter how it ends.
They’ve qualified for the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League, and after Saturday’s 2-0 win over Dallas, they’ve gone unbeaten at home for the season, and for 25 consecutive games over two seasons. They’re currently one point shy of the Supporters’ Shield with one game to play,
RSL’s victory also ended Dallas’s record 19-game overall unbeaten streak, and just for good measure, Salt Lake keeper Nick Rimando made a reflex save to deny Jeff Cunningham’s latest attempt to surpass Jaime Moreno as all-time MLS goal king.
Yes, RSL are for real, and they’re a real threat to become the third repeat champions in MLS history, after DC (1996, ’97) and Houston (2006, ’07)
Real Salt Lake 2, Dallas 0
The Red Bulls entered Saturday’s game at PPL Park knowing that a win would clinch the Eastern Conference title—and home-field advantage for the playoffs.
Despite the opportunity knocking, New York came out flat and gave up two early goals before falling 2-1.
That’s one way of looking at it. Another way is that Philadelphia, who had dedicated the game to their raucous fans, came out full of energy and simply took it to New York in the early stages.
Union boss Peter Nowak may not be a Coach of the Year candidate, but he’s done an excellent job with his young side.
Philadelphia are the third-best expansion team in MLS history, after the 1998 Chicago team that won it all, and last year’s Sounders FC side that made the playoffs.
Nowak’s team isn’t going anywhere this season, but he committed the Union to an attractive, attacking style from the get-go, coaxed an MVP-worthy season out of Sebastien Le Toux and groomed a Rookie of the Year candidate in 19-year-old Danny Mwanga.
To borrow a phrase from baseball—a strong suit in Philly just now—wait 'til next year.
The Casey-Cummings Show Rolls On
It’s hard to pin down the most impressive aspect of Colorado’s 3-1 win at LA.
There was the fact that the Galaxy had so much to play for: A win would have wrapped up the Supporters’ Shield for them.
There was Omar Cummings’ driven cross for Conor Casey to turn in for his 12th goal of the season, and Casey’s perfectly weighted ball for Cummings to power into the far side netting for his 13th goal of the year (the duo has 60 percent of Colorado’s goals in 2010).
There was also this: Colorado weathered an early goal (Edson Buddle’s league-leading 17th) and rallied to win, marking the first time since May 6, 2006—a 68-game stretch—that the Rapids had given up the first goal of a game and come back to win.
Yep, we’re going with that as the most impressive element of Colorado’s win: It practically marks a new era for the franchise.