Last week’s MLS action saw two of the biggest fixtures fail to live up to the hype as Houston’s clash with L.A. and Chicago’s tussle with New England both ending without goals.
Chivas USA failed to take advantage of their opportunity to open up a lead at the top of the west as they were held to a disappointing draw at home with San Jose, while RSL saw their playoff hopes all but disappear with a defeat in Toronto.
Chris Cummin’s side moved into pole position for a playoff spot with that win, but victories for Dallas and D.C. mean that they are also still in the race.
Columbus played like a team that has already qualified for the playoffs and were duly punished as they fell to defeat at the hands of D.C. United. The Crew has undoubtedly been the best side in MLS this year, but they have to be careful about taking their foot off the gas to end the regular season because it is not always easy to recapture top form after a few subpar displays.
Key Man: I expect Jason Garey to impress this week as the Crew continues to rotate their squad as they try and remain fresh for the playoffs.
The Galaxy once again showed all their battling qualities as they came away from Houston with a point that was enough to keep them top of the western standings. Bruce Arena was obviously very content with the result as his players performed admirably in an atmosphere they are likely to see again in the playoffs. The Galaxy has added steel to their obvious flair this year and may be the biggest threat to Columbus repeating as MLS Cup champs.
Key Man: Landon Donovan is a big game player and a good performance from him against San Jose this weekend is vital if the Galaxy are to win the Western Conference.
Seattle became the first MLS expansion side since 1998 to reach the playoffs in their first season after a superb come from behind victory at K.C. last weekend. The Sounders had been struggling offensively over the last few weeks, but if Freddie Ljungberg can build on his match-winning performance against the Wizards, then this Sounders team is a match for anyone in the playoffs. Sigi Schmid has to be a real contender for coach of the year.
Key Man: Tyrone Marshall’s matchup with Jeff Cunningham will likely decide the outcome from Seattle’s clash with Dallas this weekend.
Chivas USA missed a real opportunity to break clear at the top of the Western Conference as the San Jose Earthquakes held them to a disappointing home draw. The Goats actually started the game brightly but switched off after taking the lead and allowed San Jose back into the game. Chivas did show some character as they fought back to earn a share of the spoils but this still has to be considered two points dropped for a team chasing a conference crown.
Key Man: Yamith Cuesta has been a rock since he arrived in MLS and if he can produce two more strong defensive performances then Chivas will be the Western Conference champions.
Dallas continued their fairytale run of form with a win over the Rapids that means Schellas Hyndman’s side are still in the playoff hunt entering the final week of the season. Dallas have been one of the best attacking side’s in MLS over the last few months but they have also improved defensively over the last few games to become one of the most complete sides in the league. Whatever happens this weekend, this Dallas team looks like it has a bright future under Hyndman.
Key Man: Dario Sala will have to be at his very best this weekend if Dallas is to pick up a win at Seattle and steal a playoff spot.
The Fire battled to a dour goalless draw at New England as they continue to limp their way into the playoffs. Denis Hamlett said he was happy with his side’s battling display, although their inability to create many clear-cut opportunities has to be a cause for concern at this late stage of the campaign. The Fire has rested Blanco well this season and with McBride likely to be fresh after missing a large chunk of the season, this team should be ready for the playoffs.
Key Man: Cuauhtemoc Blanco will enjoy trying to end Chivas hopes of winning the Western Conference while solidifying his own side’s place in the playoffs at the same time.
The Dynamo may be in a three-way battle for the Western Conference but they have looked anything but a championship-caliber team over the last few weeks. The Dynamo has not looked as fluent going forward and this is hardly the form Dominic Kinnear will want his side taking into the playoffs. I’m still not sold on Luis Landin and trading Kei Kamara is a move that may come back to haunt this team.
Key Man: Stuart Holden has had a super season and I expect him to end it with another high caliber performance against Chivas this weekend.
