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Di Vaio, Nesta revive Montreal's hopes

DEEP IMPACT
Montreal Impact introduced Marco Di Vaio as their first designated player back in May.
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Ives Galarcep

Ives Galarcep is a 14-year veteran of the American soccer beat. He created and operates the popular American soccer blog, Soccer By Ives, which was voted Best American Soccer Blog by US Soccer in 2008, 2009, and 2010. Ives was also voted Best Football Writer by SoccerLens in 2010. 
 

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MLS RESULTS

 
Saturday, August 18
Seattle 2-0 Vancouver Recap
Toronto FC 0-1 Sporting KC Recap
Montreal 3-1 San Jose Recap
Chicago Fire 2-1 NE Revolution Recap
Colorado 1-1 Chivas USA Recap
RSL 1-2 FC Dallas Recap
            Sunday, August 19
DC United 1-1 Philadelphia Recap
NY Red Bulls 3-2 Portland Recap
Houston 2-2 Columbus Recap
More: MLS | Standings | Stats

In Major League Soccer, where parity has always found a home, teams are never more than an outstanding month away from transforming a season from a lost cause to dream campaign. No two teams embody that fact more right now than FC Dallas and the Montreal Impact.

It was just a month ago that FC Dallas appeared to have hit rock bottom. A tough loss to San Jose, which ended with a late missed Jair Benitez penalty kick, was remembered more for Brek Shea’s meltdown and confrontation with head coach Schellas Hyndman. The season was becoming unhinged and Dallas looked more destined for last place in the West than a playoff berth.

Everything changed after that loss to San Jose. Hyndman sat Shea, and his team responded with a big 5-0 victory against Portland. A 1-0 loss to LA followed by a 1-1 draw at Portland showed a team that was improving, but still not earning consistent results.

That’s when David Ferreira began stepping his game up and playing like the former MLS MVP he is. Ferreira has scored or set up five goals in the team’s past three matches, all victories, and he was instrumental in both victories this past week, against Vancouver and Real Salt Lake.

All of a sudden, FC Dallas sits in sixth place, five points behind the fifth-place Vancouver Whitecaps. Their next three matches are against the three teams ahead of them in the West standings, including Sunday’s visit to Los Angeles to take on the Galaxy. A win against LA would suddenly pull Dallas to within two points of a playoff place, a margin that would have been considered unimaginable just a month ago.

Montreal is in a similar situation. In early July, the Impact were in the midst of a three-match losing streak, having given up three goals in each of the losses. Things changed after the arrival of designated player and star forward Marco Di Vaio, who has become the focal point of the attack after taking a few games to settle in. His arrival, coupled with the signing of Italian centerback Alessandro Nesta, has helped the Impact put together a four-match winning streak and 6-0-2 record since ending that awful three-match losing streak.

Now, the Impact are just a point off a playoff spot heading into Saturday’s showdown against a D.C. United team that stands a place above them in the East standings. Montreal could jump into fifth place with a victory, and even though D.C. United currently has four games in hand on Montreal, the Impact would be sending a clear message to D.C. and the rest of the East that they are going to be a factor in the final months of the regular season.

Few could have imagined that scenario just a month ago, but just like FC Dallas, the Impact are riding a wave of quality form that has transformed them from a team opponents look forward to playing into a team nobody wants to face.

Here are this week’s FOX Soccer MLS Power Rankings:

1: SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES

The Earthquakes still boast the best record in MLS, are 2-1-2 in the past five matches, but Saturday’s 3-1 loss to Montreal marks four straight road matches without a win. Poor road form may not matter to a team that could wind up as the top seed in the playoffs, but any more slip-ups and they could see their lead atop the West evaporate.

2: SPORTING KANSAS CITY

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Another strong defensive display and another 1-0 victory has Sporting KC in first place in the East. They have won three straight and will now have their mettle tested over the next two months as they face the New York Red Bulls three times in the next seven weeks.

3: HOUSTON DYNAMO

The Dynamo showed some vulnerability at home for once as they had to battle back to earn a 2-2 draw against the Columbus Crew. Brad Davis continues to quietly put together another MVP-caliber season while Adam Moffatt showed that he’s not quite ready to relinquish his starting midfield role.

4: NEW YORK RED BULLS

Overcame a lethargic start to erase a two-goal deficit and post a thrilling 3-2 victory over Portland on Sunday. The rally overshadowed another strong performance from veteran goalkeeper Bill Gaudette, who has quietly made the starting spot his own in the absence of injured rookie Ryan Meara. There are still questions about that Red Bull defense, but the attack sure looks championship caliber.

5: SEATTLE SOUNDERS

The Sounders moved a step closer to second place in the West with their third win in five matches. Eddie Johnson continues to find the net while Osvaldo Alonso is playing some of the best soccer in the league. Seattle faces a tricky test when they visit Chivas USA this weekend.

