[No doubts about who gets to claim the top spot on the Pile today, is there? Sigi's men planted their yellow flag and seem intent on denying all challengers to their lofty peak. And while the Red Bulls' solid run hit a red speed-bump, the Quakes and Dynamo continue to build momentum and punish the net. That makes their encounter this coming weekend the pick of the litter in MLS matches. On to the Pile, where I've made some possibly controversial choices. That's what comments are for, people--use 'em . . .]
1. Columbus Crew (WLWWW)
Holy freakin' statement game, Batman! Jebus, as if 4-0 isn't dire enough reading for the rest of the league, try these numbers on for size: Columbus, 23 shots, 13 on frame, vs. the Revs, 4 shots, 1 on frame. There was Rev-blood in the water and Sigi's yellow sharks were hungry. Sigi for Coach of the Year? Schelotto for MVP? They've got a five point lead over three challengers with seven games to go. I smell a certain Shield getting dusted off in the bowels of RFK and prepped for the FedEx guy's next visit. Next week, Guille and Co. hit the road for a date with the floundering Reds.
The Playoff Pack
2. Houston Dynamo (WWLWW)
No international stars? No problem. The Dynamo are in full flow now, and making use of their quality depth. Of course, it's going to be severely tested now that they'll have to split time between MLS and the Champions' League over the next couple of months. Still, they've all but sewn up the Western Crown (and thus the home-field playoff advantage) and should be able to do a decent job flying the MLS banner in CONCACAF (again). But will the extra fixtures wear them down before the playoffs? Next week is a tricky one as the Orange travel to NoCal to visit their old selves reinvented--the Quakes 2.1.
3. Chicago Fire (WLWLW)
As lame as the Fire have been at times in the confines of their own park, I figured they would find a way to blow this one after having so many chances to bury it. But it was the Red Bulls that stepped up and delivered the fatal blow to themselves, rolling out the red carpet for King to net the winner. Chicago have the firepower and the defense, and they're in a good position heading down the stretch, but they just haven't been entirely convincing of late. Next weekend they head for the Rockies to try and remedy that situation.
4. (+1) New York Red Bulls (WWWDL)
Osorio's homecoming is spoilt by a moment of defensive seppuku, and the Bulls let the wasteful Fire off the hook in a game that would have sent them clear of United in the race for the wild-card playoff spots. Fortunately for them, most of their opposition for those spots managed to lose as well, so next week's visit from RSL won't be as desperate an affair as it might have been. Still, three points are a must to keep the wolves (or Quakes, at the very least) at bay.
5. (-1) New England Revolution (LWDDL)
Ouch! Nicol's boys are bent over the barrel in Crew-town and given a right rollicking. It's all starting to fall apart for the once-unassailable leaders, who have only won one match in recent memory. Still, they do have silverware already (SuperLiga) and managed to bow out of the Champions' League, thus eliminating six troublesome, congestion-causing fixtures from their fall calendar. They've got the veteran moxie to pull a potential 180 and get things rolling again before the post-season, but can they get the turn started in time? Thursday night sees them home to the Goats to try just that.
6. (+2) San Jose Earthquakes (WWDWW)
Will the Quakes ever lose again? One thing's for certain--Yallop wasn't the man to blame for what happened in LA (duh!). He knows how to build a winner in this league, and he's proving just that. They're within shouting distance of the playoffs now, but the Dynamo, who visit next weekend, are starting to round into the sort of form that they always do when this part of the season rolls around.
7. (-1) DC United (WLWDL)
Fresh off a cup win and missing half of their starting lineup, the only thing surprising about United's loss to the red-hot Quakes was that it wasn't worse. 2-1 was a decent showing considering the tools at Soehn's disposal. Still, losses do no good in the scrap for the final playoff spots. Next weekend at home to Dallas is of massive importance before United embark on a brutal stretch run made all the more difficult by their Champions' League participation.
8. (-1) Real Salt Lake (WLLWD)
The best time to play LA is when international dates render them starless. Still, RSL fail to take full advantage and are held to a point, leaving them only three points clear of non-playoff oblivion. Fully symptomatic of their current stumbling progress was Espindola injuring himself celebrating a disallowed goal. (Cut to Kreis trashing the locker room.) Next up is a cross-country journey to the Swamp.
Bum-sniffing Omega Mutts
9. (+1) Chivas USA (DLDWW)
A couple of weeks ago, the Goats were looking dead and buried. Now they're clinging to that final playoff spot, and back-to-back wins over TFC see them holding off the furious charge of the Quakes. Still, two wins against TFC does not a contender make. The road swing continues with Thursday Night Futbol at the Big Razor, with the Revs desperate to stop the bleeding.
The Hyndman era sputtered out of the gates, started to get rolling, and now it's just sitting beside the highway, smoke pouring from under the hood. They had their chances, to be sure, against Colorado but in a match they desperately needed to solidify their playoff position against a rival for the final spot--and at home to boot--they couldn't get the job done. And nice job marking on the corner that decided the game. Is the Ellinger Albatross starting to drag them down? As a United fan looking for a nasty welcome for the Hoops at RFK, here's hoping so!
11. (+3) Colorado Rapids (LWLLW)
Gotta love that craptacular scrum at the foot of the table. One week, you're bottom of the heap, the next, you're leapfrogging your way right back into contention for the playoffs. Does Smith have enough time to shake of the Clavijo-stink? I've said all along that Colorado have the makings of a pretty good team--if only they could manage some consistency. Back-to-back wins might start the ball rolling that direction, but Chicago, even in the friendly confines of the Dick, is a tough ask.
12. (+1) Los Angeles Galaxy (LDLDD)
The long hunt for a win goes on, but at least LA managed a point with their stars missing. That's a point that keeps them in a tie for last rather than all alone in the cellar. It's hard to see that defense keeping anybody out, but next week away to KC might be their best chance in a while as the Wiz have been notably goal-shy.
13. (-2) Kansas City Wizards (WLDLL)
Thump! The Wiz hit bottom as Houston spank them 3-1. The desperate search for forward help has netted Hercules Gomez and Abe Thompson, but will they be able to solve the Wiz' goal-scoring woes? Fortunately, the rest of the lower half of the East lost as well to keep the faint pulse of KC's playoff hopes alive. You couldn't ask for a better pick-me-up than a visit from the Galaxy, and that's just what happens to be rolling into KC next weekend.
14. (-2) Toronto FC (WLDLL)
The Reds were easily the most affected of the MLS sides during the latest non-observance of the international fixture dates. For all the missing players and having to field office staff and passers-by (kidding--but only just!), TFC were in this one for a while, even fashioning a number of chances to build on their early lead. But time and quality finally told. Pity MLS gives a rat's ass about their troubles. Next to call at Fortress BMO are the soaring Crew.