Toronto came into their fixture with RSL knowing that anything less than a win would end their playoff hopes, so they deserve high praise for their gritty victory. Chris Cummins admitted he was relieved to hear the final whistle as his side clung to a narrow lead over a side that is also battling for a playoff spot. The victory now means Toronto’s fate is in their own hands entering their final match of the season, although New York may provide a more difficult test than many people suggest.
Key Man: Jim Brennan has improved his form over the last few games and I believe he will continue his fine play against New York this week.
D.C. picked up a massive win over Columbus to keep their playoff hopes alive. It was a great result for Tom Soehn, although his side wasn’t exactly playing against a full-strength Crew team. Luciano Emilio is returning to form at the right time and he will again be the central figure as United will try pick up a win at K.C. and hope other results go their way. That is not exactly the way you want to enter the last week of the season.
Key Man: Luciano Emilio got the all-important goal against Columbus last week and the talented striker will again be the man to watch as D.C. face a do or die clash against K.C. this weekend.
The Rapids could easily be battling it out with Chivas, Houston and L.A. for the western crown, but instead their horrible run of form sees them clinging to a playoff spot by a thread. Colorado has not won in six games and their inability to find the back of the net on a regular basis has been their main problem. Conor Casey has been superb this season but beyond that, this team lacks any real scoring threats and that will ultimately prove to be their downfall when they again miss out on a playoff spot.
Key Man: The Rapids have been awful over the last few weeks and Gary Smith really needs Pat Noonan to step up and help take some of the goal-scoring burden off Conor Casey.
The Revs produced a battling performance against Chicago last weekend, but at this stage of the season, this team really needs to be picking up three points from their home games. A couple of weeks ago all the talk was about how many games in hand this team had on the rest of their rivals, but the Revs have managed to blow that advantage and now require help from others if they are to make the playoffs. Their cause has not been helped by the departure of Paul Mariner who will be sorely missed in the New England locker room.
Key Man: The Revs will rely on Edgaras Jankauskas to score the goals that could fire them into the playoffs this weekend. It is something that shouldn’t really fill New England fans with confidence.
Real Salt Lake’s super home form continued last Wednesday with a victory over New York, but it is their away form that continues to keep them out of the playoff mix. Their loss at Toronto last weekend means that RSL have to win their last fixture of the year against Colorado and hope that Dallas, Toronto, New England and D.C. all fail to pick up a win. In other words, RSL can forget about the postseason this time around.
Key Man: Robbie Findley should get the start this week as RSL look to sneak into the playoffs at the expense of bitter rivals Colorado at Rio Tinto.
The Earthquakes have really enjoyed playing spoiler in the playoff race over the last few weeks as a team that was really only put together halfway through the season starts to gel nicely to end the year. Frank Yallop now has a base of players that he can work with for next season, but they will still need to add a lot more quality if they are to compete with the top teams in the west next season.
Key Man: Ryan Johnson has been superb over the last few weeks and his pace should cause the Galaxy’s back four trouble this weekend.
The Wizards got themselves into a winning position against Seattle but ultimately the visitors class shone through as K.C. fell to yet another defeat. The Wizards have battled hard under coach Peter Vermes, but they lack the quality to compete with the likes of Seattle on a weekly basis. This squad needs an overhaul in the summer if they are to compete for silverware next time around.
Key Man: Davy Arnaud is a quality player and he is more than capable of ending D.C.’s playoff hopes with a strong performance this weekend.
Red Bull fans have to be counting down the days to the end of this wretched season. The only positive from this season is that this side has shown some spirit since the departure of Juan Carlos Osorio. Richie Williams has done enough to deserve a shot at taking this team into next season, although something tells me the front office want a bigger name coach to lead them into their new arena.
Key Man: New York fans should forget about this match and start concentrating on next year. I know all the players already have.
Fox Soccer Channel’s Keith Costiganwrites about American soccer for FOXSoccer.com, and contributes his blogto interact with his fans.