[Nine become five as the playoff field shrinks to a more manageable number after an exciting weekend of fixtures that saw meaningful late goals (and a few curious goals as well). Once again, we'll have five from the East and three from the West, but who will grab the final three spots on offer? . . .]
1. Columbus Crew (WWWDL)
Ouch. Not exactly a sterling showing as we wind up the regular season, and a bit of a worrying wobble that isn't quite enough to topple them from the top spot quite yet. Not that the Crew needed a result, but maintaining momentum would have been nice. Blame that plastic crap posing as a field? I know a certain keeper who will. Sunday brings a match with a United side that will either be desperate for a win (and they might need one by a lot of goals depending upon results elsewhere) or completely disinterested, having already been eliminated from playoff contention.
The Playoff Pack
2. (+1) Houston Dynamo (DWDWW)
The universe must owe Stuart Holden some serious karma. I mean, come on! How often do you get a ball bouncing back to you off the post for an easy finish, much less have it happen twice in the same game? The stoppage time winner against the Quakes extends the unbeaten streak, while the stroll over the Gals confirms their dominance of the West. Does anybody want to face these guys in the playoffs? Let's see if they get through a visit to Chivas without any injuries before we start talking three-peat. That said, they're probably the side best equipped to deal with any injury and might steal the Alpha Dog throne before the season is done and dusted next weekend.
3. (-1) Chivas USA (WWWWL)
The Goats go down at home to a Rapids side that is fighting for their playoff lives. Chivas can play some nice stuff and have interesting players, but they don't look like a side that can mix it up when push comes to shove. That says to me that their playoff shelf life is going to be rather short. Next weekend brings the possibility of a master class from the side in MLS that has the best mix of style of substance, the Dynamo.
4. Chicago Fire (LWDDL)
Not a terrible showing against an invigorated TFC side fighting for its playoff lives, but the worry for Chicago has to be that the once formidable defense is starting to surrender goals at exactly the wrong time of the season. Couple that to only one win in their last five, and the Fire have to be counting their lucky stars that they'll face the Revs, who they've owned this season and who are struggling mightily, in the first round. Before they get to that, it would be nice (for them and for me as a United fan) if they could paste Osorio and his Red Bulls for old time's sake on national TV Thursday night.
5. (+2) Kansas City Wizards (WLDWW)
The rest of the playoff field is left cursing the Quakes as KC grab a stoppage time winner to keep their noses in front as the playoff race goes down to the wire. I wondered recently if that late shopping spree was going to bring the goals, considering they've had to rely upon a central defender (Conrad) for most of their offensive output. The answer? Well, let's see what next weekend's visit to the Revs provides.
6. Real Salt Lake (LWDDW)
Kreis has nearly delivered the playoffs, but has one more hurdle to overcome before Rio Tinto starts prepping for the post-season party. It's do or die time as the Rocky Mountain Derby, which has often been marred by bad blood, becomes the deciding factor in who gets into the playoffs. A win or draw will see RSL home and dry, but a Rapids' home win would allow them to leapfrog into that vital #3 spot in the West.
7. (-2) New England Revolution (DLDLL)
I said that the match against United had all the danger lights flashing, didn't I? It's now five games without a win for the once-mighty Revs. They continue to slide down the table and are going to be missing the creativity and goals (at least this season) of Steve Ralston. Remember a month or so back when his return from injury ended a Revs slump? A visit from KC at the weekend brings one last chance to get the engine going again before the playoffs arrive.
8. (+4) New York Red Bulls (LLLDW)
Wow. I suppose all it takes is a couple of long-term suspensions to pull the Bulls out the severe nose-dive that was threatening their chances. I though that the enforced change at keeper might be a slight bonus (Conway has never impressed me), but thought that the loss of Parke would be harder to bear. Instead, the Bulls nearly got their noses across the line with a decisive home victory and a goal from the kid between the sticks. What a long, strange trip this season has been. Still, the job is not quite done. Osorio will have the first chance to book his passage of the three Eastern sides competing for two spots. Can he lay down a marker by downing his old side?
Bum-sniffing Omega Mutts9. Colorado Rapids (DWLLW)
Casey for the win, and suddenly the Rapids have their playoff future in their own hands. The road win against Chivas was huge because it means that if Colorado can beat RSL at home next week, they'll complete an unlikely run to the playoffs.
10. (+2) Toronto FC (LDWDW)
A stirring victory over the Fire, but it's all too little, too late as results elsewhere put the Reds out of the playoffs. The team they had on the field looked pretty good though, so it'll be interesting to see what sort of side they can put together for their third season. A meaningless visit to the Quakes gives them a chance to perhaps climb off the foot of the East if United manage to lose to the Crew.
11. (-3) FC Dallas (WWDDL)
The Curse of Ellinger takes a bite out of Dallas as his old side roll them to put SuperCoop and the Hoops out of the playoff race. At least the red-card suspensions of half their midfield won't matter so much next week when they play their meaningless match with the Gals. And here's hoping that Dallas going home early clears the way for Cooper to get some minutes in the qualifier against Guatemala.
12. (+2) DC United (LLLDW)
Nose-dive halted. Still alive for the playoffs. But is it all too late for Soehn's charges? Results elsewhere mean they need serious results to fall their way next weekend, but the writing has been on the wall for United for too long now. The off-season should give them a chance to assess the problems in defense that have haunted them all year, but a big win at Columbus, combined with some losses elsewhere in the East could see them slip into the playoffs through the back door.
13. (-2) Los Angeles Galaxy (WLLWL)
Not with a bang but a whimper, eh? Even with a win, the Galaxy would still have been out of the playoffs, but to go down so meekly has to rankle. It sure will be fun to see what changes Arena, et al can make on this side in the off-season. Without Lalas in the mix, could we actually be in for a shockingly competent Galaxy in 2009? Let's see what kind of reaction the screaming pre-teen hordes have in store for their meaningless season-ender against Dallas.
14. (-1) San Jose Earthquakes (DLDLLL)
The Quakes are dead, long live the Quakes! Yallop's extensive rejiggering and second half of the season run have done much to erase the lingering disappointment of his tenure in LA, but the poor start finally rears its ugly head to put the Quakes out of their misery. Despite having a man advantage for almost the entire match, the Quakes dropped a stoppage time winner to the Dyanamo to make it five games without a win and followed that up with another stoppage time loss to the Wiz. Tough way to exit the season. Here's hoping for a more positive final outing at home to TFC.