[Holy crap! What is it about the Western Conference? They just meander along, getting slugged repeatedly by the teams from the East, and then, every once in a while, they wake up from their drunken stupor to sock the East a good one right in the kisser. 2-0-1 this week for the boys from the West, with a couple of real smackdowns to the tune of 5-2 and 4-1. And yet, despite these occasional outbursts, a glance at the table still reveals the gap. There's only one Eastern Conference side amongst the bottom six, and five sides from the East are currently outpacing the #2 side in the West. Still, the gap is narrowing as down the stretch they come . . .]
1. Columbus Crew (WWWDW)
No doubts here. Even without Schelotto, the Crew steamrollered the Bulls. Heck, even the sublimely skill-limited but effort-intensive Frankie Hejduk is chipping keepers from the edge of the box. And Christ did Rogers hit that long-ranger with venom! Any doubts about Goal of the Week? If Donovan wins, it'll be a travesty. With the Rev's draw, it looks like the Crew have things just about sewn up for the regular season. Now can they continue their run into the playoffs? Next week, they look to bury the dagger and establish some mental hoodoo by taking out their closest competition, the Revs, on the road.
The Playoff Pack
2. Houston Dynamo (WLWWD)
Love and positive thoughts for the folks in Houston as the Dynamo sit the week out. I know it's the last thing they'll be worrying about at the moment, but with the CCL and MLS fixtures being postponed, the congested run-in just got a whole lot more complicated. Normal service returns next week with a trip to Toronto--the perfect chance for Houston to confirm their Western Crown and keep up what little pressure they can hope to apply to Columbus in the Supporters' Shield race.
3. New England Revolution (DDLWD)
Only by virtue of their current points haul do the Revs remain in a relatively lofty Pile position, as current results are proving disturbing. The 4-0 over Chivas last week seemed to have addressed the doubts, but another draw will raise them again. The fight for the Supporters' Shield is almost over now, so it's all about getting the timing right for the big playoff push. If anybody can be said to do this consistently well, it has to be Houston and these self-same Revs. And, courtesy of their embarrassing bow-out, the Revs won't have the Champions' League mess to worry about that the Dynamo will. A win at home against the Crew next week would make things pretty interesting atop the East, and atop the league, once again.
4. (+1) San Jose Earthquakes (WDWWD)
Tough luck for the hot, hot Quakes to sit cooling their heels for a weekend, particularly with the way results went for the teams around them in the playoff hunt. A glance at the table reveals the Quakes still mired towards the bottom, but it's hard to argue with their recent results not making them deserving of a pretty high perch on the Pile. Can they keep the fire going when they return to action next week? Home to sputtering RSL seems as good a place as any to start.
5. (-1) New York Red Bulls (WDLWL)
It all started so well for the Black Magic Bulls on the road in Columbus, but then the Crew roared back, and things started to crumble. Despite the loss, the Bulls still have a bit of a cushion in the playoff race. It's getting smaller though, so they'll still need to pick up a decent points total over the last five games to hold off the challengers. That needs to start next weekend at home to the Rapids, lest those same Rapids close to within a point of them.
6. Chicago Fire (WLWLL)
I expect that some were questioning why I had the Fire all the way down at #6 in last week's Dogpile, given their high placement on the table. Any questions now? Something's wrong in Chi-town as the stingiest defense in the league managed to get torched for four at home. Ruh-roh, as Scooby would say. I guess everybody's decided it would be gauche to ruin Schelotto's MVP campaign by chasing down the Crew. Next week, it's another chance to prop up a struggling Western Conference side's playoff hopes, as the Galaxy visit for Thursday Night Futbol, and this time, ESPN may actually be able to deliver the advertised Blanco v. Beckham matchup.
Hmm. Was that 4-0 New England result more blip than indicator? Eskandarian was firing away, and though his winner wasn't the most difficult or pretty of finishes, he finally got the job done. Can Preki salvage a side that looked to be floundering and lost at sea? I'm hesitant to bump them so high on the back of a narrow road victory, but RSL's plastic patch is not an easy place to get a result, and the Goats have three wins and draw in their last four--not a bad run at an important time of the season. Next up is a Wiz side that seems to be coming together a bit as well after a frantic last-minute shopping spree.
8. (+1) Colorado Rapids (LLWWD)
So close. So damn close. A third consecutive victory would have seen the Rapids making a serious push for playoff security. Now they're left wondering and clinging to the final spot on goal difference (head-to-head is a wash with RSL at the moment). Still, it wasn't a loss, and the Rapids have seemed more consistent since Clavijo left town (anybody surprised?). Time to fess up to a crush too--if I'm an MLS GM, Colin Clark is high on my list of potential signings. He's got something of the "Dempsey model" about him. Late bloomer, not afraid to run at defenders and try the bit of skill, but also tough enough to mix it up and stick his head on the ball in the box. Can he find the net for the second week running away to the Red Bulls?
Bum-sniffing Omega Mutts
9. (+1) Kansas City Wizards (DLLWW)
Here come the Wiz, making a late charge with their second straight 2-0 result. True, those results came against fellow Omega Mutts and were home games to boot, but they were results at the time of the season that demands results. Just a point out of the playoffs and with the offensive reinforcements starting to up the goal count, can the Wiz hold things together when they hit the road? They'll get to find out quickly, as next weekend brings a visit to Chivas.
It's been a real slog of late for the men in hoops, but they probably could have hung at least a half-dozen on the tightest defense in the league yesterday. Cunningham looks to be settling in well in his new surroundings, and they've already got one of the best forwards in MLS in Kenny Cooper. The fight for the playoff spots in the West is going to be fascinating. A win over United at home next week would draw them level with their opponents, where head-to-head results would result in an advantage for Dallas.
11. (-4) DC United (WDLDL)
United still hold a playoff wild-card, but it's a card that seems to be inexorably slipping from their grasp. Champions' League-induced fixture congestion, defensive frailty, and a two-month-long injury crisis have rendered United a team in dire circumstances that sees their playoff dreams fading into the sunset. Is a recovery possible? Next week away to Dallas needs to be a match they get something from, or the playoffs may slip through their fingers.
12. (-4) Real Salt Lake (LWDLL)
A lot of chances, but no finishes as RSL fail to capitalize on a week that could have done much to secure their playoff future. Instead, it's back into the thick of the fight for the precious few spots. And the nature of their conceding the winner to the Goats will sting even more, though other sides around the league might look at awkwardly bouncing balls on the plastic crap as a victory for the Karma Police. Thank Odin that it's not going to haunt MLS for much longer. One win in the last five is no way to finish a season, and next week brings a difficult visit to the well-rested and en fuego Earthquakes.
13. (+1) Los Angeles Galaxy (LDDLW)
I said last week that DC were the only side in MLS that could rival LA for craptacular goal concession, and boy did they prove me right! The long wait for a win is over in LA, but is it too little too late? Do they have enough about them to make an unlikely playoff run? The good news is that they aren't far off the qualifying pace. The bad is that their roster is entirely too vulnerable to an unfortunate suspension on injury. Next up is Thursday Night Futbol away to the Fire, who've been struggling at home of late.
14. (-1) Toronto FC (DLLDL)
Ouch! With the Gals picking up a big result and the Reds failing to register a single shot on goal, there's little doubt about who's the mutt-iest of the Omega Mutts. There is a faint flicker of hope for their playoff chances numerically, but realistically, hope has long since gone from the hearts of TFC. Home to Houston next week has the potential to deliver the death blow to their post-season ambitions, if they're not already gone the way of the dodo.