6: CHICAGO FIRE

The Fire just keep on rolling, posting their third straight victory as red-hot forward Chris Rolfe made it a third straight victory for Chicago and third game with a goal scored. The defense is playing well and the offense looks more dangerous since the arrivals of Alvaro Fernandez and Sherjill MacDonald. An important week lies ahead, with matches against D.C. United and the Houston Dynamo.

7: LA GALAXY

The Galaxy struggled without Landon Donovan leading the attack, but managed to come away with a road draw against Columbus on an emotional night for the Crew. LA still managed to catch Vancouver for fourth place in the West, but face a very stiff test from a surging FC Dallas squad that has its own aspirations for a top-five spot.

8: REAL SALT LAKE

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What is going on with RSL? Jason Kreis chose to rest some starters in the team’s loss to FC Dallas in order to get them ready for their CONCACAF Champions League match against Tauro FC on Tuesday. The result was a third straight loss for a team that just hasn’t had much rhythm in the past month.

9: MONTREAL IMPACT

The Impact are unstoppable, winning their fourth straight in beating San Jose last Saturday. Marco Di Vaio is looking more and more like the dominating striker he was expected to be. A second straight match with a red card is cause for concern, but the continued excellent play of Montreal’s midfield, as well as the improving defensive work, has the Impact on the doorstep of a playoff place.

10: VANCOUVER WHITECAPS

Things were looking up for the Whitecaps before a bizarre week that resulted in two losses. Major League Soccer’s decision to suspend midfielder Barry Robson a day before the team faced (and lost to) Seattle was one of the more curious decisions of the season and certainly didn’t help Vancouver’s cause. Another Cascadia showdown against Portland awaits, and it’s a match the Whitecaps need to win in order to avoid a serious slide.

11: FC DALLAS

Here comes FC Dallas, a team that looked doomed to the basement just a month ago, and suddenly winners of three straight matches. David Ferreira is playing some of the best soccer in the league and Brek Shea is looking more and more like the player who dominated MLS defenses last year. Add that to a defense that is playing miles better than it did in the first half of the season and you have a team that is capable of erasing the five-point gap between it and the playoff pack.

12: COLUMBUS CREW

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A week with two draws might not seem all that impressive, but considering what the Crew have been through lately, and considering how tough the opponents were, you see the progress the Crew has made. Tying Houston at BBVA Compass Stadium was no small achievement, and the debut of Federico Higuain was an encouraging one. Definitely don’t rule out a second-half surge from the Crew.

13: D.C. UNITED

Referee Mark Geiger made some terrible decisions that cost D.C. United in Sunday’s 1-1 draw vs. Philadelphia, but United didn’t do themselves any favors either. The offense continues to struggle to generate consistent chances and the loss of poise late in Sunday’s match, complete with teammates yelling at each other, is worrying. A vital match against Montreal looms and a loss to the Impact would put D.C. United's playoff hopes in serious danger.

14: CHIVAS USA

Earning a road point in Colorado is impressive, doing it with some late-game heroics makes the Goats’ 1-1 draw against the Rapids a potential tide-turning result for a Chivas USA team that sorely needed one. Juan Pablo Angel provided the equalizer and could be ready to put together another strong second half like he delivered in 2011. Chivas USA is currently in seventh place in the East, but with at least four games in hand on the three teams ahead of them, the Goats are still very much a threat.

15: COLORADO RAPIDS

The Rapids are fading quickly, and with teams like FC Dallas and Chivas USA heading up the standings, it is looking like Oscar Pareja’s first season in charge will be a disappointing one. Giving up a late goal, and dropping two precious points, to Chivas USA put a serious dent in the team’s playoff hopes, and a visit to San Jose won’t make things any easier.

16: PHILADELPHIA UNION

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The Union were lucky to escape RFK Stadium with a point, as the offense once again sputtered and failed to generate goals. There are several young players earning valuable experience, which should help the team in the long-term, but at this point it is safe to say any hopes of a playoff push look to be futile.

17: TORONTO FC

Paul Mariner’s honeymoon era appears to be over in Toronto. That isn’t to suggest TFC isn’t still doing better with him than with former head coach Aron Winter, but a 1-3-1 record in their past five has left TFC sitting in the East basement. On the bright side, TFC opened their CONCACAF Champions League campaign with a convincing victory. Unfortunately, a showdown with Mexican champions Santos Laguna looms next week.

18: PORTLAND TIMBERS

The good news in the Rose City is that Darlington Nagbe and Sal Zizzo are looking more and more like the players Timbers fans hoped they could be when they first arrived. The bad news is the revived Portland attack is being wasted thanks to the continued lackluster defending that has been a key cause for the team’s woeful season. Winless in their past five, the Timbers don’t have much to be happy about.

19: NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION

The Revs are winless in five matches and have gone from playoff outsider to challenger for the East basement. With four straight losses, you can’t help but wonder exactly what Jay Heaps was thinking when he decided to part ways with team captain Shalrie Joseph. If he was hoping the deal would lead to a positive response from the Revs, he is looking sorely mistaken.

Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FOXSoccer.com covering Major League Soccer and the US National Team.

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