[It wasn't that long ago that we were all maligning the sorry state of the Western Conference. But after yet another solid week, the Dogpile now has just one Western side sitting in the bottom five (pretty easy to guess who that is, huh?). Will the trends continue next week? And will someone please, please, please bring the Crew crashing back down to planet Earth? At the moment, they seem to be the only side in the East capable of any degree of consistency . . .]
1. Columbus Crew (WDWWW)
LA had a fair amount of chances, but the Crew keep doing what they've been doing so well for the last few months and grabbed the win as Schelotto got back into the mix. Technically, the Dynamo can still catch the Crew, but does anybody really expect that to happen? The only question now is whether the Crew can maintain their good form going into the post-season. A visit to Chicago next weekend might give us an early preview of the Eastern Conference final.
The Playoff Pack
2. Houston Dynamo (WWDDW)
After a couple of draws, the Orange Express is getting back into steamroller mode. Never mind the midweek distractions of international play. Houston stretch their unbeaten run to five, book their post-season place, and look set to win the West. Home to a miserable DC side next week probably won't throw up any surprises for Kinnear's boys.
3. (+2) Chivas USA (WLWWW)
Outside of the Crew, Chivas are probably the hottest side in the league. True, they did have a bit of an assist from DC keeper Crayton and his "adventurous" touch to get things started, but 3-0 on the road is nothing to sneeze at. So can they replicate the feat next week in San Jose to all but sew up the #2 spot in the West?
4. Chicago Fire (WLLWD)
Harrington giveth, and Harrington taketh away. Early goals in each half lead to a stalemate at the little ballpark, and Chicago miss their chance to climb over the Revs and into second place in the East. Anybody else feel a little twinge of pity for the Hunchback when Hartman's acting proved as lame as his hair during that whole, "hey, let me grab your leg and drag it across my face, and then collapse like you'd kicked the living snot out of me" routine? Nah, me neither. Next week it's back home for a real test, as the league-leaders come to town.
5. (-2) New England Revolution (LWDLD)
This is flat-out the least convincing second placed side ever. Sporting just a +1 goal difference and coasting on their early season laurels, the cagey old vets did just enough to salvage a draw. I keep waiting for the patented late-season Nicol charge to heat up, but it just seems to be an endless series of hiccups and false starts. Will that change away to KC next weekend?
6. (+2) Real Salt Lake (DLLWD)
How did RSL manage to let this one slip away? 70+ minutes and up 2-0, and they still can't get three points? Those would have been two extra points that RSL could really have used as they skate ever so close to that playoff line. Next week it's back home to face a Red Bulls side desperate to stop the rot on Thursday Night Futbol.
7. FC Dallas (LDWWD)
Okulaja provided the "Get Out of Jail Free" Card, and the Hoops escaped with the draw that their performance probably merited. Four games unbeaten, but still hovering just outside the playoff spots on head-to-head, can Dallas make the final push over the line? Next up is a visit from TFC--normally a welcome addition to anybody's calendar, but given the hurting the Reds just laid on the Red Bulls, they might be fixing to play the spoiler for everybody.
8. (-2) Colorado Rapids (WWDWL)
They kept knocking at the door but never managed to batter it down. Losing Casey didn't help, and having him suspended for next weekend's key match against the Galaxy puts a further dent in their playoff charge. Fortunately, MLS's insistence on playing through the transfer window means that LA will be missing significantly more in the way of star-power and goal-threat.
Bum-sniffing Omega Mutts
9. San Jose Earthquakes (WWDLD)
The Quakes won't be the first or the last burned by Abi Okulaja. Sadly, Abi may have put a near-fatal dent in the Quakes late playoff charge. If they win their game in hand, Yallop's boys are only a point off the pace, but only 2 points from the last 9 on offer has put the reins on what was starting to look like a runaway train heading into the playoffs. Next weekend, it's back home to face the team which seems to have assumed the Quakes mantle of "Unstoppable Force Not Based in Columbus", Chivas USA.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement for their playoff chances, but KC keep themselves in the race and only a point off the pace with a home draw against the Fire. Harrington's goal was a peach, but he pretty much needed to pull that one out of his ass after handing the Fire the lead when he seemed to think he was playing volleyball in the box. The home stand continues next week as another Eastern Conference power, the Revs, come to town.
11. (-1) New York Red Bulls (LWLLL)
If it weren't for DC's abject failures over the last month, New York's own private tailspin might be more in focus. Dropping a 3-1 result at home to the side that was sitting bottom isn't going to do their playoff ambitions any good. Now it's away to an RSL side on Thursday that have been playing some strong stuff as of late. Osorio needs results lest the hard-charging West overtake him. Remember, #4 in the conference is not guaranteed a spot in the post-season.
12. (+2) Toronto FC (LDLDW)
Forget the fact that the Reds haven't won in forever. Forget Barrett improbably managing to not only put his only two shots on target but managing to score with them as well. Forget the Red Bulls doubling TFC's shot totals. My abiding image of this game, and indeed of this entire weekend, will be Marvell Wynne blazing up the field and delivering a delicate side-foot assist on a silver platter to put TFC on top. That makes two weeks in a row of Wynne doing his best impression of a soccer player. Could he finally have turned the corner from "mere athlete"? Here's hoping (as a USA fan) that we see more of the same next weekend away to Dallas.
13. Los Angeles Galaxy (DLWLL)
Not a bad effort from the Gals. They managed to create just as much as the Crew did but never managed to live up to their lofty goal scoring average. The fat lady hasn't quite sung for Arena's charges, but she's sipping the honeyed tea and prepping the old glottis. Home to the Rapids next weekend is do-or-die time. Too bad MLS has to schedule games during an international fixture window, thus robbing the Gals of their deadliest weapons when they need them most.
14. (-2) DC United (LDLLL)
One point from the last fifteen available in the league, and that's not counting the myriad thumpings in international play. United are well off the rails. Their danger men are in various states of disrepair, their prodigal FO has been well-rewarded with the DP being stuck on the shelf once again, and Soehn doesn't seem to have a clue how to fix it. Yes, technically, they're only one point out of the playoffs, but I still can't see them recovering from this apocalyptic tailspin. Away to Houston next weekend should be another bloodbath.